Doctor Syn/Chapter 29

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CHAPTER XXIX


CAPTAIN COLLYER ENTERTAINS AN ATTORNEY FROM RYE


IT WAS something of a difficult position which Captain Collyer was called upon to face. That he had cut a ridiculous figure no one was more conscious than himself, and being made absurd before his own men made the situation doubly difficult. But Captain Collyer preserved his dignity in a most meritorious manner.

When the smugglers had gone and the bo'sun had freed him from his bonds, he stood up in the barn and addressed the sailors: "My men," he began, "we have been badly beaten. Without a blow you were forced to lay down your arms, which I well know must have been a hard thing for you to do. After I had given the bo'sun orders of the night's plan I went out to verify certain suspicions that I had formed against certain folk upon the Marsh. I was congratulating myself on how well I was succeeding, when I found myself a helpless prisoner in the wretches' hands. I had walked blindly into a very clever trap. As you saw for yourselves, my captors made such a complete job of me that I was helpless to speak to you or give you any sign. Under the circumstances, I must thank the bo'sun for his gallant behaviour. I appreciate what he did, for he saved my life, although perhaps I could almost find it in my heart that he had acted otherwise, for a good seaman's death is now on my hands—brave Will Rudrum, who was shot dead on the road. I also cannot find it in my heart to reprimand Joe Dickinson for his fit of laughter, because nobody saw the humour and disgrace of my position as much as I did myself. But when a man's life is forfeited all humour slips away, and so it has for me and for you, I'm sure, who were Will Rudrum's comrades at arms. I am very thankful that my life has been spared for this one purpose—namely, of avenging poor Rudrum's death—and if any one should and can avenge him, I hold myself to be that man. For this purpose I intend to take you all into my confidence. Having failed dismally so far, I do not wish to fail again; therefore, listen. In the first place, we are not a strong enough body to cope with these Marshmen. I shall therefore demand a strong body of reinforcements. There are redcoats at Dover and there are seamen at Rye. To both of these towns shall I send couriers. Also at Rye there is a remarkable old man, a wise man, an attorney-at-law. He will meet me this very day at the Ship Inn, and will undertake all the legal points with regard to the arrests which I shall make as soon as I have gathered up a few more facts. Will Rudrum was the first to fall in a good cause, for this corner of England is a very hotbed of enemies to the government. Bo'sun, you will serve out an extra allowance of rum at once, for we must drink together."

The rum was served and the captain raised his pannikin:

"To the swift avenging of poor Will Rudrum, to the quick regaining of our dignity, and to the speedy hanging of his Majesty's foes!"

The men drank, and then Joe Dickinson shouted: "And to our captain, God bless him, and blast them as does him dirty tricks!"

This toast was drunk greedily, and then the bo'sun led three cheers—three cheers which went echoing out of the old barn across the Marsh with a strength that made many a smuggler turn in his bed uneasily.

When they opened the barn door at daybreak to let the captain go forth, they found there a neat pile of weapons: his Majesty's pistols and his Majesty's cutlasses were all returned.

"Aye, but there's some honour amongst thieves, sir!" exclaimed the bo'sun.

"Devil a bit of it!" said the captain. "The rascals know that we can soon get substitutes, and they've no wish to have such telltale things discovered on their premises. There's more good sense than honour in it, I'm thinking, Job Mallet."

At ten o'clock that morning a coach rolled up to the door of the Ship Inn and out stepped Antony Whyllie, Esq., attorney-at-law from Rye, a man of sixty-five years, but upright and alert as any young man. He was attired in a bottle-green coat, black satin breeches, silk stockings, silver-buckled shoes, and faultless linen. His gray wig, tied concisely with a black ribbon, completed a true picture of the law: a man to desire for one's defence, a man to dread for one's accusation.

The captain received him at the door of the inn and conducted him to the privacy of his own bedchamber.

