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´╗┐Title: The Hole in the Wall
Author: Morrison, Arthur, 1863-1945
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Hole in the Wall" ***

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THE HOLE IN THE WALL

by

ARTHUR MORRISON



London
Eyre & Spottiswoode

The Hole in the Wall was first published in 1902
First published in The Century Library, 1947

The Century Library is printed in England by Billing and
Sons Ltd., Guildford and Esher, for Eyre & Spottiswoode
(Publishers) Ltd., 15 Bedford Street, London, W.C. 2, and
bound by James Burn and Company Ltd., Royal Mills, Esher



    _To_
    MRS. CHARLES EARDLEY-WILMOT



CONTENTS

        I. STEPHEN'S TALE

       II. IN BLUE GATE

      III. STEPHEN'S TALE

       IV. STEPHEN'S TALE

        V. IN THE HIGHWAY

       VI. STEPHEN'S TALE

      VII. STEPHEN'S TALE

     VIII. STEPHEN'S TALE

       IX. STEPHEN'S TALE

        X. STEPHEN'S TALE

       XI. STEPHEN'S TALE

      XII. IN THE CLUB-ROOM

     XIII. STEPHEN'S TALE

      XIV. STEPHEN'S TALE

       XV. STEPHEN'S TALE

      XVI. STEPHEN'S TALE

     XVII. IN BLUE GATE

    XVIII. ON THE COP

      XIX. ON THE COP

       XX. STEPHEN'S TALE

      XXI. IN THE BAR-PARLOUR

     XXII. ON THE COP

    XXIII. ON THE COP

     XXIV. ON THE COP

      XXV. STEPHEN'S TALE

     XXVI. STEPHEN'S TALE

    XXVII. IN THE BAR-PARLOUR

   XXVIII. STEPHEN'S TALE

     XXIX. STEPHEN'S TALE

      XXX. STEPHEN'S TALE



CHAPTER I

STEPHEN'S TALE


My grandfather was a publican--and a sinner, as you will see. His
public-house was the Hole in the Wall, on the river's edge at Wapping;
and his sins--all of them that I know of--are recorded in these pages.
He was a widower of some small substance, and the Hole in the Wall was
not the sum of his resources, for he owned a little wharf on the river
Lea. I called him Grandfather Nat, not to distinguish him among a
multitude of grandfathers--for indeed I never knew another of my
own--but because of affectionate habit; a habit perhaps born of the fact
that Nathaniel Kemp was also my father's name. My own is Stephen.

To remember Grandfather Nat is to bethink me of pear-drops. It is
possible that that particular sort of sweetstuff is now obsolete, and I
cannot remember how many years have passed since last I smelt it; for
the pear-drop was a thing that could be smelt farther than seen, and
oftener; so that its smell--a rather fulsome, vulgar smell I now
believe--is almost as distinct to my imagination while I write as it was
to my nose thirty years ago. For pear-drops were an unfailing part of
the large bagful of sticky old-fashioned lollipops that my grandfather
brought on his visits, stuffed into his overcoat pocket, and hard to get
out without a burst and a spill. His custom was invariable, so that I
think I must have come to regard the sweets as some natural production
of his coat pocket; insomuch that at my mother's funeral my muddled
brain scarce realised the full desolation of the circumstances till I
discovered that, for the first time in my experience, my grandfather's
pocket was void of pear-drops. But with this new bereavement the world
seemed empty indeed, and I cried afresh.

Associated in my memory with my grandfather's bag of sweets, almost more
than with himself, was the gap in the right hand where the middle finger
had been; for it was commonly the maimed hand that hauled out the paper
bag, and the gap was plain and singular against the white paper. He had
lost the finger at sea, they told me; and as my notion of losing a thing
was derived from my Noah's ark, or dropping a marble through a grating,
I was long puzzled to guess how anything like that could have happened
to a finger. Withal the circumstance fascinated me, and added vastly to
the importance and the wonder of my grandfather in my childish eyes.

He was perhaps a little over the middle height, but so broad and so deep
of chest and, especially, so long of arm, as to seem squat. He had some
grey hair, but it was all below the line of his hat-brim; above that it
was as the hair of a young man. So that I was led to reason that colour
must be washed out of hair by exposure to the weather; as perhaps in his
case it was. I think that his face was almost handsome, in a rough,
hard-bitten way, and he was as hairy a man as I ever saw. His short
beard was like curled wire; but I can remember that long after I had
grown to resent being kissed by women, being no longer a baby, I gladly
climbed his knee to kiss my grandfather, though his shaven upper-lip was
like a rasp.

In these early days I lived with my mother in a little house of a short
row that stood on a quay, in a place that was not exactly a dock, nor a
wharf, nor a public thoroughfare; but where people from the dock trying
to find a wharf, people from a wharf looking for the dock, and people
from the public thoroughfare in anxious search of dock and wharves, used
to meet and ask each other questions. It was a detached piece of
Blackwall which had got adrift among locks and jetties, and was liable
to be cut off from the rest of the world at any moment by the arrival of
a ship and the consequent swinging of a bridge, worked by two men at a
winch. So that it was a commonplace of my early childhood (though the
sight never lost its interest) to observe from a window a ship, passing
as it were up the street, warped into dock by the capstans on the quay.
And the capstan-songs of the dockmen--_Shenandore_, _Mexico is covered
with Snow_, _Hurrah for the Black Ball Line_, and the like--were as much
my nursery rhymes as _Little Boy Blue_ and _Sing a Song o' Sixpence_.
These things are done differently nowadays; the cottages on the quay are
gone, and the neighbourhood is a smokier place, where the work is done
by engines, with no songs.

My father was so much at sea that I remember little of him at all. He
was a ship's officer, and at the time I am to tell of he was mate of the
brig _Juno_, owned by Viney and Marr, one of the small shipowning firms
that were common enough thirty years ago, though rarer now; the sort of
firm that was made by a pushing skipper and an ambitious shipping clerk,
beginning with a cheap vessel bought with money raised mainly by pawning
the ship. Such concerns often did well, and sometimes grew into great
lines; perhaps most of them yielded the partners no more than a
comfortable subsistence; and a good few came to grief, or were kept
going by questionable practices which have since become
illegal--sometimes in truth by what the law called crime, even then.
Viney had been a ship's officer--had indeed served under Grandfather
Nat, who was an old skipper. Marr was the business man who had been a
clerk. And the firm owned two brigs, the _Juno_ and another; though how
much of their value was clear property and how much stood for borrowed
money was matter of doubt and disagreement in the conversation of mates
and skippers along Thames shore. What nobody disagreed about, however,
was that the business was run on skinflint principles, and that the
vessels were so badly found, so ill-kept, and so grievously
under-manned, that the firm ought to be making money. These things by
the way, though they are important to remember. As I was saying, I
remember little of my father, because of his long voyages and short
spells at home. But my mother is so clear and so kind in my recollection
that sometimes I dream of her still, though she died before I was eight.

It was while my father was on a long voyage with the _Juno_ that there
came a time when she took me often upon her knee, asking if I should
like a little brother or sister to play with; a thing which I demanded
to have brought, instantly. There was a fat woman called Mrs. Dann, who
appeared in the household and became my enemy. She slept with my mother,
and my cot was thrust into another room, where I lay at night and
brooded--sometimes wept with jealousy thus to be supplanted; though I
drew what consolation I might from the prospect of the promised
playmate. Then I could not go near my mother at all, for she was ill,
and there was a doctor. And then ... I was told that mother and
baby-brother were gone to heaven together; a thing I would not hear of,
but fought savagely with Mrs. Dann on the landing, shouting to my mother
that she was not to die, for I was coming. And when, wearied with
kicking and screaming--for I fought with neighbours as well as with the
nurse and the undertaker, conceiving them to be all in league to deprive
me of my mother--when at last the woman from next door took me into the
bedroom, and I saw the drawn face that could not smile, and my tiny
brother that could not play, lying across the dead breast, I so behaved
that the good soul with me blubbered aloud; and I had an added grief in
the reflection that I had kicked her shins not half an hour before. I
have never seen that good woman since; and I am ashamed to write that I
cannot even remember her name.

I have no more to say of my mother, and of her funeral only so much as
records the least part of my grief. Some of her relations came, whom I
cannot distinctly remember seeing at any other time: a group of elderly
and hard-featured women, who talked of me as "the child," very much as
they might have talked of some troublesome article of baggage; and who
turned up their noses at my grandfather: who, for his part, was uneasily
respectful, calling each of them "mum" very often. I was not attracted
by my mother's relations, and I kept as near my grandfather as possible,
feeling a vague fear that some of them might have a design of taking me
away. Though indeed none was in the least ambitious of that
responsibility.

They were not all women, for there was one quiet little man in their
midst, who, when not eating cake or drinking wine, was sucking the bone
handle of a woman's umbrella, which he carried with him everywhere,
indoors and out. He was in the custody of the largest and grimmest of
ladies, whom the others called Aunt Martha. He was so completely in her
custody that after some consideration I judged he must be her son;
though indeed he seemed very old for that. I now believe him to have
been her husband; but I cannot remember to have heard his name, and I
cannot invent him a better one than Uncle Martha.

Uncle Martha would have behaved quite well, I am convinced, if he had
been left alone, and would have acquitted himself with perfect propriety
in all the transactions of the day; but it seemed to be Aunt Martha's
immovable belief that he was wholly incapable of any action, even the
simplest and most obvious, unless impelled by shoves and jerks.
Consequently he was shoved into the mourning carriage--we had two--and
jerked into the corner opposite to the one he selected; shoved
out--almost on all fours--at the cemetery; and, perceiving him entering
the little chapel of his own motion, Aunt Martha overtook him and jerked
him in there. This example presently impressed the other ladies with the
expediency of shoving Uncle Martha at any convenient opportunity; so
that he arrived home with us at last in a severely jostled condition,
faithful to the bone-handled umbrella through everything.

Grandfather Nat had been liberal in provision for the funeral party, and
the cake and port wine, the gin and water, the tea and the watercress,
occupied the visitors for some time; a period illuminated by many moral
reflections from a rather fat relation, who was no doubt, like most of
the others, an aunt.

"Ah well," said the Fat Aunt, shaking her head, with a deep sigh that
suggested repletion; "ah well; it's what we must all come to!"

There had been a deal of other conversation, but I remember this remark
because the Fat Aunt had already made it twice.

"Ah, indeed," assented another aunt, a thin one; "so we must, sooner or
later."

"Yes, yes; as I often say, we're all mortal."

"Yes, indeed!"

"We've all got to be born, an' we've all got to die."

"That's true!"

"Rich an' poor--just the same."

"Ah!"

"In the midst of life we're in the middle of it."

"Ah yes!"

Grandfather Nat, deeply impressed, made haste to refill the Fat Aunt's
glass, and to push the cake-dish nearer. Aunt Martha jerked Uncle
Martha's elbow toward his glass, which he was neglecting, with a sudden
nod and a frown of pointed significance--even command.

"It's a great trial for all of the family, I'm sure," pursued the Fat
Aunt, after applications to glass and cake-dish; "but we must bear up.
Not that we ain't had trials enough, neither."

"No, indeed," replied Aunt Martha with a snap at my grandfather, as
though he were the trial chiefly on her mind; which Grandfather Nat took
very humbly, and tried her with watercress.

"Well, she's better off, poor thing," the Fat Aunt went on.

Some began to say "Ah!" again, but Aunt Martha snapped it into "Well,
let's hope so!"--in the tone of one convinced that my mother couldn't be
much worse off than she had been. From which, and from sundry other
remarks among the aunts, I gathered that my mother was held to have hurt
the dignity of her family by alliance with Grandfather Nat's. I have
never wholly understood why; but I put the family pride down to the
traditional wedding of an undoubted auctioneer with Aunt Martha's
cousin. So Aunt Martha said "Let's hope so!" and, with another sudden
frown and nod, shoved Uncle Martha toward the cake.

"What a blessing the child was took too!" was the Fat Aunt's next
observation.

"Ah, that it is!" murmured the chorus. But I was puzzled and shocked to
hear such a thing said of my little brother.

"And it's a good job there's only one left."

The chorus agreed again. I began to feel that I had seriously disobliged
my mother's relations by not dying too.

"And him a boy; boys can look after themselves." This was a thin aunt's
opinion.

"Ah, and that's a blessing," sighed the Fat Aunt; "a great blessing."

"Of course," said Aunt Martha. "And it's not to be expected that his
mother's relations can be burdened with him."

"Why, no indeed!" said the Fat Aunt, very decisively.

"I'm sure it wouldn't be poor Ellen's wish to cause more trouble to her
family than she has!" And Aunt Martha, with a frown at the watercress,
gave Uncle Martha another jolt. It seemed to me that he had really eaten
all he wanted, and would rather leave off; and I wondered if she always
fed him like that, or if it were only when they were visiting.

"And besides, it 'ud be standing in the child's way," Aunt Martha
resumed, "with so many openings as there is in the docks here, quite
handy."

Perhaps it was because I was rather dull in the head that day, from one
cause and another; at any rate I could think of no other openings in the
docks but those between the ships and the jetties, and at the
lock-sides, which people sometimes fell into, in the dark; and I
gathered a hazy notion that I was expected to make things comfortable by
going out and drowning myself.

"Yes, of course it would," said the Fat Aunt.

"It stands to reason," said a thin one.

"Anybody can see _that_," said the others.

"And many a boy's gone out to work no older."

"Ah, and been members o' Parliament afterwards, too."

