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The Spider Catcher

The Spider Catcher

by Gilbert Morris
He is a young Welshman who forsook the family shipbuilding business to study medicine . . . until, poised at the brink of a brilliant career, tragedy broke his heart and shattered his dreams.She is a daughter of London’s inner city, a woman-child weaned on life’s harsh realities who has learned much about fending for her living and her virtue but little of


He is a young Welshman who forsook the family shipbuilding business to study medicine . . . until, poised at the brink of a brilliant career, tragedy broke his heart and shattered his dreams.She is a daughter of London’s inner city, a woman-child weaned on life’s harsh realities who has learned much about fending for her living and her virtue but little of what it means to be loved.Thrown together by circumstance, Rees Kenyon and Callie Summers head across the ocean toward a new life during the stormy beginnings of the American Revolution. As a new nation struggles for independence, Rees employs his medical knowledge to save lives, and his shipbuilder’s skills to build the potent fighting vessel known as the “spider catcher.” But it is Callie, whom Rees scooped from the mud of the London streets, on whom his own life will soon depend . . . and who can help him find for himself the faith, hope, and love he has taught her.

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Zondervan Publishing
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18 Years

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The Spider Catcher

By Gilbert Morris


Copyright © 2003 Zondervan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0310246989

Chapter One

"You mark my words, Rees Kenyon, these resurrection men will be the death of science!"

"Resurrection men?" The speaker was a lanky young man with coal black hair and blue eyes so dark that they seemed black as well. He put down the book he was holding and looked up at the older man with a quizzical expression. "What's a resurrection man, Dr. Crawther?"

"Well, devil fly off!" Dr. Howell Crawther paused long enough to wheel around and stare at his companion. The physician was seventy-two now, and the snow of these many years was in his hair. He was almost fragile, though in his youth he had been an athlete of some renown. The pipe clamped in his teeth jutted out at an acute angle and glowed like a miniature furnace as he puffed at it vigorously. "You mean to sit there and tell me you don't know what a resurrection man is?"

"No sir. I don't believe I've ever heard the term."

"Well, there is dull you are!" Crawther threw himself down almost violently in the chair across from young Kenyon and shoved the books away from the cluttered desk, making a place for him to plant his elbows. Taking the pipe from his mouth with one hand, he jabbed it toward Rees as if it were a weapon. "Resurrection men," he said sternly, "are men who sell corpses."

"Sell dead bodies? To whom do they sell them?"

"Why, to doctors like me, of course!" Dr. Crawther's face expressed disgust. "How do ye think I could know what's on the inside of a person if I had never looked?"

"You mean, Doctor, you're going to buy a corpse, is it?"

"I scarce can afford to buy one by myself these days, and I was counting on this one. It was a young woman, only twenty-two. She died of liver disease." Dr. Crawther jammed his pipe back into his mouth and, reaching up with both hands, grabbed his thatch of white hair. He had an odd habit of seeming to lift himself off the earth with both hands in this manner, which was both comical and alarming. Lowering himself back into the chair, he said, "I'll have to let Dr. Preslow and Dr. Donner share that lovely corpse-but they do hack away so frightfully!"

"But ... where would these resurrection men be getting bodies?"

"Where would you go to get a dead body, boy?"

"To the cemetery, I suppose."

"Well, it's a bit of sense you have left! You're right, that's where they get most of them."

"You mean they just go ... dig them up?"

"There's no other way to get them out of the ground, boy! But you have to be careful with these resurrection men. Sometimes they bring a corpse so old and stringy, it's of little worth. I've been cheated more than once by those scoundrels!" Dr. Crawther could not keep still, for even at his age he was compelled by nervous energy. He paced the floor, leaving a trail of smoke from his pipe and jabbing the air as he continued to speak of the necessity of dissection. "Ah, give me a nice, fresh corpse; still warm would be best of all. A fine pauper from the workhouse, with little fat on him-there's your gem of a corpse!"

Rees Kenyon had been sitting at the table, a book open in front of him, but now he gave his full attention to his mentor. The room he sat in, Dr. Crawther's office, was cluttered almost to a terminal condition. The four walls were hidden by painted shelves built all the way to the ceiling and were stuffed with the tools of the physician's profession. Books of every size and shape bulged from many of the shelves, along with manuscripts, newspapers, and periodicals, all apparently in no order. Other shelves held boxes, packages, and tubes large and small. Some had labels on the outside, and others displayed merely a blank face to the world. Two long tables flanked the shelves on the north and east side of the room, covered with flasks, knives, several saws, some still showing traces of blood. Forceps, probes, retractors, and dressings of all sorts were thrown haphazardly across the surfaces, mixed with a variety of other instruments used by physicians. "But Doctor, breaking the law are you? Isn't it against the law to sell bodies?"

