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CHAPTER XXX


DOCTOR SYN HAS A "CALL"


DO YOU mean to say that you're going to leave Dymchurch?"

The squire was positively angry, a thing he had never been with Doctor Syn in all the years that he had known him. "You are undoubtedly pulling my leg—that's what you're doing. God bless my soul, sir, there's precious few fellows can do that, and precious few that dare try; but that's what you're doing, isn't it?"

"I'm afraid not. Sir Antony. My dear squire, my good friend, I am afraid that for once in my life I am most dreadfully in earnest."

"But what don't you like about the place? Is it something I've done? Do you want your stipend raised? Damme, I'll treble the blessed thing, if it's that. Oh, it's that rascally son of mine that's been putting you out. It's that Denis scamp, who never took to his books and never will. But I'll make him. I'll take my riding whip to the young whelp if he causes you pain. It is he! He's at the bottom of it. My soul and body, I'll give the young puppy a shaking up. He doesn't know a good tutor when he sees one. The impertinent young popinjay! Doesn't appreciate anything. No! God bless my soul, why he's no more respect for me than a five-barred gate. He's always doing something to jar me. Why, do you know, that the cool-faced young malefactor announced the other day in the most insolent manner that he was going to marry a barmaid? Yes, I assure you he did. He announced to me, sir, in the most condescending tones, as if he were conferring an inestimable favour upon my head, that he thought I ran a very good chance of having that girl Imogene for my daughter-in-law. You know Imogene, that serves and waits and does innumerable dirty jobs at the Ship Inn; and when I expostulated in fatherly tones, why, bless me, if the young spitfire didn't fly into a passion, crying out that it was high time one of the Cobtrees introduced some good looks into the family. Said that to me, mind you—his natural father that brought him into the world. I told him that, used those very words, and what does he do but begin to bow and scrape and praise and thank me for bringing him into the world at the same period as that black-haired bargirl, just as if his mother and I had timed the thing to a nicety! Why, when I come to think of it, she's the daughter of a common pirate, that rascally, scoundrelly Clegg, who was hanged at Rye. Isn't she now? And she's to be my daughter-in-law! Now, Doctor Syn, in the name of Romney Marsh, what the devil—I say, what the devil would you do if you had a son like that to deal with? "

The squire absolutely had to stop for breath, and Doctor Syn, who had been vainly trying to get a word in edgewise, replied: "Well, sir, I should candidly confess that my son was a lucky dog if he succeeded in getting her, and which, I should very much doubt. In fact, were I in your place, I should go so far as to bet my wig that he would never win the girl. I'm very fond of Denis, devoted to him in fact, but I'm afraid he'll have a great difficulty in marrying Imogene."

"I should damn well bet my eyes he will, sir! I need none to tell me that. Difficulty in marrying her? Aye, that he will. My son will marry position, sir—money, sir—and if beauty comes along of it, well, then, beauty, sir, and all the better for my son, sir."

"And provided of course that the lady is willing," put in the vicar.

"Willing? What minx wouldn't be only too damned willing to marry my son—old Cobtree's son; and not so old either, sir, eh? Why, any woman would jump at the chance! And as for a bargirl, the daughter of a dirty pirate hanged in that silly conceited little town of Rye, why, pooh-pooh, my dear Doctor! Laughable!"

"Well, I think differently in this case. Squire," said the Doctor. "I should call Denis a lucky dog. I might even stretch a point and, at the risk of being unfrocked, say a damned lucky dog if he succeeded in marrying that girl Imogene."

"What?" cried the squire.

"Of course," said the Doctor, "you mustn't go entirely by what I say, because I hold myself very seriously gifted in the judging of attractive women."

"And so do I, sir. I know she's attractive. A damned fine, upstanding young woman, and if she were even a county pauper I might stretch a point and accept her, but beauty comes last on my list."

"But Imogene possesses all the other necessaries required. Rich she is, and very rich, though she doesn't know it, and although her mother was but a dancer in a Raratonga gambling saloon, she was descended direct from an Incan princess, and as you said 'pooh-pooh' to me, sir, why, I'll say 'pooh' back, sir: 'pooh' to your Kentish ladies of quality, for when Imogene comes into her own, why, damme, she could chuck their fortunes on to every horse in the village steeplechase."

"Is she so very wealthy—that girl at the Ship Inn? Well, perhaps I am wrong in saying that the match is so very uneven. Perhaps I am."

"Yes," went on the vicar, "there is just the possibility that it might be brought to a successful issue, though if you'll excuse my saying so, you are so very tactless at times, Squire."

"What do you mean?" cried the squire hotly. "I am none too sure that I should care for my son to marry a bargirl, though she were the daughter of Crœsus himself."

"My dear Squire, calm yourself, I beg. As a barmaid I admit Imogene is below Denis as regards position, but as an Incan princess, why, my dear friend, she is as far superior to the Cobtrees of the Court House as the reigning house of England. Why, do you know anything—but of course you do—of the pride, the magnificence, the omnipotent splendour possessed by the Incan kings? Why, the Palace of Whitehall would compare most unfavourably with their sculleries."

"No? Really?" said the squire.

"And it's for the wealth and fortunes of Imogene that I must leave you," went on the cleric—"that is, leave you for a time, you understand? For although I shall bestow upon her certain things of value that I hold as her guardian, the bulk of her fortune has been lying idle, but now that she is growing into womanhood, it is high time I fulfilled my duties and lifted her money for her."

"Then she's your adopted child, is she?" said the squire, pushing his wig back and scratching his head.

"Well, I suppose that's how it stands in a sense," replied the Doctor. "When that rascal Clegg died he actually paid me a good sum of money to see that his daughter was provided for, and of course I've kept that money for her till she came to years of discretion. He also told me where England's treasure was buried, and that's what I'm off to get."

