The Marsh holds its Secrets dark…
Beginning of autumn 1775. Kent, England. Dymchurch-on-the-Marsh.
The vicarage, after supper, the vicar’s study.
Christopher Syn sat at his desk, pen in hand, his journal open before him. He’d hardly written a word all evening. Despite the fire in the hearth, he wore a blanket around his shoulders. The vicar was obviously troubled, but silent.
In a huge chair by the fire, Sexton Mipps sat reading a book – or half-reading it, half-watching the other man. Finally he asked, “Are you ill, Vicar? Would you like something? Some brandy perhaps?”
Syn looked down over his shoulder, a tiny apologetic smile pulling at his lips. “I’m well, thank you,” he assured. “But, yes, some brandy would be nice. Where is John now?”
“He’s in his room. I think he’s gone to bed, sir. Or he’s hard at work studying his lessons.” Mipps got up, poured the brandy, then joined the vicar at the desk.
For awhile the two men just sat there, until finally Syn asked, “Who hears a vicar’s confession, Sexton?”
Mipps lifted an eyebrow. “It’s a little late to ride all the way to London and rouse the Archbishop out of bed. But I’m willing to listen in his stead, if a lowly sexton can be of any assistance. And if it has anything to do with a certain vicar leading a certain band of gentlemen smugglers, it’s just as well that the Archbishop not hear it.”
That caused another smile on the vicar’s lips. “No,” he admitted, “that’s not the confession I had in mind… although I’m sure that that would be less shocking to his Lord Bishop than what I do have to say.”
Mipps didn’t try to hurry them other man, but just relaxed in his chair, sipping his brandy. The doctor would talk in his own time.
“I’m in love, Mipps,” Syn finally announced calmly, gazing down at his drink, and not at his sexton. “And I don’t quite know what to do about it.”
At that, Mipps smiled. “Well, sir, if you don’t know, at your age, I’m afraid I can’t help you.”
A pensive smile responded. “It’s not that simple. I’m in love with one of Sir Thomas’ children.”
Mipps nodded his approval. “John’s a fine young man, sir. I’m happy for you.”
Taken aback, Syn stared at the other man. “What makes you assume I wasn’t speaking of Katherine?”
A slight lift of shoulder. “Well, you weren’t, were you? You have shown no interest in Lady Kate.”
“So, does that mean I am that obvious with John?”
“To me, yes – but don’t worry, I don’t suppose anyone else would see it. You haven’t told him, have you?”
“Of course not – how could I? The poor lad would be horror-struck, if he had any idea at all.” Another swallow of brandy. “Yet I cannot deny the fact that my heart and loins surge with fire when I see him – or even think of him.”
“How mature the young man acted in the battle last Thursday,” Mipps recalled. “You remember, he handled it very well. Did you see how he cleaned and treated Jim Tremayne’s grave wounds, and assisted the other wounded – John didn’t waver or lose his head.”
“He’s a boy,” Syn protested, “ – no more than fifteen years old.”
“How old was Agatha when you married?”
The vicar frowned. “Fifteen. But that was different.”
“I was eighteen then. Now I’m thirty-six.”
“So that just means you’ll be a mature companion for John.”
The vicar snapped a sharp look at Mipps. “A mate for John. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re both males.”
A keen look narrowed the sexton’s eyes, and leaning back in his chair, arms folded, he reminded, “I remember, years ago, two young men, eight months out to sea, finding love and pleasure in each other’s arms. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten.”
Syn cast a sidelong glance of disapprobation at his dear old friend, but the tiny tug at the corner of his lips belied the frown.
A humorous little wink, as the other man leaned forward conspiratorially. “In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re both men as well.”
“I noticed. Well, what am I supposed to do – ask Sir Thomas for his son’s hand in marriage?”
“No – any more than you asked for his permission to take his son on smuggling runs.”
Yellow glow of candlelight flickered over a serious face, as the doctor admitted, “I care a great deal for him, Mipps. The last thing I would ever want to do is hurt him.”
“How would you hurt him?”
“In a year or two, he is going to find a girl in the village, he’ll want to marry. If I have intruded upon him, he may feel guilty – if not now, then later. He’s so fresh now, so innocent. I could not bear to destroy that.”
“He’s a mature young man.”
“Mature, yes, in many ways. But human relationships, Mipps…”
“Then who better than you to bring him along?”
“I don’t feel like a parent to him.”
“No, a husband.”
“We have responsibilities, Mipps – the Church, the Scarecrow’s work, John’s schoolwork.”
“Everybody need personal support, Vicar. Agatha has been gone for twelve years. Help fill John’s life, let him fill yours.”
A lift of eyebrow. “You know, we’re forgetting one thing. We’re speaking as though John wants me. He admires the Scarecrow; he might look up to the vicar. But certainly he would never want me in… an intimate way…”
“Perhaps he would.”
A certain pointed intensity in Mipps’ tone caught Syn’s attention. “What do you mean?”
The sexton smiled. “I mean that this is the second time this week that I’ve heard this particular confession.” A little glance tossed toward the back of the room.
There, in the darkened hallway, John stood silently, eyes moist.
Mipps smiled gently. “We all swore an oath to the Scarecrow, and we have all kept it. The marsh holds one secret. It can hold another.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
sometime before this night, a warm summer day, the older man stripped to the waist, working outdoors, then washing up at the horse trough, splashing water over handsome face, strong shoulders… and surreptitiously from the stable doors, a young man watches with silent yearning in his eyes at the lean adult-muscled form.
. . . . .
to be continued someday…