The prospect of an entry into Parliament presented so stupefying a
contrast with that of an immersion in the dock that for some time the
ensuing conversation made little impression on me. On the part of my
mother's relations it was mainly a repetition of what had gone before,
very much in the same words; and as to my grandfather, he had little to
say at all, but expressed himself, so far as he might, by furtive pats
on my back; pats increasing in intensity as the talk of the ladies
pointed especially and unpleasingly to myself. Till at last the food and
drink were all gone. Whereupon the Fat Aunt sighed her last moral
sentiment, Uncle Martha was duly shoved out on the quay, and I was left
alone with Grandfather Nat.

"Well Stevy, ol' mate," said my grandfather, drawing me on his knee; "us
two's left alone; left alone, ol' mate."

I had not cried much that day--scarce at all in fact, since first
meeting my grandfather in the passage and discovering his empty
pocket--for, as I have said, I was a little dull in the head, and trying
hard to think of many things. But now I cried indeed, with my face
against my grandfather's shoulder, and there was something of solace in
the outburst; and when at last I looked up I saw two bright drops
hanging in the wiry tangle of my grandfather's beard, and another lodged
in the furrow under one eye.

"'Nough done, Stevy," said my grandfather; "don't cry no more. You'll
come home along o' me now, won't ye? An' to-morrow we'll go in the
London Dock, where the sugar is."

I looked round the room and considered, as well as my sodden little head
would permit. I had never been in the London Dock, which was a wonderful
place, as I had gathered from my grandfather's descriptions: a paradise
where sugar lay about the very ground in lumps, and where you might eat
it if you would, so long as you brought none away. But here was my home,
with nobody else to take care of it, and I felt some muddled sense of a
new responsibility. "I'm 'fraid I can't leave the place, Gran'fa' Nat,"
I said, with a dismal shake of the head. "Father might come home, an' he
wouldn't know, an'----"

"An' so--an' so you think you've got to stop an' keep house?" my
grandfather asked, bending his face down to mine.

The prospect had been oppressing my muzzy faculties all day. If I
escaped being taken away, plainly I must keep house, and cook, and buy
things and scrub floors, at any rate till my father came home; though it
seemed a great deal to undertake alone. So I answered with a nod and a
forlorn sniff.

"Good pluck! good pluck!" exclaimed my grandfather, exultantly, clapping
his hand twice on my head and rubbing it vigorously. "Stevy, ol' mate,
me an' you'll get on capital. I knowed you'd make a plucked 'un. But you
won't have to keep house alone jest yet. No. You an' me'll keep house
together, Stevy, at the Hole in the Wall. Your father won't be home a
while yet; an' I'll settle all about this here place. But Lord! what a
pluck for a shaver!" And he brightened wonderfully.

In truth there had been little enough of courage in my poor little body,
and Grandfather Nat's words brought me a deal of relief. Beyond the
vague terrors of loneliness and responsibility, I had been troubled by
the reflection that housekeeping cost money, and I had none. For though
my mother's half-pay note had been sent in the regular way to Viney and
Marr a week before, there had been neither reply nor return of the
paper. The circumstance was unprecedented and unaccountable, though the
explanation came before very long.

For the present, however, the difficulty was put aside. I put my hand in
my grandfather's, and, the door being locked behind us and the key in
his pocket, we went out together, on the quay, over the bridge and into
the life that was to be new for us both.



CHAPTER II

IN BLUE GATE


While his mother's relations walked out of Stephen's tale, and left his
grandfather in it, the tales of all the world went on, each man hero in
his own.

Viney and Marr were owners of the brig _Juno_, away in tropic seas, with
Stephen's father chief mate; and at this time the tale of Viney and Marr
had just divided into two, inasmuch as the partners were separated and
the firm was at a crisis--the crisis responsible for the withholding of
Mrs. Kemp's half-pay. No legal form had dissolved the firm, indeed, and
scarce half a mile of streets lay between the two men; but in truth Marr
had left his partner with uncommon secrecy and expedition, carrying with
him all the loose cash he could get together; and a man need travel a
very little way to hide in London. So it was that Mr. Viney, left alone
to bear the firm's burdens, was loafing, sometimes about his house in
Commercial Road, Stepney, sometimes in the back streets and small
public-houses hard by; pondering, no doubt, the matter contained in a
paper that had that afternoon stricken the colour from the face of one
Crooks, ship-chandler, of Shadwell, and had hardly less disquieted
others in related trades. While Marr, for the few days since his flight
no more dressed like the business partner in a shipowning concern, nor
even like a clerk, but in serge and anklejacks, like a foremast hand,
was playing up to his borrowed character by being drunk in Blue Gate.

The Blue Gate is gone now--it went with many places of a history only
less black when Ratcliff Highway was put to rout. As you left High
Street, Shadwell, for the Highway--they made one thoroughfare--the Blue
Gate was on your right, almost opposite an evil lane that led downhill
to the New Dock. Blue Gate Fields, it was more fully called, though
there was as little of a field as of a gate, blue or other, about the
place, which was a street, narrow, foul and forbidding, leading up to
Back Lane. It was a bad and a dangerous place, the worst in all that
neighbourhood: worse than Frederick Street--worse than Tiger Bay. The
sailor once brought to anchor in Blue Gate was lucky to get out with
clothes to cover him--lucky if he saved no more than his life. Yet
sailors were there in plenty, hilarious, shouting, drunk and drugged.
Horrible draggled women pawed them over for whatever their pockets might
yield, and murderous ruffians were ready at hand whenever a knock on the
head could solve a difficulty.

Front doors stood ever open in the Blue Gate, and some houses had no
front doors at all. At the top of one of the grimy flights of stairs
thus made accessible from the street, was a noisy and ill-smelling room;
noisy because of the company it held; ill-smelling partly because of
their tobacco, but chiefly because of the tobacco and the liquor of many
that had been there before, and because of the aged foulness of the
whole building. There were five in the room, four men and a woman. One
of the men was Marr, though for the present he was not using that name.
He was noticeable amid the group, being cleaner than the rest,
fair-haired, and dressed like a sailor ashore, though he lacked the
sunburn that was proper to the character. But sailor or none, there he
sat where many had sat before him, a piece of the familiar prey of Blue
Gate, babbling drunk and reasonless. The others were watchfully sober
enough, albeit with a great pretence of jollity; they had drunk level
with the babbler, but had been careful to water his drink with gin. As
for him, he swayed and lolled, sometimes on the table before him,
sometimes on the shoulder of the woman at his side. She was no beauty,
with her coarse features, dull eyes, and tousled hair, her thick voice
and her rusty finery; but indeed she was the least repulsive of that
foul company.

On the victim's opposite side sat a large-framed bony fellow, with a
thin, unhealthy face that seemed to belong to some other body, and dress
that proclaimed him long-shore ruffian. The woman called him Dan, and
nods and winks passed between the two, over the drooping head between
them. Next Dan was an ugly rascal with a broken nose; singular in that
place, as bearing in his dress none of the marks of waterside habits,
crimpery and the Highway, but seeming rather the commonplace town rat of
Shoreditch or Whitechapel. And, last, a blind fiddler sat in a corner,
fiddling a flourish from time to time, roaring with foul jest, and
roiling his single white eye upward.

"No, I won'av another," the fair-haired man said, staring about him with
uncertain eyes. "Got bishness 'tend to. I say, wha' pubsh this? 'Tain'
Brown Bear, ish't? Ish't Brown Bear?"

"No, you silly," the woman answered playfully. "'Tain't the Brown Bear;
you've come 'ome along of us."

"O! Come home--come home.... I shay--this won' do! Mus'n' go 'ome
yet--get collared y'know!" This with an owlish wink at the bottle before
him.

Dan and the woman exchanged a quick look; plainly something had gone
before that gave the words significance. "No," Marr went on, "mus'n' go
'ome. I'm sailor man jus' 'shore from brig _Juno_ in from Barbadoes....
No, not _Juno_, course not. Dunno _Juno_. 'Tain' _Juno_. D'year? 'Tain'
_Juno_, ye know, my ship. Never heard o' _Juno_. Mine's 'nother ship....
I say, wha'sh name my ship?"

"You're a rum sailor-man," said Dan, "not to know the name of your own
ship ten minutes together. Why, you've told us about four different
names a'ready."

The sham seaman chuckled feebly.

"Why, I don't believe you're a sailor at all, mate," the woman remarked,
still playfully. "You've just bin a-kiddin' of us fine!"

The chuckle persisted, and turned to a stupid grin. "Ha, ha! Ha, ha!
Have it y'r own way." This with a clumsily stealthy grope at the breast
pocket--a movement that the others had seen before, and remembered.
"Have it y'r own way. But I say; I say, y'know"--suddenly
serious--"you're all right, ain't you? Eh? All right, you know, eh? I
s-say--I hope you're--orright?"

"Awright, mate? Course we are!" And Dan clapped him cordially on the
shoulder.

"Awright, mate?" shouted the blind man, his white eye rolling and
blinking horribly at the ceiling. "Right as ninepence! An' a 'a'penny
over, damme!"

"_We're_ awright," growled the broken-nosed man, thickly.

"_We_ don't tell no secrets," said the woman.

"Thash all very well, but I was talkin' about the _Juno_, y'know. Was'n
I talkin' about _Juno_?" A look of sleepy alarm was on the fair man's
face as he turned his eyes from one to another.

"Ay, that's so," answered the fellow at his side. "Brig _Juno_ in from
Barbadoes."

"Ah! Thash where you're wrong; she _ain't_ in--see?" Marr wagged his
head, and leered the profoundest sagacity. "She _ain't_ in. What's more,
'ow d'you know she ever will come in, eh? 'Ow d'ye know that? Thash one
for ye, ole f'ler! Whar'll ye bet me she ever gets as far as--but I say,
I say; I say, y'know, you're all right, ain't you? Qui' sure you're
orrigh'?"

There was a new and a longer chorus of reassurance, which Dan at last
ended with: "Go on; the _Juno_ ain't ever to come back; is that it?"

Marr turned and stared fishily at him for some seconds. "Wha'rr you
mean?" he demanded, at length, with a drivelling assumption of dignity.
"Wha'rr you mean? N-never come back? Nishe remark make 'spectable
shipowner! Whassor' firm you take us for, eh?"

The blind fiddler stopped midway in a flourish and pursed his lips
silently. Dan looked quickly at the fiddler, and as quickly back at the
drunken man. Marr's attitude and the turn of his head being favourable,
the woman quietly detached his watch.

"Whassor' firm you take us for?" he repeated. "D'ye think 'cause
we're--'cause I come here--'cause I come 'ere an'----" he stopped
foolishly, and tailed off into nothing, smiling uneasily at one and
another.

The woman held up the watch behind him--a silver hunter, engraved with
Marr's chief initial--a noticeably large letter M. Dan saw it, shook his
head and frowned, pointed and tapped his own breast pocket, all in a
moment. And presently the woman slipped the watch back into the pocket
it came from.

"'Ere, 'ave another drink," said Dan hospitably. "'Ave another all round
for the last, 'fore the fiddler goes. 'Ere y'are, George, reach out."

"Eh?" ejaculated the fiddler. "Eh? I ain't goin'! Didn't the genelman
ask me to come along? Come, I'll give y' a toon. I'll give y' a chant as
'll make yer 'air curl!"

"Take your drink, George," Dan insisted, "we don't want our 'air
curled."

The fiddler groped for and took the drink, swallowed it, and twangled
the fiddle-strings. "Will y'ave _Black Jack_?" he asked.

"No," Dan answered with a rising voice. "We won't 'ave Black Jack, an'
what's more we won't 'ave Blind George, see? You cut your lucky, soon as
ye like!"

"Awright, awright, cap'en," the fiddler remonstrated, rising
reluctantly. "You're 'ard on a pore blind bloke, damme. Ain't I to get
nothin' out o' this 'ere? I ask ye fair, didn't the genelman tell me to
come along?"

Marr, ducking and lolling over the table, here looked up and said,
"Whassup? Fiddler won' go? Gi'm twopence an' kick'm downstairs. 'Ere
y'are!" and he pulled out some small change between his fingers, and
spilt it on the table.

Dan and the broken-nosed man gathered it up and thrust it into the blind
man's hand. "This ain't the straight game," he protested, in a hoarse
whisper, as they pushed him through the doorway. "I want my reg'lars out
o' that lot. D'ye 'ear? I want my reg'lars!"

But they shut the door on him, whereupon he broke into a torrent of
curses on the landing; and presently, having descended several of the
stairs, reached back to let drive a thump at the door with his stick;
and so went off swearing into the street.

Marr sniggered feebly. "Chucked out fiddler," he said. "Whash we do now?
I won'ave any more drink. I 'ad 'nough.... Think I'll be gett'n'
along.... Here, what you after, eh?"

He clapped his hand again to his breast pocket, and turned suspiciously
on the woman. "You keep y'r hands off," he said. "Wha' wan' my pocket?"

"Awright, mate," the woman answered placidly. "I ain't a touchin' yer
pockets. Why, look there--yer watchguard's 'angin'; you'll drop that
presently an' say it's me, I s'pose!"

"You'd better get away from the genelman if you can't behave yourself
civil," interposed Dan, pushing the woman aside and getting between
them. "'Ere, mate, you got to 'ave another drink along o' me. I'll turn
her out arter the fiddler, if she ain't civil."

"I won'ave another drink," said Marr, thickly, struggling unsteadily to
his feet and dropping back instantly to his chair. "I won'avanother."