"Against the law? Of course it's against the law! And worse than that-it's expensive." Dr. Crawther spoke so rapidly that only long practice had enabled Rees to understand him at times. "Oh, it's dear, these corpses, but a man's got to learn the body, boy." Once again he came to a halt. Using his pipe as a pointer, he jabbed it emphatically toward his young friend. "Some so-called physicians do all their practicing on live patients. Why, every man makes a mistake, doctors no less than others. If you make a mistake on a corpse, it's no matter. But when you're cutting into a living human being, there's careful you must be!"

Dr. Crawther continued his diatribe, which was his manner of teaching. At times he was like a butterfly, fluttering from idea to idea with confusing rapidity. At other times he was more like a bull, charging straight forward as if he would implant the principles of medicine in his young pupil by brute force. Sometimes he would even catch Rees by the hair and shake the young man's head back and forth as if that somehow assisted the importation of knowledge.

Finally he picked up the bottle on the table, poured himself a tumbler full of pale, amber ale, and sitting down, gulped at it thirstily as he looked at young Kenyon with a steady gaze. "Maybe I'll let you watch while I dissect this one, if I decide to buy it." The idea of the high price of corpses seemed to overwhelm him. "It's shocking how corpses have risen-shocking indeed! The villain had the face to ask me four guineas. I told him in no uncertain terms that his greed was going to stifle science. But I'll pay it, I suppose. I need a good, fresh liver to show you, Rees."

Dr. Crawther gulped down several swallows of ale, then studied the young man who sat across from him. They had become good friends over the years, and Dr. Crawther had literally watched young Kenyon from the time he was born, for he had brought him into the world. He lived only a short distance away from the Kenyon family and had been their family physician for years. There was satisfaction in the old man's eyes as he took in the lean figure of Rees Kenyon. Rees was twenty now and his looks were deceptive. He was slightly over six feet three and was so lanky that he looked weak. His hands were marvelous-long fingers, tendons standing out like steel cords, calluses from his work in the shipbuilding trade. In that long, lean body, Crawther knew, there was a strength that was surprising.

The face of Rees Kenyon was homely, not handsome in the least. His eyes were deep-set, and his cheeks slightly sunken, giving him a craggy look older than his years. His mouth was wide and mobile, with a vertical line at each corner. High cheekbones and a high-domed forehead lent a look of strength, and his hair was coarse and coal black, as were his eyebrows-and his beard, if he had ever decided to grow one. His hair was thick and roughly cut, but his eyes were the only features that could have been called strictly attractive. They were dark blue, so dark that they seemed almost black, especially when he grew angry. They were shaded by long, black eye-lashes that were the envy of many a young woman. Right now there was a gentleness in those dark eyes, as there usually was, but on several occasions Dr. Crawther had seen anger turn them to a shade as black as the coal that came out of the Welsh mountains, but with a glow that seemed to burn from somewhere deep within the young man's spirit.

Dr. Crawther poured himself another tumbler of ale, then in an afterthought shoved the bottle toward Rees. "Have yourself a drink, my boy."

"There is kind you are," Rees murmured. He had a pleasant speaking voice and was the best tenor in the area. The men of the village had formed a large choir, and Rees's voice could always be heard soaring above the rest of them.

As Rees poured the glass full and sipped the ale, Dr. Crawther refilled his pipe, which he seldom allowed to go out. The ashes decorated the front of his snuff brown vest, and he never bothered to brush them away. Taking a straw from the slender slivers of wood on a tray, he touched the candle flame and waited until it caught, then lit the tobacco in his pipe. He blew the light out, then puffed away, saying, "Never become a smoker, boy, you hear me? It'll cut your life short. Man's a fool to put such stuff in his lungs!"

Rees smiled. "It hasn't cut your life short, Doctor."

"Never mind that! You do as I tell you, is it?"

"I think I can promise that I won't be smoking."

Silence settled over the room then as the two sat there. Finally Dr. Crawther said in a softer tone, "I remember how I took you with me on calls when you were barely out of nappers."

"I remember, too," Rees said, nodding. "I must have been a terrible pest."

"All boys are terrible pests, but you were not as bad as the others. Other boys wanted to take part in sports, but not you. I remember you followed me around until I got to where I could bear you."

Rees smiled slightly. The irregularity of his features was thoroughly masculine, and the small smile was a signal of his character. It showed the world a serene indifference, and yet there was a sad-ness somehow that moved Dr. Crawther to ask, "How are things at home?"

"Just the same."

The single sentence told Crawther much. He knew that Bran Kenyon had no patience with his youngest son's burning desire to become a physician. The older Kenyon was a builder of small ships, and he drove his four sons like slaves. Crawther had known instances when Rees had come for his lessons with his back striped by his father.

