compiled by Connie Lewis and Angie McCleary
This is the fourth book in the saga of Doctor Syn, and, although complete in itself, follows chronologically
the events recorded in The Further Adventures of Doctor Syn
13 Concerning a Cargo of Bones ………………………………………………………………….67
14 The Captain Sits Up Late ………………………………………………………………………71
15 The Removal of Captain Blain …………………………………………………………………75
covered the latter years of the eighteenth century, the Coffin Shop, presided over by his Sexton and general
factotum, Mister Mipps, was one of the chief centres for village gossip.
Situated at the cross-roads, and overlooking the vast expanse of Romney, it was the first building encountered
when entering the long straggling village street.
It consisted of a low and extenuated shed, housing a forge and carpenter’s bench, and joined to an old cottage, the
ground floor of which was utilized as a general store.
Though the cottage was known officially as Old Tree Cottage, from an ancient trunk which reared itself proudly
before its casements, the whole building was always referred to as the Coffin Shop.
And it was in the Coffin Shop that Mipps could always be found when at home. Anyone wanting to buy
anything, from a jar of pickled onions to a marline spike, would ask for it across a tresselled coffin, and wait while
Mipps retired into the store, and finally delivered it upon a coffin lid, for there was always one coffin there, which
Mipps explained as being in readiness for the next stock-size corpse that might come along.
Mipps was a thin, wiry little man, with a pointed nose like that of an inquisitive ferret. As though to balance it,
his scraggy back hair was screwed into a queue, stiffened with tar, a fashion he had adopted in the days when he had
served as a ship’s carpenter.
With the exception of Doctor Syn, who always seemed to have the best advice for everybody’s problems, there
was no one who carried more parochial respect than Mipps. Old and young would drop into his workshop with their
wants, or their gossip. Like his master, the Vicar, he was ever ready to listen to anyone’s troubles, and his
whispered solution would be followed by a nod and a look of satisfaction as his visitor departed.
These whisperings in the Coffin Shop had sometimes been looked upon with suspicion by Revenue men, which
was a great source of amusement to Mipps, who defied them to find anything against him.
“Prove that I’m the Scarecrow,” he would say, with a chuckle, “and I’ll be ever so proud. Besides I’ll be able to
retire from the undertaking business when I finds myself the head of the Romney Marsh Smugglers. I’ve heard you
say that their profits are ver good indeed. Mine ain’t very good, so a change will do me wonders.”
Very often Doctor Syn would hitch the reins of his fat white pony over the gate-post of the Coffin Shop, while he
went in to discuss parochial matters with his Sexton, and on such occasions the villagers would tactfully wait for his
departure before presenting themselves to Mipps.
It was on such an occasion that several villagers, more than anxious to receive a whispered message from Mipps,
waited dutifully till their spiritual leader should mount his white pony and ride away.
They quite understood that the Vicar’s business must come first, since Mipps was the Vicar’s man, but to most of
them there was something more important than parochial matters, namely, their next orders from the mysterious
Scarecrow who had led them for so many years against the Revenue men, without betraying his identity. Even
Mipps professed ignorance on this subject. Certainly he was often used as the Scarecrow’s mouthpiece, and passed
messages that had not been able to be given at the last meeting of the Nightriders. Sometimes, too, the Scarecrow
found it necessary to change his plans, which he was able to do through the medium of the Coffin Shop.
On the March morning in the year 1781, the Vicar’s consultation upon parochial matters with Mipps seemed to
those anxiously waiting unnecessarily long.
In the ordinary way the little knot of fishermen and farm hands would not have minded how long they were kept
gossiping outside the Coffin Shop. It was pleasant to sit on the old wall of the bridge that spanned a broad dyke
opposite the closed shed from which they could hear the swish of the plane as the old carpenter worked. Dymchurch
was a sleepy enough village in the daytime, whatever its activities might have been at night.
But these were anxious times. As they talked in low voices, they watched the evolutions of a squadron of
Dragoons, who were exercising their horses across the green meadows of the Marsh.
They had been in the village for some days, encamped with horse-lines behind the Ship Inn, in a large field that
ran to the sea-wall. They had been applied for by the Preventive Officer, who had not enough men at his disposal to
deal with the strong force for smugglers that worked under the Scarecrow.
With their plumed brass helmets and scarlet tunics, the Dragoons lent an exciting touch of colour to the village,
and since the Scarecrow’s Nightriders had thoroughly worsted them, with two runs on a big scale since their arrival,
their harmless manoeuvres did not worry them.
But a new source of danger was looming over the village, which made the gossipers all the more anxious to see
the Vicar mount his white pony and ride away, so that they could discover from Mipps exactly what the new rumour
They had just gleaned the news of the arrival that very day of men from the Royal Navy, who were to augment
the already established Dragoons.
The majority had more respect for the Navy than for the Army, and so they took the rumour which Percy had
imparted to them on the bridge very seriously.
Percy was one of the most important members of the village community. Although most of them regarded him
as the village idiot, by reason of his being overgrown, lanky, loose-lipped, round-shouldered, and slow of speech,
discerning folk realized that amongst the may sluggish cells in the brain of this seventeen-year-old lad were some
that could act with the most acute perception. In other words Percy was not always the fool that he looked.
His physical strength enabled him to eke out a reasonably comfortable living for himself and his widowed