"We'll see about that," replied Dan. "'Ere, you get out," he went on,
addressing the woman as he hauled her up by the shoulders. "You get out;
we're goin' to be comf'table together, us two an' 'im. Out ye go!" He
thrust her toward the door and opened it. "I'm sick o' foolin' about,"
he added in an angry undertone; "quick's the word."

"O no, Dan--don't," the woman pleaded, whispering on the landing. "Not
that way! Not again! I'll get it from him easy in a minute! Don't do it,
Dan!"

"Shut yer mouth! I ain't askin' you. You shove off a bit."

"Don't, Dan!"

But the door was shut.

"I tell ye I won'avanother!" came Marr's voice from within.

The woman went down the stairs, her gross face drawn as though she wept,
though her eyes were dry. At the door she looked back with something
like a shudder, and then turned her steps down the street.

       *       *       *       *       *

The two partners in Viney and Marr were separated indeed; but now it was
by something more than half a mile of streets.



CHAPTER III

STEPHEN'S TALE


I had never been home with Grandfather Nat before. I fancy that some
scruples of my mother's, in the matter of the neighbourhood and the
character of the company to be seen and heard at the Hole in the Wall,
had hitherto kept me from the house, and even from the sugary elysium of
the London Dock. Now I was going there at last, and something of eager
anticipation overcame the sorrow of the day.

We went in an omnibus, which we left in Commercial Road. Here my
grandfather took order to repair my disappointment in the matter of
pear-drops; and we left the shop with such a bagful that it would not go
into the accustomed pocket at all. A little way from this shop, and on
the opposite side of the way, stood a house which my mother had more
than once pointed out to me already; and as we came abreast of it now,
Grandfather Nat pointed it out also. "Know who lives there, Stevy?" he
asked.

"Yes," I said; "Mr. Viney, that father's ship belongs to."

There was a man sitting on the stone baluster by the landing of the
front steps, having apparently just desisted from knocking at the door.
He was pale and agitated, and he slapped his leg distractedly with a
folded paper.

"Why," said my grandfather, "that's Crooks, the ship-chandler. He looks
bad; wonder what's up?"

With that the door opened, and a servant-girl, in bonnet and shawl,
emerged with her box, lifting and dragging it as best she might. The man
rose and spoke to her, and I supposed that he was about to help. But at
her answer he sank back on the balustrade, and she hauled the box to the
pavement by herself. The man looked worse than ever, now, and he moved
his head from side to side; so that it struck me that it might be that
his mother also was dead; perhaps to-day; and at the thought all the
flavour went from the pear-drop in my mouth.

We turned up a narrow street which led us to a part where the river
plainly was nearer at every step; for well I knew the curious smell that
grew as we went, and that had in it something of tar, something of rope
and junk, something of ships' stores, and much of a blend of unknown
outlandish merchandise. We met sailors, some with parrots and
accordions, and many with undecided legs; and we saw more of the
hang-dog fellows who were not sailors, though they dressed in the same
way, and got an inactive living out of sailors, somehow. They leaned on
posts, they lurked in foul entries, they sat on sills, smoking; and
often one would accost and hang to a passing sailor, with a grinning,
trumped-up cordiality that offended and repelled me, child as I was. And
there were big, coarse women, with flaring clothes, and hair that shone
with grease; though for them I had but a certain wonder; as for why they
all seemed to live near the docks; why they all grew so stout; and why
they never wore bonnets.

As we went where the street grew fouler and more crooked, and where dark
entries and many turnings gave evidence of the complication of courts
and alleys about us, we heard a hoarse voice crooning a stave of a
sea-song, with the low scrape of a fiddle striking in here and there, as
it were at random. And presently there turned a corner ahead and faced
toward us a blind man, with his fiddle held low against his chest, and
his face lifted upward, a little aside. He checked at the corner to hit
the wall a couple of taps with the stick that hung from his wrist, and
called aloud, with fouler words than I can remember or could print: "Now
then, damn ye! Ain't there ne'er a Christian sailor-man as wants a toon
o' George? Who'll 'ave a toon o' George? Ain't ye got no money, damn ye?
Not a brown for pore blind George? What a dirty mean lot it is! Who'll
'ave a 'ornpipe? Who'll 'ave a song o' pore George?... O damn y' all!"

And so, with a mutter and another tap of the stick, he came creeping
along, six inches at a step, the stick dangling loose again, and the bow
scraping the strings to the song:--

    Fire on the fore-top, fire on the bow,
    Fire on the main-deck, fire down below!
      Fire! fire! fire down below!
      Fetch a bucket o' water; fire down below!

The man's right eye was closed, but the left was horribly wide and white
and rolling, and it quite unpleasantly reminded me of a large china
marble that lay at that moment at the bottom of my breeches pocket,
under some uniform buttons, a key you could whistle on, a brass knob
from a fender, and a tangle of string. So much indeed was I possessed
with this uncomfortable resemblance in later weeks, when I had seen
Blind George often, and knew more of him, that at last I had no choice
but to fling the marble into the river; though indeed it was something
of a rarity in marbles, and worth four "alleys" as big as itself.

My grandfather stopped his talk as we drew within earshot of the
fiddler; but blind men's ears are keen beyond the common. The bow
dropped from the fiddle, and Blind George sang out cheerily: "Why, 'ere
comes Cap'en Nat, 'ome from the funeral; and got 'is little grandson
what 'e's goin' to take care of an' bring up so moral in 'is celebrated
'ouse o' call!" All to my extreme amazement: for what should this
strange blind man know of me, or of my mother's funeral?

Grandfather Nat seemed a little angry. "Well, well," he said, "your ears
are sharp, Blind George; they learn a lot as ain't your business. If
your eyes was as good as your ears you'd ha' had your head broke 'fore
this--a dozen times!"

"If my eyes was as good as my ears, Cap'en Nat Kemp," the other
retorted, "there's many as wouldn't find it so easy to talk o' breakin'
my 'ed. Other people's business! Lord! I know enough to 'ang some of
'em, that's what I know! I could tell you some o' _your_ business if I
liked,--some as you don't know yourself. Look 'ere! You bin to a
funeral. Well, it ain't the last funeral as 'll be wanted in your
family; see? The kid's mother's gone; don't you be too sure 'is father's
safe! I bin along o' some one you know, an' _'e_ don't look like lastin'
for ever, 'e don't; 'e ain't in 'ealthy company."

Grandfather Nat twitched my sleeve, and we walked on.

"Awright!" the blind man called after us, in his tone of affable
ferocity. "Awright, go along! You'll see things, some day, near as well
as I can, what's blind!"

"That's a bad fellow, Stevy," Grandfather Nat said, as we heard the
fiddle and the song begin again. "Don't you listen to neither his talk
nor his songs. Somehow it don't seem nat'ral to see a blind man such a
bad 'un. But a bad 'un he is, up an' down."

I asked how he came to know about the funeral, and especially about my
coming to Wapping--a thing I had only learned of myself an hour before.
My grandfather said that he had probably learned of the funeral from
somebody who had been at the Hole in the Wall during the day, and had
asked the reason of the landlord's absence; and as to myself, he had
heard my step, and guessed its meaning instantly. "He's a keen sharp
rascal, Stevy, an' he makes out all of parties' business he can. He knew
your father was away, an' he jumped the whole thing at once. That's his
way. But I don't stand him; he don't corne into my house barrin' he
comes a customer, which I can't help."

Of the meaning of the blind man's talk I understood little. But he
shocked me with a sense of insult, and more with one of surprise. For I
had entertained a belief, born of Sunday-school stories, that blindness
produced saintly piety--unless it were the piety that caused the
blindness--and that in any case a virtuous meekness was an essential
condition of the affliction. So I walked in doubt and cogitation.

And so, after a dive down a narrower street than any we had yet
traversed (it could scarce be dirtier), and a twist through a steep and
serpentine alley, we came, as it grew dusk, to the Hole in the Wall. Of
odd-looking riverside inns I can remember plenty, but never, before or
since, have I beheld an odder than this of Grandfather Nat's. It was
wooden and clap-boarded, and, like others of its sort, it was everywhere
larger at top than at bottom. But the Hole in the Wall was not only
top-heavy, but also most alarmingly lopsided. By its side, and half
under it, lay a narrow passage, through which one saw a strip of the
river and its many craft, and the passage ended in Hole-in-the-Wall
Stairs. All of the house that was above the ground floor on this side
rested on a row of posts, which stood near the middle of the passage;
and the burden of these posts, twisted, wavy, bulging, and shapeless,
hung still more toward the opposite building; while the farther side,
bounded by a later brick house, was vertical, as though a great wedge,
point downward, had been cut away to permit the rise of the newer wall.
And the effect was as of a reeling and toppling of the whole
construction away from its neighbour, and an imminent downfall into the
passage. And when, later, I examined the side looking across the river,
supported on piles, and bulging and toppling over them also, I decided
that what kept the Hole in the Wall from crashing into the passage was
nothing but its countervailing inclination to tumble into the river.

Painted large over the boards of the front, whose lapped edges gave the
letters ragged outlines, were the words THE HOLE IN THE WALL; and below,
a little smaller, NATHANIEL KEMP. I felt a certain pride, I think, in
the importance thus given the family name, and my esteem of my
grandfather increased proportionably with the size of the letters.

There was a great noise within, and Grandfather Nat, with a quick look
toward the entrance, grunted angrily. But we passed up the passage and
entered by a private door under the posts. This door opened directly
into the bar parlour, the floor whereof was two steps below the level of
the outer paving; and the size whereof was about thrice that of a
sentry-box.

The din of a quarrel and a scuffle came from the bar, and my
grandfather, thrusting me into a corner, and giving me his hat, ran out
with a roar like that of a wild beast. At the sound the quarrel hushed
in its height. "What's this?" my grandfather blared, with a thump on the
counter that made the pots jump. "What sort of a row's this in my house?
Damme, I'll break y' in halves, every mother's son of ye!"

I peeped through the glass partition, and saw, first, the back of the
potman's head (for the bar-floor took another drop) and beyond that and
the row of beer-pulls, a group of rough, hulking men, one with blood on
his face, and all with an odd look of sulky guilt.

"Out you go!" pursued Grandfather Nat, "every swab o' ye! Can't leave
the place not even to go to--not for nothin', without a row like this,
givin' the house a bad name! Go on, Jim Crute! Unless I'm to chuck ye!"

The men had begun filing out awkwardly, with nothing but here and there:
"Awright, guv'nor"--"Awright, cap'en." "Goin', ain't I?" and the like.
But one big ruffian lagged behind, scowling and murmuring rebelliously.

In a flash Grandfather Nat was through the counter-wicket. With a dart
of his long left arm he had gripped the fellow's ear and spun him round
with a wrench that I thought had torn the ear from the head; and in the
same moment had caught him by the opposite wrist, so as to stretch the
man's extended arm, elbow backward, across his own great chest; a
posture in which the backward pull against the elbow joint brought a
yell of agony from the victim. Only a man with extraordinarily long arms
could have done the thing exactly like that. The movement was so
savagely sudden that my grandfather had kicked open the door and flung
Jim Crute headlong into the street ere I quite understood it; when there
came a check in my throat and tears in my eyes to see the man so cruelly
handled.

Grandfather Nat stood a moment at the door, but it seemed that his
customer was quelled effectually, for presently he turned inward again,
with such a grim scowl as I had never seen before. And at that a queer
head appeared just above the counter--I had supposed the bar to be
wholly cleared--and a very weak and rather womanish voice said, in tones
of over-inflected indignation: "Serve 'em right, Cap'en Kemp, I'm sure.
Lot o' impudent vagabones! Ought to be ashamed o' theirselves, that they
ought. Pity every 'ouse ain't kep' as strict as this one is, that's what
I say!"

And the queer head looked round the vacant bar with an air of virtuous
defiance, as though anxious to meet the eye of any so bold as to
contradict.

It was anything but a clean face on the head, and it was overshadowed by
a very greasy wideawake hat. Grubbiness and unhealthy redness contended
for mastery in the features, of which the nose was the most surprising,
wide and bulbous and knobbed all over; so that ever afterward, in any
attempt to look Mr. Cripps in the face, I found myself wholly
disregarding his eyes, and fixing a fascinated gaze on his nose; and I
could never recall his face to memory as I recalled another, but always
as a Nose, garnished with a fringe of inferior features. The face had
been shaved--apparently about a week before; and by the sides hung long
hair, dirtier to look at than the rest of the apparition.

My grandfather gave no more than a glance in the direction of this
little man, passed the counter and re-joined me, pulling off his coat as
he came. Something of my tingling eyes and screwed mouth was visible, I
suppose, for he stooped as he rolled up his shirt-sleeves and said:
"Why, Stevy boy, what's amiss?"

"You--you--hurt the man's ear," I said, with a choke and a sniff; for
till then Grandfather Nat had seemed to me the kindest man in the world.

Grandfather Nat looked mightily astonished. He left his shirt-sleeve
where it was, and thrust his fingers up in his hair behind, through the
grey and out at the brown on top. "What?" he said. "Hurt 'im? Hurt 'im?
Why, s'pose I did? He ain't a friend o' yours, is he, young 'un?"

I shook my head and blinked. There was a gleam of amusement in my
grandfather's grim face as he sat in a chair and took me between his
knees. "Hurt 'im?" he repeated. "Why, Lord love ye, _I'd_ get hurt if I
didn't hurt some of 'em, now an' then. They're a rough lot--a bitter bad
lot round here, an' it's hurt or be hurt with them, Stevy. I got to
frighten 'em, my boy--an' I do it, too."