"England's treasure? What's that?" asked the amazed squire.

"Clegg was a partner of England, the notorious pirate. It is said that he killed England in a quarrel, though nothing was proved of it. Anyhow, Clegg was the only man who knew of the hiding-place, and at his death he imparted the secret to me, after I had given solemn oath upon the Bible to keep it to myself."

"God bless my soul!" said the squire, leaping to his feet; "and do you mean to say that you've kept the secret all this time and not fitted out a ship and gone to lift it? Why, there may be millions there!"

"There are," said Doctor Syn. "I'm certain of that. That's why I've been at pains to keep the whole matter to myself, not even telling the girl, for it will want careful handling. Once let any one know that I am off to lift Clegg's treasure-chests, and all the dogs in Christendom will be nosing on my trail. Clegg had the same fear of this secret being stolen and so committed the exact lie of the island to my memory, and to no artificial map, but he did it so uncommon well that I can see point, bays, lagoons, soundings, and tracks just as if I had piloted ships there all my life."

"Then all this pious talk of wanting to go out as a mission preacher to the smelly blacks is simply balderdash, and you haven't had a ridiculous 'call' at all?"

"Merely a cloak to hide my real designs."

"Good Lord deliver us!" said the squire, pushing his wig clean off and allowing it to lie unheeded on the floor.

Just then there entered a servant who announced to the squire that the girl from the Ship Inn was outside with a note which she desired to give to the squire.

"Ask her to be so kind as to step in," said the squire, with a touch of deference and awakened interest. Imogene accordingly came into the room. Perfectly at ease she stood there, until with almost regal grace she accepted the chair that the squire brought forward. Yes, he thought the vicar was right. Her clothes were rough indeed, but her manner would have sat well on an empress.

"You have brought a note for me, I think—Imogene?" said the squire at last. He was ridiculously uncertain whether to call her Imogene as usual, or Madame; in fact in his confusion he was as near as not saying Mistress Cobtree, which would have been awful. Imogene held out a small sealed packet, and looked at the fire, and so taken up was the squire with looking at her and thinking of the Incan millions that, if Doctor Syn had not shuffled his foot, he would have forgotten to open the letter at all. But the moment he had, the girl, the Incan millions, his anger against his son, the mission 'call' of the Doctor, everything was forgotten, for he crunched the letter in his hand, threw his head back, and looking at the ceiling with the most appalled expression on his face, cried out: "If there's a God in heaven, come down quick and wring this captain's neck!"

"What is it?" cried the vicar.

"Read it out!" yelled the squire, flinging the crumpled paper ball upon the table. "If you love me, read it out and tell me what to do."

Doctor Syn recovered the note, which had bounced from the table to the floor, and when he had unravelled it and smoothed it straight and flat, he read:

"Ship Inn.

"To Sir Antony Cobtree of the Court House, Leveller of Marsh Scotts.

"Sir: I beg to inform you on behalf of the British Admiralty that the person of Mister Rash, Dymchurch schoolmaster, has disappeared. I feel sure that there is somebody in power who is organizing Romney Marsh for his own ends. Somebody is running wool to France, and from the clever organization of these runs, I know that some cultured brain is directing affairs. Your attitude of utter indifference forces me to suspect you. As Leveller of the Marsh Scotts you are in a safe place to control such a scheme, and so I have taken a strong measure in attaching the person of your son. Mister Denis Cobtree. If the body of that unfortunate schoolmaster, dead or alive, is not produced before me within the next twenty-four hours, I shall take steps to force your hand.

"Captain Howard Collyer,
"Coast Agent and Commissioner.
[Signed]
"P.S. There is a press gang at work in Rye who will ship your son to sea in twenty-four hours."

"Now what am I to do? Press gang at Rye! Twenty-four hours! What have I got to do with that flabby-faced schoolmaster? Where's he got to? How the devil should I know? P'raps he thinks that I have danced him off somewhere. Never heard of such a thing in my life. But what am I to do? That's what I want to know! What am I to do? My poor Denis! Why, I wouldn't have quarrelled with him if I'd known. Why has that schoolmaster disappeared? By what infernal right, I say, has that insignificant anæmic louse disappeared?"

Doctor Syn then briefly related the bo'sun's story of Rash's disappearance, which the squire listened to impatiently.

"Well, sir," the latter exclaimed at the conclusion, "as far as that schoolmaster's concerned, I don't mind if he's roasting on Lucifer's spit, for I dislike the man, but when his disappearance concerns the safety of my son, my God! he's got to put in an appearance and be quick about it. For I'll have him routed out of his infernal hiding-place. I'll rouse the Marshmen and have him routed out."

"That's all very well. Squire, but how?"

"How, sir?" echoed that irascible gentleman. "How? Do you ask me how? Well, I don't know! How? Yes, how?"

"That's the question," ruefully remarked Doctor Syn.

"Of course it is," returned the other. "Well, how would you set about it yourself?"

"I'd beat the Marsh up from border to border."

"So I will, sir, so I will!"

"And I should get that mulatto and hang him, for he's a sorcerer, a witchman; and I believe that as long as we have such a Jonah's curse among us that nothing will come right."

"I'll do that at once. But we've only twenty-four hours."

Imogene stood up and looked at the squire, and in a steady voice, as if she were pronouncing a definite judgment, she said: "It is enough for me. I will undertake to find your son for you, and the schoolmaster, too." And without waiting for a reply she swiftly passed out of the room.

"But what can we do?" stammered the squire.

"I should find that mulatto and hang him."

"But I don't care a fig about finding him."

"You must," persisted the cleric, "for he is the cause of the trouble. Find that mulatto, and leave the rest to Imogene. She has spoken, and you may be sure she'll keep her word. But find that mulatto!"