Behind the Shutters

“Thank God somebody’s brought a light, for I don’t know what hasn’t happened here. Ah, Captain, it’s you, is it?” The speaker was Doctor Syn⁠—he was calmly kneeling over the form of Mr. Rash. He had, in fact, propped his head upon his knee and was dabbing the bleeding face with his clean handkerchief.

“Just get the brandy bottle out of that corner cupboard, will you, my man?” he said to the bo’sun. “The girl there has fainted. Nothing serious, just sheer fright.”

The bo’sun did as he was ordered, and Imogene was quickly restored to consciousness.

The captain for the most part just stared at Syn and said nothing. Suddenly he passed his hand over his brow and wiped away the great beads of perspiration that had gathered there; then taking the brandy bottle from the bo’sun’s hand he took a long pull, and with a sigh sat down in the armchair, still staring at Doctor Syn with unconcealed amazement.

“Feeling a bit squeamish, Captain?” said the latter, smiling. “You’re right, it’s an ugly sight. More blood than necessary, though. Merely flesh cuts. Bruised a bit, too! Help yourself to brandy. Good evening, Jerry; pleased to see you. Here’s your poor schoolmaster got hurt. Feeling better, Captain? That’s good. The sight of blood does turn one up. Was it Hannibal or Hamilcar who never could reconcile himself to the sight of blood? I forget. Some great general it was, though. The girl here is the same. Better, Imogene? Surely it was Hannibal, wasn’t it?”

“I am sure I don’t know, or care,” thundered the captain, standing up and turning desperately on the bo’sun. “Job Mallet, what in hell’s name is all this business? I’m dazed.”

But Doctor Syn went on speaking in his usual collected tones: “It’s all very horrible, I grant, but there’s no mystery, I assure you. We were all three chatting here quite pleasantly, when in leaps that mulatto of yours, attacks my friend the schoolmaster and all but kills him. I picked up a bottle and landed the brute a crack over the head. The bottle broke, and the madman turned on me, clapped a bit of broken glass in my mouth, which I expect is cut about a bit, and got away. I asked the girl to hold the light, and when she saw the schoolmaster’s face, why, over she went, candle and all, into a dead faint. Never saw such a thing in my life, but I tell you this, Captain: it’s your bounden duty to get hold of that maniac and string him up to the nearest tree, for there’s not a man, woman, or child safe while he’s free.”

Then Doctor Syn helped them to move the still unconscious Rash into his own bedroom, leaving the bo’sun and two seamen in charge, the rest of the sailors returning to the vicarage barn; and finally muffling himself in his great cloak he proceeded to the inn to procure a room for the night. Supporting Imogene, he walked ahead, followed by the captain and Jerry Jerk bearing a lantern.

“Potboy?” said the captain on the way.

“Sir?” said Jerry Jerk.

“Are we dreaming, or what?”

“Blowed if I know; wish I did.”

On reaching the inn they all agreed that it was none too safe to walk abroad that night again, for fear of that sinister mulatto out upon the Marsh, so they ordered the supper and rooms to be got ready, and for an hour or so the Doctor chatted of indifferent things, just as if nothing had happened.

But the captain kept silent that night; he had many things in his head that he couldn’t understand, and the greatest of these was Doctor Syn, that pious old cleric, who was making himself so pleasant over a steaming bowl of punch; and as the parlour clock ticked on, and the room was filled with tobacco smoke which the parson kept sending in thin rings across the fireplace, the captain rubbed his eyes hard, fidgeted and shuffled in his chair, wondering when the dream would stop and he would find himself awake.