I was passing my fingers to and fro in the matted hair on my
grandfather's arm, and thinking. He seemed a very terrible man now, and
perhaps something of a hero; for, young as I was, I was a boy. So
presently I said, "Did you ever kill a man, Gran'fa' Nat?"



CHAPTER IV

STEPHEN'S TALE


Many small matters of my first few hours at the Hole in the Wall were
impressed on me by later events. In particular I remember the innocent
curiosity with which I asked: "Did you ever kill a man, Gran'fa' Nat?"

There was a twitch and a frown on my grandfather's face, and he sat back
as one at a moment's disadvantage. I thought that perhaps he was trying
to remember. But he only said, gruffly, and with a quick sound like a
snort: "Very nigh killed myself once or twice, Stevy, in my time," and
rose hastily from his chair to reach a picture of a ship that was
standing on a shelf. "There," he said, "that's a new 'un, just done;
pretty picter, ain't it? An' that there," pointing to another hanging on
the wall, "that's the _Juno_, what your father's on now."

I had noticed that the walls, both of the bar and of the bar-parlour,
were plentifully hung with paintings of ships; ships becalmed, ships in
full sail, ships under bare spars; all with painful blue skies over
them, and very even-waved seas beneath; and ships in storms, with torn
sails, pursued by rumbustious piles of sooty cloud, and pelted with
lengths of scarlet lightning. I fear I should not have recognised my
father's ship without help, but that was probably because I had only
seen it, months before, lying in dock, battered and dingy, with a
confusion of casks and bales about the deck, and naked yards dangling
above; whereas in the picture (which was a mile too small for the brig)
it was booming along under a flatulent mountain of clean white sail, and
bulwarks and deck-fittings were gay with lively and diversified colour.

I said something about its being a fine ship, or a fine picture, and
that there were a lot of them.

"Ah," he said, "they do mount up, one arter another. It's one gentleman
as did 'em all--him out in the bar now, with the long hair. Sometimes I
think I'd rather a-had money; but it's a talent, that's what it is!"

The artist beyond the outer bar had been talking to the potman. Now he
coughed and said: "Ha--um! Cap'en Kemp, sir! Cap'en Kemp! No doubt as
you've 'eard the noos to-day?"

"No," said Grandfather Nat, finishing the rolling of his shirt-sleeves
as he stepped down into the bar; "not as I know on. What is it?"

"Not about Viney and Marr?"

"No. What about 'em?"

Mr. Cripps rose on his toes with the importance of his information, and
his eyes widened to a moment's rivalry with his nose. "Gone wrong," he
said, in a shrill whisper that was as loud as his natural voice. "Gone
wrong. Unsolvent. Cracked up. Broke. Busted, in a common way o'
speakin'." And he gave a violent nod with each synonym.

"No," said Grandfather Nat; "surely not Viney and Marr?"

"Fact, Cap'en; I can assure you, on 'igh a'thority. It's what I might
call the universal topic in neighbourin' circles, an' a gen'ral subjick
o' local discussion. You'd 'a 'eard it 'fore this if you'd bin at 'ome."

My grandfather whistled, and rested a hand on a beer-pull.

"Not a stiver for nobody, they say," Mr. Cripps pursued, "not till they
can sell the wessels. What there was loose Marr's bolted with; or, as
you might put it, absconded; absconded with the proceeds. An' gone
abroad, it's said."

"I see the servant gal bringin' out her box from Viney's just now," said
Grandfather Nat. "An' Crooks the ship-chandler was on the steps, very
white in the gills, with a paper. Well, well! An' you say Marr's
bolted?"

"Absconded, Cap'en Kemp; absconded with the proceeds; 'opped the twig.
Viney says 'e's robbed 'im as well as the creditors, but I 'ear some o'
the creditors' observation is 'gammon.' An' they say the wessels is
pawned up to their r'yals. Up to their r'yals!"

"Well," commented my grandfather, "I wouldn't ha' thought it. The _Juno_
was that badly found, an' they did everything that cheap, I thought they
made money hand over fist."

"Flyin' too 'igh, Cap'en Kemp, flyin' too 'igh. You knowed Viney long
'fore 'e elevated hisself into a owner, didn't you? What was he then?
Why, 'e was your mate one voy'ge, wasn't he?"

"Ay, an' more."

"So I've 'eard tell. Well, arter that surely 'e was flyin' too 'igh! An'
now Marr's absconded with the proceeds!"

The talk in the bar went on, being almost entirely the talk of Mr.
Cripps; who valued himself on the unwonted importance his news gave him,
and aimed at increasing it by saying the same thing a great many times;
by saying it, too, when he could, in terms and phrases that had a strong
flavour of the Sunday paper. But as for me, I soon ceased to hear, for I
discovered something of greater interest on the shelf that skirted the
bar-parlour. It was a little model of a ship in a glass case, and it was
a great marvel to me, with all its standing and running rigging
complete, and a most ingenious and tumultuous sea about it, made of
stiff calico cockled up into lumps and ridges, and painted the proper
colour. Much better than either of the two we had at home, for these
latter were only half-models, each nothing but one-half of a little ship
split from stem to stern, and stuck against a board, on which were
painted sky, clouds, seagulls, and (in one case) a lighthouse; an
exasperating make-believe that had been my continual disappointment.

But this was altogether so charming and delightful and real, and the
little hatches and cuddy-houses so thrilled my fancy, that I resolved to
beg of my grandfather to let me call the model my own, and sometimes
have the glass case off. So I was absorbed while the conversation in the
bar ranged from the ships and their owners to my father, and from him to
me; as was plain when my grandfather called me.

"Here he is," said my grandfather, with a deal of pride in his voice,
putting his foot on a stool and lifting me on his knee. "Here he is, an'
a plucked 'un; ain't ye, Stevy?" He rubbed his hand over my head, as he
was fond of doing. "Plucked? Ah! Why, he was agoin' to keep house all by
hisself, with all the pluck in life, till his father come home! Warn't
ye, Stevy boy? But he's come along o' me instead, an' him an' me's goin'
to keep the Hole in the Wall together, ain't we? Pardners: eh, Stevy?"

I think I never afterwards saw my grandfather talking so familiarly with
his customers. I perceived now that there was another in the bar in
addition to Mr. Cripps; a pale, quiet, and rather ragged man who sat in
an obscure corner with an untouched glass of liquor by him.

"Come," said my grandfather, "have one with me, Mr. Cripps, an' drink
the new pardner's health. What is it? An' you--you drink up too, an'
have another." This last order Grandfather Nat flung at the man in the
corner, just in the tones in which I had heard a skipper on a ship tell
a man to "get forrard lively" with a rope fender, opposite our quay at
Blackwall.

"I'm sure 'ere's wishin' the young master every 'ealth an' 'appiness,"
said Mr. Cripps, beaming on me with a grin that rather frightened than
pleased me, it twisted the nose so. "Every 'ealth and 'appiness, I'm
sure!"

The pale man in the corner only looked up quickly, as if fearful of
obtruding himself, gulped the drink that had been standing by him, and
receiving another, put it down untasted where the first had stood.

"That ain't drinkin' a health," said my grandfather, angrily.
"There--that's it!" and he pointed to the new drink with the hand that
held his own.

The pale man lifted it hurriedly, stood up, looked at me and said
something indistinct, gulped the liquor and returned the glass to the
counter; whereupon the potman, without orders, instantly refilled it,
and the man carried it back to his corner and put it down beside him, as
before.

I began to wonder if the pale man suffered from some complaint that made
it dangerous to leave him without a drink close at hand, ready to be
swallowed at a moment's notice. But Mr. Cripps blinked, first at his own
glass and then at the pale man's; and I fancy he thought himself
unfairly treated.

Howbeit his affability was unconquerable. He grinned and snapped his
fingers playfully at me, provoking my secret indignation; since that was
what people did to please babies.

"An' a pretty young gent 'e is too," said Mr. Cripps, "of considerable
personal attractions. Goin' to bring 'im up to the trade, I s'pose,
Cap'en Kemp?"

"Why, no," said Grandfather Nat, with some dignity. "No. Something
better than that, I'm hopin'. Pardners is all very well for a bit, but
Stevy's goin' to be a cut above his poor old gran'father, if I can do
it. Eh, boy?" He rubbed my head again, and I was too shy, sitting there
in the bar, to answer. "Eh, boy? Boardin' school an' a gentleman's job
for this one, if the old man has his way."

Mr. Cripps shook his head sagaciously, and could plainly see that I was
cut out for a statesman. He also lifted his empty glass, looked at it
abstractedly, and put it down again. Nothing coming of this, he
complimented my personal appearance once more, and thought that my
portrait should certainly be painted, as a memorial in my future days of
greatness.

This notion seemed to strike my grandfather rather favourably, and he
forthwith consulted a slate which dangled by a string; during his
contemplation of which, with its long rows of strokes, Mr. Cripps
betrayed a certain anxious discomfort. "Well," said Grandfather Nat at
length, "you are pretty deep in, you know, an' it might as well be that
as anything else. But what about that sign? Ain't I ever goin' to get
that?"

Mr. Cripps knitted his brows and his nose, turned up his eyes and shook
his head. "It ain't come to me yet, Cap'en Kemp," he said; "not yet. I'm
still waiting for what you might call an inspiration. But when it comes,
Cap'en Kemp--when it comes! Ah! you'll 'ave a sign then! Sich a sign!
You'll 'ave sich a sign as'll attract the 'ole artistic feelin' of
Wapping an' surroundin' districks of the metropolis, I assure you. An'
the signs on the other 'ouses--phoo!" Mr. Cripps made a sweep of the
hand, which I took to indicate generally that all other publicans,
overwhelmed with humiliation, would have no choice but straightway to
tear down their own signs and bury them.

"Umph! but meanwhile I haven't got one at all," objected Grandfather
Nat; "an' they have."

"Ah, yes, sir--some sort o' signs. But done by mere jobbers, and poor
enough too. My hart, Cap'en Kemp--I respect my hart, an' I don't rush at
a job like that. It wants conception, sir, a job like that--conception.
The common sort o' sign's easy enough. You go at it, an' you do it or
hexicute it, an' when it's done or hexicuted--why there it is. A ship,
maybe, or a crown, or a Turk's 'ed or three cats an' a fryin' pan.
Simple enough--no plannin', no composition, no invention. But a 'ole in
a wall, Cap'en Kemp--it takes a hartist to make a picter o' that; an' it
takes study, an' meditation, an' invention!"

"Simplest thing o' the lot," said Captain Nat. "A wall, an' a hole in
it. Simplest thing o' the lot!"

"As you observe, Cap'en Kemp, it may seem simple enough; that's because
you're thinkin' o' subjick, instead o' treatment. A common jobber, if
you'll excuse my sayin' it, 'ud look at it just in that light--a wall
with a 'ole in it, an' 'e'd give it you, an' p'rhaps you'd be satisfied
with it. But I soar 'igher, sir, 'igher. What I shall give you'll be a
'ole in the wall to charm the heye and delight the intelleck, sir. A
dramatic 'ole in the wall, sir, a hepic 'ole in the wall; a 'ole in the
wall as will elevate the mind and stimilate the noblest instinks of the
be'older. Cap'en Kemp, I don't 'esitate to say that my 'ole in the wall,
when you get it, will be--ah! it'll be the moral palladium of Wapping!"

"_When_ I get it," my grandfather replied with a chuckle, "anything
might happen without surprisin' me. I think p'rhaps I might be so
startled as to forget the bit you've had on account, an' pay full cash."

Mr. Cripps's eyes brightened at the hint. "You're always very 'andsome
in matters o' business, Cap'en Kemp," he said, "an' I always say so.
Which reminds me, speakin' of 'andsome things. This morning goin' to see
my friend as keeps the mortuary, I see as 'andsome a bit o' panel for to
paint a sign as ever I come across. A lovely bit o' stuff to be
sure--enough to stimulate anybody's artistic invention to look at it,
that it was. Not dear neither--particular moderate in fact. I'm afraid
it may be gone now; but if I'd 'a 'ad the money----"

A noise of trampling and singing without neared the door, and with a
bang and a stagger a party of fresh customers burst in and swept Mr.
Cripps out of his exposition. Two were sun-browned sailors, shouting and
jovial, but the rest, men and women, sober and villainous in their mock
jollity, were land-sharks plain to see. The foremost sailor drove
against Mr. Cripps, and having almost knocked him down, took him by the
shoulders and involved him in his flounderings; apologising, meanwhile,
at the top of his voice, and demanding to know what Mr. Cripps would
drink. Whereupon Grandfather Nat sent me back to the bar-parlour and the
little ship, and addressed himself to business and the order of the bar.

And so he was occupied for the most of the evening. Sometimes he sat
with me and taught me the spars and rigging of the model, sometimes I
peeped through the glass at the business of the house. The bar remained
pretty full throughout the evening, in its main part, and my grandfather
ruled its frequenters with a strong voice and an iron hand.

But there was one little space partitioned off, as it might be for the
better company: which space was nearly always empty. Into this quieter
compartment I saw a man come, rather late in the evening, furtive and a
little flustered. He was an ugly ruffian with a broken nose; and he was
noticeable as being the one man I had seen in my grandfather's house who
had no marks of seafaring or riverside life about him, but seemed merely
an ordinary London blackguard from some unmaritime neighbourhood. He
beckoned silently to Grandfather Nat, who walked across and conferred
with him. Presently my grandfather left the counter and came into the
bar-parlour. He had something in his closed hand, which he carried to
the lamp to examine, so that I could see it was a silver watch; while
the furtive man waited expectantly in the little compartment. The watch
interested me, for the inward part swung clean out from the case, and
hung by a single hinge, in a way I had never seen before. I noticed,
also, that a large capital letter M was engraved on the back.

