Doctor Syn/Chapter 21

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CHAPTER XXI


THE BO'SUN'S STORY


NOTHING happened, sir, for some hour or so after you left, and then things made up for lost time, as 'twere, and came fast and quick. I was sitting outside this here room with the door on the jar—outside I was, 'cos I couldn't bear the sight of that schoolmaster's face. I think you'll own yourself, sir, that it wasn't just exactly wot you might call 'a pleasant evening face' especially, a-battered about as it was. Poor Bill Spiker and Morgan Walters here was asleep downstairs, for we'd agreed that I should stand first watch.

"Well, the boys had brought us over our allowance of rum from the barn, and we'd all had a drop, though I kept most of mine to the end of my watch, thinking to use it for a nightcap, as 'twere, but the little drop I did get was making me feel very drowsy, and I began to think the next hour would never go, when I could wake up Bill Spiker. Presently I hears a noise of galloping horses. I goes to the window on the stairs there, and looks out. Right along the road I could see those same riders with lit-up faces wot I'd seed the night before last. I know it was them, 'cos I could see their faces, you understand, when quite sudden I was seized from behind and pulled over backwards down the stairs. I fought the best I could, but there was a sort of overpowering smell upon a 'kerchief wot had been pulled over my mouth, and I was lifted up on four men's shoulders, as it seemed. I couldn't see anything of their faces, but as I went up the stairway on their shoulders I just remember a-seein' that schoolmaster a-comin' down in the same fashion as I was a-goin' up, only that he only required two to hold him. Now, whether this was because I was heavier, I don't know, or whether 'cos he was only a-comin' down while I was a-goin' up, or whether the things wot had got hold of me was real or sham, as 'twere, but certain am I the two things wot had the schoolmaster—and things I must call 'em, though they was a bit like men—had got the same shiny faces all alight, just like wot them demon riders had; and then I don't remember nothing else till I was woke up by hearin' a sort of horrible shriek downstairs which I thought was just a dream, but now suppose was poor Bill a-voicin' his last opinion in this world, as 'twere. After that I went to sleep again; then I was waked up again by a sort of groanin', which I finds was myself, and then in comes you after a long time and lets me go, as 'twere, and that's all I knows, so help me God, sir; but quite enough for one night, as I thinks you'll agree."

Morgan Walters then gave his version of what happened in the night, which bore out certain points of the bo'sun's story.

He had soon fallen into a deep sleep, but was awakened with a feeling that something was wrong. He tried to move but couldn't; indeed, he could scarcely breathe. The only things that he could see were two dark forms moving about the room, but their faces were lit up by a curious light. These two things passed out of the room, and then for what seemed an interminable time Morgan Walters worked away at his bonds, and presently became aware that his companion was doing likewise. They couldn't talk, for they found that, just as soon as they tried to, the breath that they took in through the anæsthetic overpowered their senses. Presently Morgan Walters thought that he could hear the sound of horses. It sounded like a regiment of pack-ponies trotting on the highroad—"tlip tlop" they went, a slow "tlip tlop," and a lot of them, too. These were his very words. Then he heard a sigh of satisfaction from his companion, and saw him stand up, for he had partially unbound himself. Whether to let in the refreshing sea sir, or whether he had also heard the horses and wanted to locate them, Morgan Walters couldn't say, but Bill Spiker had got to the broken window and unbolted the shutters. He felt the cold air come into the room with a great gasp, and then he seemed to have dozed off again, but the next thing he heard was a great scream of agony, and turning over he beheld Bill Spiker embracing the wall, and the wall held him up, for there was a weapon transfixed to it through his companion's neck. The very horror and sudden surprise of the thing caused Morgan Walters to make a superb effort, and he somehow stood upon his feet. Then came a curious thing: He saw between himself and the now repulsive form of his fellow a man—a yellow-faced man—the mulatto seaman. With one hand the creature plucked the weapon from the wall and drew it back through the bleeding neck that held it. This was strangely vivid to Morgan Walters, and he could recall his thought of wonder that the blood in no way stained the yellow hand that drew the reeking steel from the flesh. The body of Bill Spiker fell from the wall and collapsed in a heap, and a hand seemed to strike Morgan Walters at the same time, for he lost consciousness again and remembered little else.

"Did the mulatto touch you?" asked the captain, speaking suddenly and rather loud, so that all in the room gave a perceptible start. "Think well, my man."

"I am quite certain of that, sir. I know he did not!"

"And yet you were knocked down!"

"So it seems, sir, but it may have been just losing consciousness again. I've never fainted before, so perhaps it was that, or the effects of the smelly stuff on the 'kerchief. "

"And you remember nothing else?"

"One thing, though whether I dreamt that or not I couldn't swear to, but it seemed that when I come to something like myself the dawn was breaking, for the room was filled with a gray light, when suddenly something came into the room and closed those shutters. Then I fell off into another sort of sleep and dreamt that people were trying to wake me up by banging on the shutters, and then at last—hours after it, it seemed—you came, sir, and freed me."

"One moment," said the captain; "this something that closed the shutters—a man?"

"Yes, like a man."

"Like what man?"

"Well, sir, it was like one of them devils that I'd seen leaving the room that night. It also reminded me—yes, it reminded me of that gentleman there, a-standing at that door—that sexton; in fact, now I comes to think of it and look at him, I remembers dreaming a lot about him in the night."

"Thank you kindly," said Mr. Mipps, who was indeed listening to the narrative from the door, "but don't trouble to drag me into it, mate. I gives you my word that we were all as merry as crickets till you King's men come nigh the place, and as for talks of demons and such like, well, there's always gossip of such, of course, but since you fellows come aboard, the talk's been of nothing else; and murders, too. Why, we'd never heard of murders, except, of course, in church we'd heard as how there was such things. We was as happy and contented a pleasant-going little village as you could have wished, we was; but now, so help me God! you fellows have turned our little spot into a regular witches' kitchen, that you have. Two days you've been here, and two murders we've had—one a day—and if you stays here for a year, as you can calculate for yourself, we'll have three hundred and sixty-five, at the present rate. Of course it's good for my trade, so I says nothing. Go on murdering to your hearts' content, for I can knock up one a day all right, but I ain't a-goin' to take any blame about it, and, wot's more, I object to being dreamt about; so another night kindly leave me out of your adventures, 'cos I don't like bein' mixed up with such traffic."

Saying which Mipps stepped across to the corpse of Bill Spiker, and, producing his footrule, measured him up, and entered the same in a dirty notebook.

The captain then proceeded to the barn and soundly rated his still drowsy men; and putting the bo'sun in charge of the corpse, he asked Doctor Syn to join him for breakfast at the Ship. And as there was no schoolmaster, and consequently no school, Jerry Jerk had the extreme pleasure of waiting upon them.