Rees Kenyon, Dr. Crawther knew, had become a good carpenter and shipbuilder. He spent much of his time out searching for the oak used to build the ships. He also knew that Rees was not overpaid, for Bran Kenyon was a miser where money was concerned.

Suddenly Crawther rose and walked over to the bookcases, muttering under his breath, "Where is it now? Come on, you old book, don't hide from me!" He had the odd habit of speaking to inanimate objects, which amused Rees greatly. Finally he gave a snort of triumph accompanied by a series of big puffs on his pipe, which remained clenched between his teeth. "There you are!" Yanking a book out of the bookcase, he came over and slapped it down so it made a loud thump as it struck the table. "There you are. Happy birthday, boy."

"It's not my birthday."

"Stubborn like an old mule you are! You'll have a birthday some-day, I suppose. So there it is."

Rees ran his fingers over the cover of the book. He looked at the spine, holding it up carefully and with reverence. He had an almost superstitious reverence for books. "Anatomy." He spoke the title aloud. Then he looked up and swallowed hard. He had known little kindness in his home except from his mother and sister, but this man, with all his rough ways and explosive speech, had been the one bright shining light in his life. He had indeed followed the doctor with such persistence that finally Crawther had said one day, "Right, you! Come along. A lesson we'll have." He had taken the young man inside and started the first lesson of what would become the best part of Rees Kenyon's life-the study of medicine.

"I thank you, Doctor," Rees said. "You've always been so good to me. My life would have been so empty if you hadn't helped me."

"Well, well, there is soft you are! It's only a book."

But to Rees it was more than that. He opened it and knew that this book would be his if he lived to be as old a man as Dr. Howell Crawther. He caressed it almost as if it were a woman.

Crawther felt a keen sense of satisfaction but concealed it by saying gruffly, "Mind you memorize it, now! A book's no good unless it's in your head."

"I will," Rees said in a voice that was gentle but at the same time held a resolution as hard as steel.

"I'll be retiring soon."

"A sad day for me and for the people of the village."

The distress in Rees's face was very real, and Dr. Crawther felt the love he never spoke of for this young man seem to swell. He had no sons of his own, only one daughter, but this one had become his son in all but blood. "You've heard me mention my brother-in-law."

"Dr. Freeman?"

"Right, you. Dr. Howard Freeman in London. He's a good man. He had to be to marry my dear sister Elizabeth, or I would have pounded his head."

"I remember him, sir, when he came to see you four years ago."

"Right, you. He's a good man," Dr. Crawther repeated. "They have three children, two sons and a daughter. I've been writing to him for years now about you. Rees, I think you should go study with him. I've asked him if he would take you on and he's agreed to do it."

Rees's eyes burned suddenly and then he seemed to slump. "My father would never hear to it."

"Is he a rat with green teeth, then?" Dr. Crawther thundered. "What's in a man that wouldn't give his son a profession instead of building silly boats?"

"You know my father, sir."

"Well, you're twenty years old now, Rees Kenyon. A man you are." Dr. Crawther suddenly reached forward and put his hand on Rees's. He felt the strength of that hand as he squeezed it, and his voice became unusually persuasive. "I'll be leaving here to go live with my daughter in Edinborough. I want you to go study medicine with my brother-in-law. It's what you were born for, Rees."

Rees was conscious of the pressure of the doctor's hand. He always treasured those rare times when Dr. Crawther touched him with a show of affection.

"It's home I'd better be going, Doctor." Rising to his feet, he ducked to avoid the low beams. He had learned by hard experience that most houses were not large enough for him. Now he held the book in one hand and ran his other hand across the face of it. "Thank you, sir, for the book."

"Go you now, Rees, but remember, you were born to be a doctor. Go you to it!"

"I will think on it."

* * *

Rees left the doctor's cottage and moved slowly through the village. He had lived in this place all his life, so he knew every house in Llandudno. The fishing village was perched on a small peninsula protruding into the Irish Sea. On clear days Ireland was barely visible on the horizon as a long, horizontal line. Rees had sailed the sea, touching a few times in Ireland itself, which looked much like Wales to him.

Not far northeast of the village lay Liverpool. It was the largest city Rees Kenyon had ever seen. He had been there only twice in his life, but he still remembered how different was the hustle and bustle of the crowds-such a strong contrast from his own tiny village.

The sunlight's last hazy glow turned the narrow valley that contained the village amber and blue.


Excerpted from The Spider Catcher by Gilbert Morris Copyright © 2003 by Zondervan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

Gilbert Morris is one of today’s best-known Christian novelists, specializing in historical fiction. His best-selling works include Edge of Honor (winner of a Christy Award in 2001), Jacob’s Way, The Spider Catcher, the House of Winslow series, the Appomattox series, and The Wakefield Saga. He lives in Gulf Shores, Alabama with his wife, Johnnie.

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