Grandfather Nat shut the watch and strode into the bar.

"Here you are," he said aloud, handing it to the broken-nosed man. "Here
you are. It seems all right--good enough watch, I should say."

The man was plainly disconcerted--frightened, indeed--by this public
observation; and answered with an eager whisper.

"What?" my grandfather replied, louder than ever; "want me to buy it?
Not me. This ain't a pawnshop. I don't want a watch; an' if I did, how
do I know where you got it?"

Much discomposed by this rebuff, the fellow hurried off. Whereupon I was
surprised to see the pale man rise from the corner of the bar, put his
drink, still untasted, in a safe place on the counter, beyond the edge
of the partition, and hurry out also. Cogitating this matter in my
grandfather's arm-chair, presently I fell asleep.

What woke me at length was the loud voice of Grandfather Nat, and I
found that it was late, and he was clearing the bar before shutting up.
I rubbed my eyes and looked out, and was interested to see that the pale
man had come back, and was now swallowing his drink at last before going
out after the rest. Whereat I turned again, drowsily enough, to the
model ship.

But a little later, when Grandfather Nat and I were at supper in the
bar-parlour, and I was dropping to sleep again, I was amazed to see my
grandfather pull the broken-nosed man's watch out of his pocket and put
it in a tin cash-box. At that I rubbed my eyes, and opened them so wide
on the cash-box, that Grandfather Nat said, "Hullo, Stevy! Woke up with
a jump? Time you was in bed."



CHAPTER V

IN THE HIGHWAY


The Hole in the Wall being closed, its customers went their several
ways; the sailors, shouting and singing, drifting off with their retinue
along Wapping Wall toward Ratcliff; Mr. Cripps, fuller than usual of
free drinks--for the sailors had come a long voyage and were
proportionally liberal--scuffling off, steadily enough, on the way that
led to Limehouse; for Mr. Cripps had drunk too much and too long ever to
be noticeably drunk. And last of all, when the most undecided of the
stragglers from Captain Nat Kemp's bar had vanished one way or another,
the pale, quiet man moved out from the shadow and went in the wake of
the noisy sailors.

The night was dark, and the streets. The lamps were few and feeble, and
angles, alleys and entries were shapes of blackness that seemed more
solid than the walls about them. But instead of the silence that
consorts with gloom, the air was racked with human sounds; sounds of
quarrels, scuffles, and brawls, far and near, breaking out fitfully amid
the general buzz and whoop of discordant singing that came from all
Wapping and Ratcliff where revellers rolled into the open.

A stone's throw on the pale man's way was a swing bridge with a lock by
its side, spanning the channel that joined two dock-basins. The pale
man, passing along in the shadow of the footpath, stopped in an angle.
Three policemen were coming over the bridge in company--they went in
threes in these parts--and the pale man, who never made closer
acquaintance with the police than he could help, slunk down by the
bridge-foot, as though designing to make the crossing by way of the
narrow lock; no safe passage in the dark. But he thought better of it,
and went by the bridge, as soon as the policemen had passed.

A little farther and he was in Ratcliff Highway, where it joined with
Shadwell High Street, and just before him stood Paddy's Goose. The house
was known by that name far beyond the neighbourhood, among people who
were unaware that the actual painted sign was the White Swan. Paddy's
Goose was still open, for its doors never closed till one; though there
were a few houses later even than this, where, though the bars were
cleared and closed at one, in accordance with Act of Parliament, the
doors swung wide again ten minutes later. There was still dancing within
at Paddy's Goose, and the squeak of fiddles and the thump of feet were
plain to hear. The pale man passed on into the dark beyond its lights,
and soon the black mouth of Blue Gate stood on his right.

Blue Gate gave its part to the night's noises, and more; for a sudden
burst of loud screams--a woman's--rent the air from its innermost deeps;
screams which affected the pale man not at all, nor any other passenger;
for it might be murder or it might be drink, or sudden rage or fear, or
a quarrel; and whatever it might be was common enough in Blue Gate.

Paddy's Goose had no monopoly of music, and the common plenty of street
fiddlers was the greater as the early houses closed. Scarce eighty yards
from Blue Gate stood Blind George, fiddling his hardest for a party
dancing in the roadway. Many were looking on, drunk or sober, with
approving shouts; and every face was ghastly phosphorescent in the glare
of a ship's blue-light that a noisy negro flourished among the dancers.
Close by, a woman and a man were quarrelling in the middle of a group;
but the matter had no attention till of a sudden it sprang into a fight,
and the man and another were punching and wrestling in a heap, bare to
the waist. At this the crowd turned from the dancers, and the negro ran
yelping to shed his deathly light on the new scene.

The crowd howled and scrambled, and a drunken sailor fell in the mud.
Quick at the chance, a ruffian took him under the armpits and dragged
him from among the trampling feet to a near entry, out of the glare.
There he propped his prey, with many friendly words, and dived among his
pockets. The sailor was dazed, and made no difficulty; till the thief
got to the end of the search in a trouser pocket, and thence pulled a
handful of silver. With that the victim awoke to some sense of affairs,
and made a move to rise; but the other sprang up and laid him over with
a kick on the head, just as the pale man came along. The thief made off,
leaving a few shillings and sixpences on the ground, which the pale man
instantly gathered up. He looked from the money to the man, who lay
insensible, with blood about his ear; and then from the man to the
money. Then he stuffed some few of the shillings into the sailor's
nearest pocket and went off with the rest.

The fight rose and fell, the crowd grew, and the blue light burned down.
In twenty seconds the pale man was back again. He bent over the bleeding
sailor, thrust the rest of the silver into the pocket, and finally
vanished into the night. For, indeed, though the pale man was poor, and
though he got a living now in a way scarce reputable: yet he had once
kept a chandler's shop. He had kept it till neither sand in the sugar
nor holes under the weights would any longer induce it to keep him; and
then he had fallen wholly from respectability. But he had drawn a
line--he had always drawn a line. He had never been a thief; and, with a
little struggle, he remembered it now.

Back in Blue Gate the screams had ceased. For on a black stair a large
bony man shook a woman by the throat, so that she could scream no more.
He cursed in whispers, and threatened her with an end of all noise if
she opened her mouth again. "Ye stop out of it all this time," he said,
"an' when ye come ye squall enough to bring the slops from Arbour
Square!"

"O! O!" the woman gasped. "I fell on it, Dan! I fell on it! I fell on it
in the dark!..." 

       *       *       *       *       *

There was nothing commoner in the black streets about the Highway than
the sight of two or three men linked by the arms, staggering, singing
and bawling. Many such parties went along the Highway that night, many
turned up its foul tributaries; some went toward and over the bridge by
the lock that was on the way to the Hole in the Wall. But they were
become fewer, and the night noises of the Highway were somewhat abated,
when a party of three emerged from the mouth of Blue Gate. Of them that
had gone before the songs were broken and the voices unmelodious enough;
yet no other song sung that night in the Highway was so wild as the song
of these men--or rather of two of them, who sang the louder because of
the silence of the man between them; and no other voices were so
ill-governed as theirs. The man on the right was large, bony and
powerful; he on the left was shorter and less to be noticed, except that
under some rare and feeble lamp it might have been perceived that his
face was an ugly one, with a broken nose. But what reveller so drunk,
what drunkard so insensible, what clod so silent as the man they dragged
between them? His feet trailed in the mire, and his head, hidden by a
ragged hat, hung forward on his chest. So they went, reeling ever where
the shadows were thickest, toward the bridge; but in all their reelings
there was a stealthy hasting forward, and an anxious outlook that went
ill with their song. The song itself, void alike of tune and jollity,
fell off altogether as they neared the bridge, and here they went the
quicker. They turned down by the bridge foot, though not for the reason
the pale man had, two hours before, for now no policeman was in sight;
and soon were gone into the black shadow about the lock-head....

It was the deep of the night, and as near quiet as the Highway ever
knew; with no more than a cry here or there, a distant fiddle, and the
faint hum of the wind in the rigging of ships. Off in Blue Gate the
woman sat on the black stair, with her face in her hands, waiting for
company before returning to the room where she had fallen over something
in the dark.



CHAPTER VI

STEPHEN'S TALE


High under the tiles of the Hole in the Wall, I had at first a night of
disturbed sleep. I was in my old familiar cot, which had been brought
during the evening, on a truck. But things were strange, and, in
particular, my grandfather, who slept on the opposite side of the room,
snored so amazingly, and with a sound so unlike anything I had ever
heard before, that I feared he must be choking to death, and climbed out
of bed, once, to see. There were noises from without too, sometimes of
discordant singing, sometimes of quarrels; and once, from a distance, a
succession of dreadful screams. Then the old house made curious sounds
of its own; twice I was convinced of stealthy steps on the stair, and
all night the very walls creaked aloud. So for long, sleepy as I was, I
dozed and started and rolled and lay awake, wondering about the little
ship in the bar-parlour, and Mr. Cripps, and the pale man, and the watch
with the M on it. Also I considered again the matter of my prayers,
which I had already discussed with Grandfather Nat, to his obvious
perplexity, by candle-light. For I was urgent to know if I must now
leave my mother out, and if I might not put my little dead brother in;
being very anxious to include them both. My grandfather's first opinion
was, that it was not the usual thing; which opinion he expressed with
hesitation, and a curious look of the eyes that I wondered at. But I
argued that God could bless them just as well in heaven as here; and
Grandfather Nat admitted that no doubt there was something in that.
Whereupon I desired to know if they would hear if I said in my prayers
that I was quite safe with him, at the Hole in the Wall; or if I should
rather ask God to tell them. And at that my grandfather stood up and
turned away, with a rub and a pat on my head, toward his own bed;
telling me to say whatever I pleased, and not to forget Grandfather Nat.

So that now, having said what I pleased, and having well remembered
Grandfather Nat, and slept and woke and dozed and woke again, I took
solace from his authority and whispered many things to my little dead
brother, whom I could never play with: of the little ship in the glass
case, and the pictures, and of how I was going to the London Dock
to-morrow; and so at last fell asleep soundly till morning.

Grandfather Nat was astir early, and soon I was looking from the window
by his bed at the ships that lay so thick in the Pool, tier on tier.
Below me I could see the water that washed between the slimy piles on
which the house rested, and to the left were the narrow stairs that
terminated the passage at the side. Several boats were moored about
these stairs, and a waterman was already looking out for a fare. Out in
the Pool certain other boats caught the eye as they dodged about among
the colliers, because each carried a bright fire amidships, in a
brazier, beside a man, two small barrels of beer, and a very large
handbell. The men were purlmen, Grandfather Nat told me, selling
liquor--hot beer chiefly, in the cold mornings--to the men on the
colliers, or on any other craft thereabout. It struck me that the one
thing lacking for perfect bliss in most rowing boats was just such a
brazier of cosy fire as the purl-boat carried; so that after very little
consideration I resolved that when I grew up I would not be a sailor,
nor an engine-driver, nor any one of a dozen other things I had thought
of, but a purlman.

The staircase would have landed one direct into the bar-parlour but for
an enclosing door, which strangers commonly mistook for that of a
cupboard. A step as light as mine was possibly a rarity on this
staircase; for, coming down before my grandfather, I startled a lady in
the bar-parlour who had been doing something with a bottle which
involved the removal of the cork; which cork she snatched hastily from a
shelf and replaced, with no very favourable regard to myself; and
straightway dropped on her knees and went to work with a brush and a
dustpan. She was scarce an attractive woman, I thought, being rusty and
bony, slack-faced and very red-nosed. She swept the carpet and dusted
the shelves with an air of angry contempt for everything she touched,
and I got into the bar out of her way as soon as I could. The potman was
flinging sawdust about the floor, and there, in the same corner, sat the
same pale, ragged man that was there last night, with the same full
glass of liquor--or one like it--by his side: like a trade fixture that
had been there all night.

When Grandfather Nat appeared, I learned the slack-faced woman's name.
"This here's my little gran'son, Mrs. Grimes," he said, "as is goin' to
live here a bit, 'cordin' as I mentioned yesterday."

"Hindeed?" said Mrs. Grimes, with a glance that made me feel more
contemptible than the humblest article she had dusted that morning.
"Hindeed? Then it'll be more work more pay, Cap'en Kemp."

"Very well, mum," my grandfather replied. "If you reckon it out more
work----"

"Ho!" interjected Mrs. Grimes, who could fill a misplaced aspirate with
subtle offence; "reckon or not, I s'pose there's another bed to be made?
An' buttons to be sewed? An' plates for to be washed? An' dirt an'
litter for to be cleared up everywhere? To say nothink o' crumbs--which
the biscuit-crumbs in the bar-parlour this mornin' was thick an'
shameful!"

_I_ had had biscuits, and I felt a reprobate. "Very well, mum,"
Grandfather Nat said, peaceably; "we'll make out extry damages, mum. A
few days'll give us an idea. Shall we leave it a week an' see how things
go?"

"Ham I to consider that a week's notice, Captain Kemp?" Mrs. Grimes
demanded, with a distinct rise of voice. "Ham I or ham I not?"

"Notice!" My grandfather was puzzled, and began to look a trifle angry.
"Why, damme, who said notice? What----"

"Because notice is as easy give as took, Cap'en Kemp, as I'd 'ave you
remember. An' slave I may be though better brought up than slave-drivers
any day, but swore at vulgar I won't be, nor trampled like dirt an'
litter beneath the feet, an' will not endure it neither!" And with a
great toss of the head Mrs. Grimes flounced through the staircase door,
and sniffed and bridled her way to the upper rooms.