There he unburdened his mind to the lawyer, stating all his suspicions and clearly showing how he had arrived at them. By the end of the morning they thoroughly understood each other, the lawyer returning by coach to Rye with orders to the governor of the castle to prepare accommodation for a large number of prisoners and to see to it that there were chains enough to hang 'em to. But, strange to relate, that lawyer in bottle green never reached the little town of Rye, for his coach stopped at a certain farmhouse beyond Romney. Here he alighted to make room for another lawyer, a real lawyer, a man of sixty-five, who had left Rye that very morning to consult with a certain Captain Collyer residing at the Ship Inn, Dymchurch. This lawyer had, needless to say, never arrived at Dymchurch. For at a lonely spot on the road outside Romney a strong body of men had awaited the arrival of his coach. While two or three of them removed the driver from his box to the farmhouse, where they speedily made him drunk, two or three others had entered the coach, securely gagged and blindfolded the occupant, and conveyed him also to the house, the coach immediately proceeding to Dymchurch with another coachman and another lawyer, a man in a bottle-green coat.

The blindfolded lawyer had been scared out of all knowledge, especially by the sound of the voice of a certain man known as the Scarecrow. This terrible ruffian had told the lawyer that if on returning to Rye he breathed a word of what had happened they would most certainly catch him again and do away with him, adding that there was no place more convenient than Romney Marsh for the hiding of a body. So with the exception of telling his awful experience to his wife, whom he feared nearly as greatly as he feared the Scarecrow, Antony Whyllie, attorney-at-law, held his tongue, being only thankful that the rascals had let him off so easily. The coachman, who was so muddled with drink and with falling off his box at least a dozen times on the way back, never even remembered what had happened or to whose kind offices he was indebted for the privilege of becoming so gloriously drunk. So the affair passed unheeded by the public, and the gentleman in bottle green, having changed his clothes, might that very afternoon have been seen going toward the church of Dymchurch. Down into the crypt he went, and there, at a dirty table lighted by a candle set in a bottle's neck, he aided two other men to work out certain accounts that were spread before them in a book marked "Parish Register of Deaths." But there were no deaths registered in that book. It was full of figures accounting for cargoes of wool, full of receipts for coffins loaded with spirits.

Sexton Mipps and the gentleman who had worn the bottle-green coat then unlocked an old chest and took out certain money bags which they emptied on the table. The third gentleman, whom they addressed as the Scarecrow, helped them to sort the coin, French in one pile, English in another, and then referring to a list of names in the register, the three managers of the secret bank proportioned out their servants' wages. When this was accomplished the gentleman who had worn the bottle-green coat presented his little account, which was promptly paid in golden guineas, and he left them, saying that he was very sorry that it was the last time that he would draw so many golden Georges from the bank.

"Yes, the bank closes accounts to-day," said the Scarecrow, striking his name off the list, "though perhaps some day we shall open it again. Who knows?"

"Let's hope so," said the other, shaking hands with the Scarecrow and the sexton, "and let's hope we meet again. Good-bye." And he was gone, Mipps locking the door behind him.

"It's all right to a penny," said the Scarecrow.

"Hooray! I calls it," chuckled Sexton Mipps, rubbing his hands together. "I'll get this little lot of coinage nailed up in a coffin and sent to Calais, and old What's-his-name wot's just gone up the stairs has arranged with the Calais people to get it transferred to the Bank of Lyons, so you can get at it yourself from Marseilles, can't you?"

"Yes, we're all square now. Everything shipshape. Mother Waggetts I've settled with, and Imogene gets the iron-bound casket. I've seen to it all. But it's time I was off. I've a certain gentleman to see before nightfall."

"Who's that?" asked Mipps.

"The squire," replied the Scarecrow, laughing as he tied up the money bags.

"And I have a gentleman to visit, too," said Mipps.

"Who's that?" asked the Scarecrow.

"Parson Syn, Doctor Syn, the worthy vicar," replied Mipps, winking, at which the Scarecrow laughed and went out of the crypt.

Mipps, after locking up the money in the chest, followed leisurely, and as he crossed the churchyard he saw Doctor Syn ringing the front door bell of the Court House.

"Well," murmured Mipps to himself, "I've met one or two of 'em in my time, but he's a blinkin' marvel."