The End of the Inquiry

The lawyers now asserted themselves, and for some three hours questioned and cross-questioned everybody. The squire left things in their hands, seeming to take small interest in the proceedings, while the captain, with his chin resting on his great hand, obviously took none at all. Doctor Syn, however, was at great pains to follow through the whole business, making notes of anything he deemed characteristic upon a scrap of paper before him.

But with all their cleverness the lawyers were greatly at sea, for they only ended up where they began⁠—namely, that Sennacherib Pepper was dead, and by violent means; that a foreign sailor was missing, and that this same sailor had stolen at a short period before the murder a certain harpoon from the house of Doctor Syn, and that from the nature and size of the wound upon the body sudden death was most certainly caused by this same weapon. To this false though obvious conclusion Doctor Syn, to Jerk’s intense surprise, unhesitatingly agreed. Jerk couldn’t understand this at all. Why had he been called to the trial if the vicar had not believed his story? for he found on being summoned to the witness box that all he was required to state was whether or no he had seen the mulatto enter the vicarage on the previous night and leave it a few minutes later with the harpoon in question in his hand. Having sworn to this, he was on the point of taking matters into his own hands and exposing the schoolmaster, when he was peremptorily ordered to “stand down” and only answer what was required of him. Returning to his place, he plainly noted the relief on the face of the schoolmaster. A warmer time of it had Mr. Mipps. There was something about Mipps that would always be called in question. If a great crime had been committed within a fifty-mile radius of Mipps, he would most assuredly have been detained upon suspicion. His quizzical appearance of injured innocence was quite enough to label him a “likely one.” On this occasion he acted upon the attorneys like a red rag to a bull.

“If I’m to be kept standing through this examination,” he remarked on his way to the witness box, “I must beg of you to be more brisk and businesslike than you have shown yourselves already. Perhaps in your profession you are paid for wastin’ your time, but in mine you ain’t, so please remember it. As our worthy vicar knows, I has a lot of work to get through; so the sooner you get on with this here dismal business the better temper you’ll keep me in, see?”

“You keep your mouth shut, my man, till you’re questioned,” sang out one of the attorneys sharply.

“I’ll keep my mouth shut for nobody but squire and Doctor Syn,” retorted the sexton, “and in your future remarks don’t ‘my man’ me, please. I ain’t your man, and it’s mighty pleased I am I ain’t.”

When ordered to give an account of what had happened on the previous night, he obstinately refused to open his mouth until they had removed to the other side of the room the two sailors who were guarding the witness box. “For,” said he, “I can’t abide the look or the smell of ’em; they fair turns me up.”

This caused much laughter among the villagers, and indeed the little sexton was so ready with his scathing remarks at the expense of the lawyers that in order to preserve their dignity they were obliged to stand him down.

“Have I now your permission to go back to my measuring,” said Mipps, producing his footrule, “or will any more advice from me be required?”

The lawyers tartly observed that he had been little or no use at all, and turned to the next witness.

After the schoolmaster had been called upon to bear out certain points of evidence, the three hours’ useless palaver came to a conclusion, the attorneys agreeing with Doctor Syn that Sennacherib Pepper had been murdered by the mulatto, and that as soon as he was taken he would get swift trial and short shrift; meantime “anyone found sheltering, feeding, or in any way abetting the said mulatto would be prosecuted.”

As it was now approaching dinnertime, further matters were left over until such time as the mulatto should be caught.

This, Doctor Syn vehemently urged, was of grave import to the Marsh folk, for so long as that maniac starved upon the Marsh, with a good weapon in his hand, they were open to the same fate as that which had befallen the inoffensive Pepper.

The captain rose first, left the courthouse, and set off for the Ship Inn without a word to the squire, the latter, accompanied by the attorneys and medical men, repairing to the dining-hall below. Doctor Syn, however, went from group to group, impressing the necessity for posses of men to scour the Marsh for the missing seaman.

This gave Rash an opportunity of approaching Jerk, who, being due to dine at the vicarage, was awaiting the parson’s pleasure.

“Well! And what do you think of courthouse inquiries, Mr. Jerk?” he said affably. “Impressive, ain’t they?”

“Not to me,” replied Jerry. “I don’t think nothing at all of ’em. After all the messing of them lawyers, I shouldn’t be surprised if they hadn’t got hold of the wrong end of the stick, should you?”

“What do you mean⁠—the wrong end?”

“What I say: the wrong end ain’t the right ’un, I believes.”

“Then you don’t think the mulatto committed the murder?”

“From what that there sea captain said, I should say you ain’t got no right to put thoughts into my head any more than words into my mouth.”

“Come, Jerk,” said the schoolmaster suavely, “no offence.”

“Never said there was,” replied Jerry.

“Then come and have a bite with me at my house, as there’s no school today; I should be honoured, indeed I should,” and the schoolmaster beamed upon him.

“Would you, though? I wonders?” mused the boy.

“Sorry to disappoint you,” he added airily, “but I’m a-dinin’ at the vicarage.”

“Oh, with the vicar?”

“No, with the Shah of Persia.” Then in a tone of supreme condescension he added: “I believes vicars lives in vicarages!”

“Ah⁠—so⁠—so! quite right!” returned the schoolmaster. “Doctor Syn, then, has asked you to dine?”

“Well, I don’t see anything so very remarkable in that, do you?”

“Oh, not at all⁠—all very right, proper, and pleasant.”

“Well, it’s right enough, you can lay to that, ’cos I tells you it is, and as to its being proper, well, I don’t see as how it’s improper, so I suppose it is; and as to its being pleasant, well, I’ll tell you when I knows what’s to eat there; and if you’ll excuse me I’ll be off now, ’cos I believe Doctor Syn is waiting for me.”

Indeed at that moment Doctor Syn approached and, putting his hand affectionately on Jerk’s shoulder, with a friendly nod to the schoolmaster, he led the boy from the room of inquiry out of the courthouse and so to the vicarage, where a cold dinner was already prepared.