Her exit relieved my mind; first, because I had a wretched consciousness
that I was causing all the trouble, and a dire fear that Grandfather Nat
might dislike me for it; and second, because when he looked angry I had
a fearful foreboding vision of Mrs. Grimes being presently whirled round
by the ear and flung into the street, as Jim Crute had been. But it was
not long ere I learned that Mrs. Grimes was one of those persons who
grumble and clamour and bully at everything and everybody on principle,
finding that, with a concession here and another there, it pays very
well on the whole; and so nag along very comfortably through life. As
for herself, as I had seen, Mrs. Grimes did not lack the cunning to
carry away any fit of virtuous indignation that seemed like to push her
employer out of his patience.

My grandfather looked at the bottle that Mrs. Grimes had recorked.

"That rum shrub," he said, "ain't properly mixed. It works in the bottle
when it's left standing, an' mounts to the cork. I notice it almost
every morning."

       *       *       *       *       *

The day was bright, and I resigned myself with some impatience to wait
for an hour or two till we could set out for the docks. It was a matter
of business, my grandfather explained, that he must not leave the bar
till a fixed hour--ten o'clock; and soon I began to make a dim guess at
the nature of the business, though I guessed in all innocence, and
suspected not at all.

Contrary to my evening observation, at this early hour the larger bar
was mostly empty, while the obscure compartment at the side was in far
greater use than it had been last night. Four or five visitors must have
come there, one after another: perhaps half a dozen. And they all had
things to sell. Two had watches--one of them was a woman; one had a
locket and a boatswain's silver call; and I think another had some
silver spoons. Grandfather Nat brought each article into the
bar-parlour, to examine, and then returned it to its owner; which
behaviour seemed to surprise none of them as it had surprised the man
last night; so that doubtless he was a stranger. To those with watches
my grandfather said nothing but "Yes, that seems all right," or "Yes,
it's a good enough watch, no doubt." But to the man with the locket and
the silver call he said, "Well, if ever you want to sell 'em you might
get eight bob; no more"; and much the same to him with the spoons,
except that he thought the spoons might fetch fifteen shillings.

Each of the visitors went out with no more ado; and as each went, the
pale man in the larger bar rose, put his drink safely on the counter,
just beyond the partition, and went out too; and presently he came back,
with no more than a glance at Grandfather Nat, took his drink, and sat
down again.

At ten o'clock my grandfather looked out of the bar and said to the pale
man: "All right--drink up."

Whereupon the pale man--who would have been paler if his face had been
washed--swallowed his drink at last, flat as it must have been, and went
out; and Grandfather Nat went out also, by the door into the passage. He
was gone scarce two minutes, and when he returned he unlocked a drawer
below the shelf on which the little ship stood, and took from it the
cash box I had seen last night. His back was turned toward me, and
himself was interposed between my eyes and the box, which he rested on
the shelf; but I heard a jingling that suggested spoons.

So I said, "Did the man go to buy the spoons for you, Gran'fa' Nat?"

My grandfather looked round sharply, with something as near a frown as
he ever directed on me. Then he locked the box away hastily, with a
gruff laugh. "You won't starve, Stevy," he said, "as long as wits finds
victuals. But see here," he went on, becoming grave as he sat and drew
me to his knee; "see here, Stevy. What you see here's my business,
private business; understand? You ain't a tell-tale, are you? Not a
sneak?"

I repudiated the suggestion with pain and scorn; for I was at least old
enough a boy to see in sneakery the blackest of crimes.

"No, no, that you ain't, I know," Grandfather Nat went on, with a pinch
of my chin, though he still regarded me earnestly. "A plucked 'un's
never a sneak. But there's one thing for you to remember, Stevy, afore
all your readin' an' writin' an' lessons an' what not. You must never
tell of anything you see here, not to a soul--that is, not about me
buyin' things. I'm very careful, but things don't always go right, an' I
might get in trouble. I'm a straight man, an' I pay for all I have in
any line o' trade; I never stole nor cheated not so much as a farden all
my life, nor ever bought anything as I _knew_ was stole. See?"

I nodded gravely. I was trying hard to understand the reason for all
this seriousness and secrecy, but at any rate I was resolved to be no
tale-bearer; especially against Grandfather Nat.

"Why," he went on, justifying himself, I fancy, more for his own
satisfaction than for my information; "why, even when it's on'y just
suspicious I won't buy--except o' course through another party. That's
how I guard myself, Stevy, an' every man has a right to buy a thing
reasonable an' sell at a profit if he can; that's on'y plain trade. An'
yet nobody can't say truthful as he ever sold me anything over that
there counter, or anywhere else, barrin' what I have reg'lar of the
brewer an' what not. I may look at a thing or pass an opinion, but
what's that? Nothin' at all. But we've got to keep our mouths shut,
Stevy, for fear o' danger; see? You wouldn't like poor old Grandfather
Nat to be put in gaol, would ye?"

The prospect was terrible, and I put my hands about my grandfather's
neck and vowed I would never whisper a word.

"That's right, Stevy," the old man answered, "I know you won't if you
don't forget yourself--so don't do that. Don't take no notice, not even
to me."

There was a knock at the back door, which opened, and disclosed one of
the purlmen, who had left his boat in sight at the stairs, and wanted a
quart of gin in the large tin can he brought with him. He was a short,
red-faced, tough-looking fellow, and he needed the gin, as I soon
learned, to mix with his hot beer to make the purl. He had a short
conversation with my grandfather when the gin was brought, of which I
heard no more than the words "high water at twelve." But as he went down
the passage he turned, and sang out: "You got the news, Cap'en, o'
course?"

"What? Viney and Marr?"

The man nodded, with a click and a twitch of the mouth. Then he snapped
his fingers, and jerked them expressively upward. After which he
ejaculated the single word "Marr," and jerked his thumb over his
shoulder. By which I understood him to repeat, with no waste of
language, the story that it was all up with the firm, and the junior
partner had bolted.

"That," said Grandfather Nat, when the man was gone--"that's Bill Stagg,
an' he's the on'y purlman as don't come ashore to sleep. Sleeps in his
boat, winter an' summer, does Bill Stagg. How'd you like that, Stevy?"

I thought I should catch cold, and perhaps tumble overboard, if I had a
bad dream; and I said so.

"Ah well, Bill Stagg don't mind. He was A.B. aboard o' me when Mr. Viney
was my mate many years ago, an' a good A.B. too. Bill Stagg, he makes
fast somewhere quiet at night, an' curls up snug as a weevil. Mostly
under the piles o' this here house, when the wind ain't east. Saves him
rent, ye see; so he does pretty well."

And with that my grandfather put on his coat and reached the pilot cap
that was his everyday wear.



CHAPTER VII

STEPHEN'S TALE


We walked first to the head of the stairs, where opened a wide picture
of the Thames and all its traffic, and where the walls were plastered
with a dozen little bills, each headed "Found Drowned," and each with
the tale of some nameless corpse under the heading.

"That's my boat, Stevy," said my grandfather, pointing to a little
dinghy with a pair of sculls in her; "our boat, if you like, seeing as
we're pardners. Now you shall do which you like; walk along to the dock,
where the sugar is, or come out in our boat."

It was a hard choice to make. The glory and delight of the part
ownership of a real boat dazzled me like another sun in the sky; but I
had promised myself the docks and the sugar for such a long time. So we
compromised; the docks to-day and the boat to-morrow.

Out in the street everybody seemed to know Grandfather Nat. Those who
spoke with him commonly called him Captain Kemp, except a few old
acquaintances to whom he was Captain Nat. Loafers and crimps gazed after
him and nodded together; and small ship-chandlers gave him good morning
from their shop-doors.

A hundred yards from the Hole in the Wall, at a turn, there was a swing
bridge and a lock, such as we had by the old house in Blackwall. At the
moment we came in hail the men were at the winch, and the bridge began
to part in the middle; for a ship was about to change berth to the inner
dock. "Come, Stevy," said my grandfather, "we'll take the lock 'fore
they open that. Not afraid if I'm with you, are you?"

No, I was not afraid with Grandfather Nat, and would not even be
carried. Though the top of the lock was not two feet wide, and was
knotted, broken and treacherous in surface and wholly unguarded on one
side, where one looked plump down into the foul dock-water; and though
on the other side there was but a slack chain strung through loose iron
stanchions that staggered in their sockets. Grandfather Nat gripped me
by the collar and walked me before him; but relief tempered my triumph
when I was safe across; my feet never seemed to have twisted and slipped
and stumbled so much before in so short a distance--perhaps because in
that same distance I had never before recollected so many tales of men
drowned in the docks by falling off just such locks, in fog, or by
accidental slips.

A little farther along, and we came upon Ratcliff Highway. I saw the
street then for the first time, and in truth it was very wonderful. I
think there could never have been another street in this country at once
so foul and so picturesque as Ratcliff Highway at the time I speak of.
Much that I saw I could not understand, child as I was; and by so much
the more was I pleased with it all, when perhaps I should have been
shocked. From end to end of the Highway and beyond, and through all its
tributaries and purlieus everything and everybody was for, by, and of,
the sailor ashore; every house and shop was devoted to his convenience
and inconvenience; in the Highway it seemed to me that every other house
was a tavern, and in several places two stood together. There were shops
full of slops, sou'westers, pilot-coats, sea-boots, tin pannikins, and
canvas kit-bags like giants' bolsters; and rows of big knives and
daggers, often engraved with suggestive maxims. A flash of memory
recalls the favourite: "Never draw me without cause, never sheathe me
without honour." I have since seen the words "cause" and "honour" put to
uses less respectable.

The pawn-shops had nothing in them that had not come straight from a
ship--sextants and boatswain's pipes being the choice of the stock. And
pawn-shops, slop-shops, tobacco-shops--every shop almost--had somewhere
in its window a selection of those curiosities that sailors make abroad
and bring home: little ship-models mysteriously erected inside bottles,
shells, albatross heads, saw-fish snouts, and bottles full of sand of
different colours, ingeniously packed so as to present a figure or a
picture when viewed from without.

Men of a dozen nations were coming or going in every score of yards. The
best dressed, and the worst, were the negroes; for the black cook who
was flush went in for adornments that no other sailor-man would have
dreamed of: a white shirt, a flaming tie, a black coat with satin
facings--even a white waistcoat and a top hat. While the cleaned-out and
shipless nigger was a sad spectacle indeed. Then there were Spaniards,
swart, long-haired, bloodshot-looking fellows, whose entire shore outfit
consisted commonly of a red shirt, blue trousers, anklejacks with the
brown feet visible over them, a belt, a big knife, and a pair of large
gold ear-rings. Big, yellow-haired, blue-eyed Swedes, who were full pink
with sea and sun, and not brown or mahogany-coloured, like the rest;
slight, wicked-looking Malays; lean, spitting Yankees, with stripes, and
felt hats, and sing-song oaths; sometimes a Chinaman, petticoated,
dignified, jeered at; a Lascar, a Greek, a Russian; and everywhere the
English Jack, rolling of gait--sometimes from habit alone, sometimes for
mixed reasons--hard, red-necked, waistcoatless, with his knife at his
belt, like the rest: but more commonly a clasp-knife than one in a
sheath. To me all these strangely bedight men were matter of delight and
wonder; and I guessed my hardest whence each had come last, what he had
brought in his ship, and what strange and desperate adventures he had
encountered on the way. And wherever I saw bare, hairy skin, whether an
arm, or the chest under an open shirt, there were blue devices of ships,
of flags, of women, of letters and names. Grandfather Nat was tattooed
like that, as I had discovered in the morning, when he washed. He had
been a fool to have it done, he said, as he flung the soapy water out of
window into the river, and he warned me that I must be careful never to
make such a mistake myself; which made me sorry, because it seemed so
gallant an embellishment. But my grandfather explained that you could be
identified by tattoo-marks, at any length of time, which might cause
trouble. I remembered that my own father was tattooed with an anchor and
my mother's name; and I hoped he would never be identified, if it were
as bad as that.

In the street oyster-stalls stood, and baked-potato cans; one or two
sailors were buying, and one or two fiddlers, but mostly the customers
were the gaudy women, who seemed to make a late breakfast in this way.
Some had not stayed to perform a greater toilet than to fling clothes on
themselves unhooked and awry, and to make a straggling knot of their
hair; but the most were brilliant enough in violet or scarlet or blue,
with hair oiled and crimped and hung in thick nets, and with bright
handkerchiefs over their shoulders--belcher yellows and kingsmen and
blue billies. And presently we came on one who was dancing with a sailor
on the pavement, to the music of one of the many fiddlers who picked up
a living hereabouts; and she wore the regular dancing rig of the
Highway--short skirts and high red morocco boots with brass heels. She
covered the buckle and grape-vined with great precision, too, a contrast
with her partner, whose hornpipe was unsteady and vague in the figures,
for indeed he seemed to have "begun early"--perhaps had not left off all
night. Two more pairs of these red morocco boots we saw at a place next
a public house, where a shop front had been cleared out to make a
dancing room, with a sort of buttery-hatch communicating with the
tavern; and where a flushed sailor now stood with a pot in each hand,
roaring for a fiddler.

But if the life and the picturesqueness of the Highway in some sort
disguised its squalor, they made the more hideously apparent the
abomination of the by-streets: which opened, filthy and menacing, at
every fifty yards as we went. The light seemed greyer, the very air
thicker and fouler in these passages; though indeed they formed the
residential part whereof the Highway was the market-place. The children
who ran and tumbled in these places, the boy of nine equally with the
infant crawling from doorstep to gutter, were half naked, shoeless, and
disguised in crusted foulness; so that I remember them with a certain
sickening, even in these latter days; when I see no such pitiably
neglected little wretches, though I know the dark parts of London well
enough.

