Doctor Syn/Chapter 10
DOCTOR SYN GIVES SOME ADVICE
THAT he was still dreaming was Jerry's first thought, but he was so bitterly cold—for his clothes were wet with mud and dyke water—that he quickly realized his mistake; however, it took him a power of time and energy, and not a little courage, before he dared creep forth from his hiding-place. When he did the Marsh looked empty. The sheets of mist had rolled away, and it looked as innocent a piece of land as God had ever made. There was no sound save the tickling bubbles that rose from their mud-bed to burst amid the rushes, no one in sight but the old gentleman lying outstretched upon the road. Jerry crept up to him and looked. He was lying face downward, just as he had fallen, and the white road was stained with a dark bloody smudge.
"Well," he said to himself, "here's another job for old Mipps and a trip to the ropemaker's," and shivering with cold and horror he set off as fast as he could go toward the village.
Now, when he was within sight of his own house, he began to consider what it was his duty to do. He had his own eyesight to prove the schoolmaster's guilt; but would he be believed? Could the schoolmaster somehow turn the tables upon him? If he breathed a word to his grandparents he would at once be hauled before that brutal captain; and the captain he felt sure would not believe him. The squire might, but the captain would, of course, take the side of authority, and back up the schoolmaster. Denis Cobtree was not old enough to give him counsel, and, besides that, the captain was staying at the Court House.
No; Doctor Syn was the man to go to. He was kindly and patient, and would anyhow give one leave to speak without interruption. So, crossing the fields, so as not to pass by his grandparents' windows, he struck out for the vicarage.
Just as he was skirting the churchyard he heard the tramp of feet, and the captain passed along the road, followed by the King's men. Two of them were bearing a shutter. Then the murder was known already. They were going to get Sennacherib's body. Yes, it most certainly was, for there was affixed to the church door a new notice. Jerry approached and read the large glaring letters:
This man wanted by the crown for the murder of Sennacherib Pepper, Doctor of Physics and of Romney Marsh.
[Signed] Antony Cobtree,
Leveller of the Marsh Scotts, Court House, Dymchurch,
Captain of his Majesty's Navy, and Coast Agent and Commissioner, Court House, Dymchurch.
The writing on this notice was executed in most scholarly style, and Jerk knew the familiar lettering to be the handiwork of the murderous schoolmaster himself. This colossal audacity was quite terrifying to him. It looked as if it had been written in the blood of the victim; for the black ink was still wet.
As he gazed the church door opened and Doctor Syn came out. He looked pale and worried, as well he might, for indeed this shocking affair had already caused a most shaking sensation in the village.
"This is a bad business, boy," he said to Jerk, who was still gazing at the notice.
"You may well say that, sir," replied the boy.
"Poor old Sennacherib," sighed the cleric. "To think that you went from my friend's house to meet your death. Well," he added hotly, shaking his fist across at the Marsh, "let's hope they catch the rascal, for we will give him short shrift for you, Sennacherib."
"Aye, indeed, sir," replied young Jerk, "and let's hope as how it'll be the right 'un when they does."
"The right what?" asked Doctor Syn.
"The right rascal," said young Jerk, "for that ain't him."
"What do you know about it, my lad?" said the Doctor.
"The whole thing," replied Jerk, "for I seed the whole of the ugly business. I seed the man with the yellow face last night. I seed him a-comin' out of your front door with a weapon in his hand."
"You saw that?" cried the cleric, his eyes shining with excitement. "You could swear that in the Court House?"
"I could do it anywheres," replied Jerk, "let alone the Court House, and what's more, I could swear that he never killed Doctor Pepper."
"How can you possibly say such a thing?" said Doctor Syn.
"Because I seed the whole thing done, as I keep tellin' you," answered Jerk, "and it wasn't him as did it."
"How do you know?" asked the Doctor hastily. "Where were you?"
"Out on the Marsh," said Jerk, "all night."
"What!" ejaculated the vicar, looking at the boy doubtfully. "Are you speaking the truth, my lad?"
"The solemn truth," replied young Jerk.
"You were out on the Marsh all night?" repeated the astonished cleric. "And pray, what were you doing there?"
"Dogging that schoolmaster," replied Jerk with conviction.
"Come into the vicarage," said Doctor Syn, "and tell me all about it." And he led the boy into the house.
When he had finished his tale Doctor Syn took him into the kitchen and lit the fire, bidding him dry his wet clothes, for Jerk was still shivering with the cold of the dyke water. Then he boiled some milk in a saucepan and set it before him, with a cold game pie and a loaf of bread. Jerk made a hearty meal and felt better, his opinion of clergymen going up at a bound when he discovered that a strong dose of excellent ship's rum had been mixed with the milk. "Rum's good stuff, my lad, on occasions," he said cheerily, "and I've a notion that it'll drive the cold out of you," and Jerry thought it a very sensible notion, too.
"And now look here, my lad," the Doctor went on, when Jerry could eat no more, "what you've seen may be true enough, though I tell you I can hardly credit it. It's a good deal for a thinking man to swallow, you'll allow, what with the devil riders and all that. Besides which I can see no earthly reason for the schoolmaster committing the crime. As yet I really don't know what to say, my boy. I'm beat, I confess it. I must think things over for an hour or so. In the meantime I must strongly urge you to keep this adventure to yourself. It is very dangerous to make accusations that you have no means of proving, and certainly you can prove nothing, for there is nothing to go on but what you thought you saw. Well, a nightmare has upset better men than you before now, Jerry, and it is possible that your rich imagination may have supplied the whole thing. Go back then, to your house, and get a couple of hours' sleep, and then go to school as if nothing had happened. Then I'll tell you what we'll do, my lad: you come round here and we'll have a bit of dinner together and talk of this again."
"Thank you, sir," said Jerk, very flattered at being asked to dine with the vicar. "I consider that you've behaved very sensible over this horrible affair, though where you get wrong, sir, is over my 'rich imagination.' That part ain't true, sir. I knows what I seed, and I sees Rash stick Pepper twice under the arm with his pencil sharpener."
But Doctor Syn dismissed him with further adjurations to hold his tongue, adding that the whole thing seemed most odd.
On the way back from the vicarage Jerk met the sailors returning to the Court House bearing the remains of Sennacherib Pepper upon the shutter. After his conversation with Doctor Syn he thought it best to keep out of sight, as he was not desirous of being questioned by the captain, and so, when they had passed, he slipped home and managed to get into bed before his grandparents were astir. After his goodly feast at the vicarage he found it difficult to eat his usual hearty breakfast, but he did his best, saying that the news of this horrible murder and the thought of the man with the yellow face who was wanted by the King's men must have put him off his feed. And so his night's adventure passed unheeded, for everybody was too busy discussing the murder and setting forth their individual opinions upon it to trouble themselves about any suspicious behaviour of "Hangman Jerk."