At the mouth of one of these narrow streets, almost at the beginning of
the Highway, Grandfather Nat stopped and pointed.

It was a forbidding lane, with forbidding men and women hanging about
the entrance; and far up toward the end there appeared to be a crowd and
a fight; in the midst whereof a half-naked man seemed to be rushing from
side to side of the street.

"That's the Blue Gate," said my grandfather, and resumed his walk. "It's
dangerous," he went on, "the worst place hereabout--perhaps anywhere.
Wuss'n Tiger Bay, a mile. You must never go near Blue Gate. People get
murdered there, Stevy--murdered--many's a man; sailor-men mostly; an'
nobody never knows. Pitch them in the Dock sometimes, sometimes in the
river, so's they're washed away. I've known 'em taken to
Hole-in-the-Wall Stairs at night."

I gripped my grandfather's hand tighter, and asked, in all innocence, if
we should see any, if we kept watch out of window that night. He
laughed, thought the chance scarce worth a sleepless night, and went on
to tell me of something else. But I overheard later in a bar
conversation a ghastly tale of years before; of a murdered man's body
that had been dragged dripping through the streets at night by two men
who supported its arms, staggering and shouting and singing, as though
the three were merely drunk; and how it was dropped in panic ere it was
brought to the waterside, because of a collision with three live sailors
who really were drunk.

One or two crimps' carts came through from the docks as we walked, drawn
by sorry animals, and piled high with shouting sailors and their
belongings--chief among these the giant bolster-bags. The victims went
to their fate gloriously enough, hailing and chaffing the populace on
the way, and singing, each man as he list. Also we saw a shop with a
window full of parrots and monkeys; and a very sick kangaroo in a wooden
cage being carried in from a van.

And so we came to the London Dock at last. And there, in the
sugar-sheds, stood more sugar than ever I had dreamed of in my wildest
visions--thousands of barrels, mountains of sacks. And so many of the
bags were rat-bitten, or had got a slit by accidentally running up
against a jack-knife; and so many of the barrels were defective, or had
stove themselves by perverse complications with a crowbar; that the
heavy, brown, moist stuff was lying in heaps and lumps everywhere; and I
supposed that it must be called "foot-sugar" because you couldn't help
treading on it.

It was while I was absorbed in this delectable spectacle, that I heard a
strained little voice behind me, and turned to behold Mr. Cripps
greeting my grandfather.

"Good mornin', Cap'en Kemp, sir," said Mr. Cripps. "I been a-lookin' at
the noo Blue Crosser--the _Emily Riggs_. She ought to be done, ye know,
an' a han'some picter she'd make; but the skipper seems busy. Why, an'
there's young master Stephen, I do declare; 'ow are ye, sir?"

As he bent and the nose neared, I was seized with a horrid fear that he
was going to kiss me. But he only shook hands, after all--though it was
not at all a clean hand that he gave.

"Why, Cap'en Kemp," he went on, "this is what I say a phenomenal
coincidence; rather unique, in fact. Why, you'll 'ardly believe as I was
a thinkin' o' you not 'arf an hour ago, scarcely! Now you wouldn't 'a'
thought that, would ye?"

There was a twinkle in Grandfather Nat's eye. "All depends," he said.

"Comin' along from the mortuary, I see somethink----"

"Ah, something in the mortuary, no doubt," my grandfather interrupted,
quizzically. "Well, what was in the mortuary? I bet there was a corpse
in the mortuary."

"Quite correct, Cap'en Kemp, so there was; three of 'em, an' a very sad
sight; decimated, Cap'en Kemp, by the watery element. But it wasn't them
I was----"

"What! It wasn't a corpse as reminded you of me? That's rum. Then I
expect somebody told you some more about Viney and Marr. Come, what's
the latest about Viney an' Marr? Tell us about that."

Grandfather Nat was humorously bent on driving Mr. Cripps from his mark,
and Mr. Cripps deferred. "Well, it's certainly a topic," he said, "a
universal topic. Crooks the ship-chandler's done for, they
say--unsolvent. The _Minerva's_ reported off Prawle Point in to-day's
list, an' they say as she'll be sold up as soon as she's moored. But
there--she's hypotenused, Cap'en Kemp; pawned, as you might say; up the
flue. It's a matter o' gen'ral information that she's pawned up to 'er
r'yals--up to 'er main r'yals, sir. Which reminds me, speakin' o'
r'yals, there's a timber-shop just along by the mortuary----"

"Ah, no doubt," Grandfather Nat interrupted, "they must put 'em
somewhere. Any news o' the _Juno_?"

"No, sir, she ain't reported; not doo Barbadoes yet, or mail not in,
any'ow. They'll sell 'er too, but the creditors won't get none of it.
She's hypotenused as deep as the other--up to her r'yals; an' there's
nothin' else to sell. So it's the gen'ral opinion there won't be much to
divide, Marr 'avin' absconded with the proceeds. An' as regards what I
was agoin' to----"

"Yes, you was goin' to tell me some more about Marr, I expect," my
grandfather persisted. "Heard where he's gone?"

Mr. Cripps shook his head. "They don't seem likely to ketch 'im, Cap'en
Nat. Some says 'e's absconded out o' the country, others says 'e's
'idin' in it. Nobody knows 'im much, consequence o' Viney doin' all the
outdoor business--I on'y see 'im once myself. Viney, 'e thinks 'e's gone
abroad, they say; an' 'e swears Marr's the party as 'as caused the
unsolvency, 'avin' bin a-doin' of 'im all along; 'im bein' in charge o'
the books. An' it's a fact, Cap'en Kemp, as you never know what them
chaps may get up to with the proceeds as 'as charge o' books. The
paper's full of 'em every week--always absconding with somebody's
proceeds! An' by the way, speakin' o' proceeds----"

This time Captain Nat made no interruption, but listened with an amused
resignation.

"Speakin' o' proceeds," said Mr. Cripps, "it was bein' temp'ry out o'
proceeds as made me think o' you as I come along from the mortuary. For
I see as 'andsome a bit o' panel for to paint a sign on as ever I come
across. It was----"

"Yes, I know. Enough to stimilate you to paint it fine, only to look at
it, wasn't it?"

"Well, yes, Cap'n Kemp, so it was."

"Not dear, neither?"

"No--not to say dear, seein' 'ow prices is up. If I'd 'ad----"

"Well, well, p'raps prices'll be down a bit soon," said Grandfather Nat,
grinning and pulling out a sixpence. "I ain't good for no more than that
now, anyhow!" And having passed over the coin he took my hand and turned
away, laughing and shaking his head.

Seeing that my grandfather wanted his sign, it seemed to me that he was
losing an opportunity, and I said so.

"What!" he said, "let him buy the board? Why, he's had half a dozen
boards for that sign a'ready!"

"Half a dozen?" I said. "Six boards? What did he do with them?"

"Ate 'em!" said Grandfather Nat, and laughed the louder when I stared.



CHAPTER VIII

STEPHEN'S TALE


I found it quite true that one might eat the loose sugar wherever he
judged it clean enough--as most of it was. And nothing but Grandfather
Nat's restraining hand postponed my first bilious attack.

Thus it was that I made acquaintance with the Highway, and with the
London Docks, in their more picturesque days, and saw and delighted in a
thousand things more than I can write. Port was drunk then, and hundreds
of great pipes lay in rows on a wide quay where men walked with wooden
clubs, whacking each pipe till the "shive" or wooden bung sprang into
the air, to be caught with a dexterity that pleased me like a conjuring
trick. And many a thirsty dock-labourer, watching his opportunity, would
cut a strip of bread from his humble dinner as he strolled near a pipe,
and, absorbed in the contemplation of the indefinite empyrean, absently
dip his sippet into the shive-hole as he passed; recovering it in a
state so wet and discoloured that its instant consumption was
imperative.

And so at last we came away from the docks by the thoroughfare then
called Tanglefoot Lane; not that that name, or anything like it, was
painted at the corner; but because it was the road commonly taken by
visitors departing from the wine-vaults after bringing tasting-orders.

As we passed Blue Gate on our way home, I saw, among those standing at
the corner, a coarse-faced, untidy woman, talking to a big, bony-looking
man with a face so thin and mean that it seemed misplaced on such
shoulders. The woman was so much like a score of others then in sight,
that I should scarce have noted her, were it not that she and the man
stopped their talk as we passed, with a quick look, first at my
grandfather, and then one at the other; and then the man turned his back
and walked away. Presently the woman came after us, walking quickly,
glancing doubtfully at Grandfather Nat as she passed; and at last, after
twice looking back, she turned and waited for us to come up.

"Beg pardon, Cap'en Kemp," she said in a low, but a very thick voice,
"but might I speak to you a moment, sir?"

My grandfather looked at her sharply. "Well," he said, "what is it?"

"In regards to a man as sold you a watch las' night----"

"No," Grandfather Nat interrupted with angry decision, "he didn't."

"Beg pardon, sir, jesso sir--'course not; which I mean to say 'e sold it
to a man near to your 'ouse. Is it brought true as that party--not
meanin' you, sir, 'course not, but the party in the street near your
'ouse--is it brought true as that party'll buy somethink more--somethink
as I needn't tell now, sir, p'raps, but somethink spoke of between that
party an' the other party--I mean the party as sold it, an' don't mean
you, sir, 'course not?"

It was plain that the woman, who had begun in trepidation, was confused
and abashed the more by the hard frown with which Captain Nat regarded
her. The frown persisted for some moments; and then my grandfather said:
"Don't know what you mean. If somebody bought anything of a friend o'
yours, an' your friend wants to sell him something else, I suppose he
can take it to him, can't he? And if it's any value, there's no reason
he shouldn't buy it, so far as I know." And Grandfather Nat strode on.

The woman murmured some sort of acknowledgment, and fell back, and in a
moment I had forgotten her; though I remembered her afterward, for good
reason enough.

In fact, it was no later than that evening. I was sitting in the
bar-parlour with Grandfather Nat, who had left the bar to the care of
the potman. My grandfather was smoking his pipe, while I spelled and
sought down the narrow columns of _Lloyd's List_ for news of my father's
ship. It was my grandfather's way to excuse himself from reading, when
he could, on the plea of unsuitable eyes; though I suspect that, apart
from his sight, he found reading a greater trouble than he was pleased
to own.

"There's nothing here about the _Juno_, Grandfather Nat," I said.
"Nothing anywhere."

"Ah," said my grandfather, "La Guaira was the last port, an' we must
keep eyes on the list for Barbadoes. Maybe the mail's late." Most of
Lloyd's messages came by mail at that time. "Let's see," he went on;
"Belize, La Guaira, Barbadoes"; and straightway began to figure out
distances and chances of wind.

Grandfather Nat had been considering whether or not we should write to
my father to tell him that my mother was dead, and he judged that there
was little chance of any letter reaching the _Juno_ on her homeward
passage.

"Belize, La Guaira, Barbadoes," said Grandfather Nat, musingly. "It's
the rough reason thereabout, an' it's odds she may be blown out of her
course. But the mail----"

He stopped and turned his head. There was a sudden stamp of feet outside
the door behind us, a low and quick voice, a heavy thud against the
door, and then a cry--a dreadful cry, that began like a stifled scream
and ended with a gurgle.

Grandfather Nat reached the door at a bound, and as he flung it wide a
man came with it and sank heavily at his feet, head and one shoulder
over the threshold, and an arm flung out stiffly, so that the old man
stumbled across it as he dashed at a dark shadow without.

I was hard at my grandfather's heels, and in a flash of time I saw that
another man was rising from over the one on the doorsill. But for the
stumble Grandfather Nat would have had him. In that moment's check the
fellow spun round and dashed off, striking one of the great posts with
his shoulder, and nearly going down with the shock.

All was dark without, and what I saw was merely confused by the light
from the bar-parlour. My grandfather raised a shout and rushed in the
wake of the fugitive, toward the stairs, and I, too startled and too
excited to be frightened yet, skipped over the stiff arm to follow him.
At the first step I trod on some object which I took to be my
grandfather's tobacco-pouch, snatched it up, and stuffed it in my jacket
pocket as I ran. Several men from the bar were running in the passage,
and down the stairs I could hear Captain Nat hallooing across the river.

"Ahoy!" came a voice in reply. "What's up?" And I could see the fire of
a purl-boat coming in.

"Stop him, Bill!" my grandfather shouted. "Stop him! Stabbed a man! He's
got my boat, and there's no sculls in this damned thing! Gone round them
barges!"

And now I could distinguish my grandfather in a boat, paddling
desperately with a stretcher, his face and his shirt-sleeves touched
with the light from the purl-man's fire.

The purl-boat swung round and shot off, and presently other boats came
pulling by, with shouts and questions. Then I saw Grandfather Nat, a
black form merely, climbing on a barge and running and skipping along
the tier, from one barge to another, calling and directing, till I could
see him no more. There were many men on the stairs by this time, and
others came running and jostling; so I made my way back to the
bar-parlour door.

It was no easy thing to get in here, for a crowd was gathering. But a
man from the bar who recognised me made a way, and as soon as I had
pushed through the crowd of men's legs I saw that the injured man was
lying on the floor, tended by the potman; while Mr. Cripps, his face
pallid under the dirt, and his nose a deadly lavender, stood by, with
his mouth open and his hands dangling aimlessly.

       *       *       *       *       *

The stabbed man lay with his head on a rolled-up coat of my
grandfather's, and he was bad for a child to look at. His face had gone
tallowy; his eyes, which turned (and frightened me) as I came in, were
now directed steadily upward; he breathed low and quick, and though Joe
the potman pressed cloths to the wound in his chest, there was blood
about his lips and chin, and blood bubbled dreadfully in his mouth. But
what startled me most, and what fixed my regard on his face despite my
tremors, so that I could scarce take my eyes from it, was the fact that,
paleness and blood and drawn cheeks notwithstanding, I saw in him the
ugly, broken-nosed fellow who had been in the private compartment last
night, with a watch to sell; the watch, with an initial on the back,
that now lay in Grandfather Nat's cash-box.



CHAPTER IX

STEPHEN'S TALE


Somebody had gone for a doctor, it was said, but a doctor was not always
easy to find in Wapping. Mrs. Grimes, who was at some late work
upstairs, was not disturbed at first by the noise, since excitement was
not uncommon in the neighbourhood. But now she came to the stairfoot
door, and peeped and hurried back. For myself, I squeezed into a far
corner and stared, a little sick; for there was a deal of blood, and Joe
the potman was all dabbled, like a slaughterman.

My grandfather returned almost on the doctor's heels, and with my
grandfather were some river police, in glazed hats and pilot coats. The
doctor puffed and shook his head, called for cold water, and cloths, and
turpentine, and milk. Cold water and cloths were ready enough, and
turpentine was easy to get, but ere the milk came it was useless. The
doctor shook his head and puffed more than ever, wiped his hands and
pulled his cuffs down gingerly. I could not see the man on the floor,
now, for the doctor was in the way; but I heard him, just before the
doctor stood up. The noise sent my neck cold at the back; though indeed
it was scarce more than the noise made in emptying a large bottle by
up-ending it.

The doctor stood up and shook his head. "Gone," he said. "And I couldn't
have done more than keep him alive a few minutes, at best. It was the
lung, and bad--two places. Have they got the man?"

"No," said Grandfather Nat, "nor ain't very likely, I'd say. Never saw
him again, once he got behind a tier o' lighters. Waterside chap,
certain; knows the river well enough, an' these stairs. I couldn't ha'
got that boat o' mine off quicker, not myself."

"Ah," said one of the river policemen, "he's a waterside chap, that's
plain enough. Any other 'ud a-bolted up the street. Never said nothing,
did he--this one?" He was bending over the dead man; while the others
cleared the people back from the door, and squeezed Mr. Cripps out among
them.

"No, not a word," answered Joe the potman. "Couldn't. Tried to nod once
when I spoke to 'im, but it seemed to make 'im bleed faster."

"Know him, Cap'en Nat?" asked the sergeant.

"No," answered my grandfather, "I don't know him. Might ha' seen him
hanging about p'raps. But then I see a lot doin' that."

I wondered if Grandfather Nat had already forgotten about the silver
watch with the M on it, or if he had merely failed to recognise the man.
But I remembered what he had said in the morning, after he had bought
the spoons, and I reflected that I had best hold my tongue.

And now voices without made it known that the shore police were here,
with a stretcher; and presently, with a crowding and squeezing in the
little bar-parlour that drove me deeper into my corner and farther under
the shelf, the uncomely figure was got from the floor to the stretcher,
and so out of the house.

It was plain that my grandfather was held in good regard by the police;
and I think that his hint that a drop of brandy was at the service of
anybody who felt the job unpleasant might have been acted on, if there
had not been quite as many present at once. When at last they were gone,
and the room clear, he kicked into a heap the strip of carpet that the
dead man had lain on; and as he did it, he perceived me in my corner.

"What--you here all the time, Stevy?" he said. "I thought you'd gone
upstairs. Here--it ain't right for boys in general, but you've got a
turn; drink up this."

I believe I must have been pale, and indeed I felt a little sick now
that the excitement was over. The thing had been very near, and the
blood tainted the very air. So that I gulped the weak brandy and water
without much difficulty, and felt better. Out in the bar Mr. Cripps's
thin voice was raised in thrilling description.

Feeling better, as I have said, and no longer faced with the melancholy
alternatives of crying or being ill, I bethought me of my grandfather's
tobacco-pouch. "You dropped your pouch, Gran'father Nat," I said, "and I
picked it up when I ran out."

And with that I pulled out of my jacket pocket--not the pouch at all;
but a stout buckled pocket-book of about the same size.

"That ain't a pouch, Stevy," said Grandfather Nat; "an' mine's here in
my pocket. Show me."

He opened the flap, and stood for a moment staring. Then he looked up
hastily, turned his back to the bar, and sat down. "Whew! Stevy!" he
said, with amazement in his eyes and the pocket-book open in his hand;
"you're in luck; luck, my boy. See!"

Once more he glanced quickly over his shoulder, toward the bar; and then
took in his fingers a folded bunch of paper, and opened it. "Notes!" he
said, in a low voice, drawing me to his side. "Bank of England notes,
every one of 'em! Fifties, an' twenties, an' tens, an' fives! Where was
it?"

I told him how I had run out at his heels, had trodden on the thing in
the dark, and had slipped it into my pocket, supposing it to be his old
leather tobacco-pouch, from which he had but just refilled his pipe; and
how I had forgotten about it, in my excitement, till the people were
gone, and the brandy had quelled my faintness.

"Well, well," commented Grandfather Nat, "it's a wonderful bit o' luck,
anyhow. This is what the chap was pulling away from him when I opened
the door, you can lay to that; an' he lost it when he hit the post, I'll
wager; unless the other pitched it away. But that's neither here nor
there.... What's that?" He turned his head quickly. "That stairfoot door
ain't latched again, Stevy. Made me jump: fancied it was the other."

There was nothing else in the pocket-book, it would seem, except an old
photograph. It was a faded, yellowish thing, and it represented a rather
stout woman, seated, with a boy of about fourteen at her side; both very
respectably dressed in the fashion of twenty years earlier. Grandfather
Nat put it back, and slipped the pocket-book into the same cash-box that
had held the watch with the M engraved on its back.

The stairfoot door clicked again, and my grandfather sent me to shut it.
As I did so I almost fancied I could hear soft footsteps ascending. But
then I concluded I was mistaken; for in a few moments Mrs. Grimes was
plainly heard coming downstairs, with an uncommonly full tread; and
presently she presented herself.

"Good law, Cap'en Kemp," exclaimed Mrs. Grimes, with a hand clutching at
her chest, and her breath a tumultuous sigh; "Good law! I am that bad!
What with extry work, an' keepin' on late, an' murders under my very
nose, I cannot a-bear it--no!" And she sank into a chair by the
stairfoot door, letting go her brush and dustpan with a clatter.

Grandfather Nat turned to get the brandy-bottle again. Mrs. Grimes's
head drooped faintly, and her eyelids nearly closed. Nevertheless I
observed that the eyes under the lids were very sharp indeed, following
my grandfather's back, and traversing the shelf where he had left the
photograph; yet when he brought the brandy, he had to rouse her by a
shake.



CHAPTER X

STEPHEN'S TALE


I went to bed early that night--as soon as Mrs. Grimes was gone, in
fact. My grandfather had resolved that such a late upsitting as last
night's must be no more than an indulgence once in a way. He came up
with me, bringing the cash-box to put away in the little wall-cupboard
against his bed-head where it always lay, at night, with a pistol by its
side. Grandfather Nat peeped to see the pocket-book safe once more, and
chuckled as he locked it away. This done, he sat by my side, and talked
till I began to fall asleep.

The talk was of the pocket-book, and what should be done with the money.
Eight hundred pounds was the sum, and two five-pound notes over, and I
wondered why a man with so much money should come, the evening before,
to sell his watch.

"Looks as though the money wasn't his, don't it?" commented Grandfather
Nat. "Though anyhow it's no good to him now. You found it, an' it's
yours, Stevy."

I remembered certain lessons of my mother's as to one's proper behaviour
toward lost property, and I mentioned them. But Grandfather Nat clearly
resolved me that this was no case in point. "It can't be his, because
he's dead," Captain Nat argued; "an' if it's the other chap's--well, let
him come an' ask for it. That's fair enough, you know, Stevy. An' if he
don't come--it ain't likely he will, is it?--then it's yours; and I'll
keep it to help start you in life when you grow up. I won't pay it into
the bank--not for a bit, anyhow. There's numbers on bank notes: an' they
lead to trouble, often. But they're as good one time as another, an'
easy sent abroad later on, or what not. So there you are, my boy! Eight
hundred odd to start you like a gentleman, with as much more as
Grandfather Nat can put to it. Eh?"

He kissed me and rubbed his hands in my curls, and I took the occasion
to communicate my decision as to being a purlman. Grandfather Nat
laughed, and patted my head down on the pillow; and for a little I
remembered no more.

I awoke in an agony of nightmare. The dead man, with blood streaming
from mouth and eyes, was dragging my grandfather down into the river,
and my mother with my little dead brother in her arms called me to throw
out the pocket-book, and save him; and throw I could not, for the thing
seemed glued to my fingers. So I awoke with a choke and a cry, and sat
up in bed.

All was quiet about me, and below were the common evening noises of the
tavern; laughs, argumentation, and the gurgle of drawn beer; though
there was less noise now than when I had come up, and I judged it not
far from closing time. Out in the street a woman was singing a ballad;
and I got out of bed and went to the front room window to see and to
hear; for indeed I was out of sorts and nervous, and wished to look at
people.

At the corner of the passage there was a small group who pointed and
talked together--plainly discussing the murder; and as one or two
drifted away, so one or two more came up to join those remaining. No
doubt the singing woman had taken this pitch as one suitable to her
ware--for she sang and fluttered at length in her hand one of the
versified last dying confessions that even so late as this were hawked
about Ratcliff and Wapping. What murderer's "confession" the woman was
singing I have clean forgotten; but they were all the same, all set to a
doleful tune which, with modifications, still does duty, I believe, as
an evening hymn; and the burden ran thus, for every murderer and any
murder:--

    Take warning by my dreadful fate,
        The truth I can't deny;
    This dreadful crime that I are done
        I are condemned to die.

The singular grammar of the last two lines I never quite understood, not
having noticed its like elsewhere; but I put it down as a distinguishing
characteristic of the speech of murderers.

I waited till the woman had taken her ballads away, and I had grown
uncommonly cold in the legs, and then crept back to bed. But now I had
fully awakened myself, and sleep was impossible. Presently I got up
again, and looked out over the river. Very black and mysterious it lay,
the blacker, it seemed, for the thousand lights that spotted it, craft
and shore. No purlmen's fires were to be seen, for work on the colliers
was done long ago, but once a shout and now a hail came over the water,
faint or loud, far or near; and up the wooden wall I leaned on came the
steady sound of the lapping against the piles below. I wondered where
Grandfather Nat's boat--our boat--lay now; if the murderer were still
rowing in it, and would row and row right away to sea, where my father
was, in his ship; or if he would be caught, and make a dying confession
with all the "haves" and "ams" replaced by "ares"; or if, indeed, he had
already met providential retribution by drowning. In which case I
doubted for the safety of the boat, and Grandfather would buy another.
And my legs growing cold again, I retreated once more.

I heard the customers being turned into the street, and the shutters
going up; and then I got under the bed-clothes, for I recalled the
nightmare, and it was not pleasant. It grew rather worse, indeed, for my
waking fancy enlarged and embellished it, and I longed to hear the tread
of Grandfather Nat ascending the stair. But he was late to-night. I
heard Joe the potman, who slept off the premises, shut the door and go
off up the street. For a few minutes Grandfather Nat was moving about
the bar and the bar-parlour; and then there was silence, save for the
noises--the clicks and the creaks--that the old house made of itself.

I waited and waited, sometimes with my head out of the clothes,
sometimes with no more than a contrived hole next my ear, listening.
Till at last I could wait no longer, for the house seemed alive with
stealthy movement, and I shook with the indefinite terror that comes,
some night or another, to the most unimaginative child. I thought, at
first, of calling to my grandfather, but that would seem babyish; so I
said my prayers over again, held my breath, and faced the terrors of the
staircase. The boards sang and creaked under my bare feet, and the black
about me was full of dim coloured faces. But I pushed the door and drew
breath in the honest lamplight of the bar-parlour at last.

Nobody was there, and nobody was in the bar. Could he have gone out? Was
I alone in the house, there, where the blood was still on the carpet?
But there was a slight noise from behind the stairs, and I turned to
look farther.

Behind the bar-parlour and the staircase were two rooms, that projected
immediately over the river, with their frames resting on the piles. One
was sometimes used as a parlour for the reception of mates and skippers,
though such customers were rare; the other held cases, bottles and
barrels. To this latter I turned, and mounting the three steps behind
the staircase, pushed open the door; and was mightily astonished at what
I saw.

There was my grandfather, kneeling, and there was one half of Bill Stagg
the purlman, standing waist-deep in the floor. For a moment it was
beyond me to guess what he was standing on, seeing that there was
nothing below but water; but presently I reasoned that the tide was
high, and he must be standing in his boat. He was handing my grandfather
some small packages, and he saw me at once and pointed. Grandfather Nat
turned sharply, and stared, and for a moment I feared he was angry. Then
he grinned, shook his finger at me, and brought it back to his lips with
a tap.

"All right--my pardner," he whispered, and Bill Stagg grinned too. The
business was short enough, and in a few seconds Bill Stagg, with another
grin at me, and something like a wink, ducked below. My grandfather,
with noiseless care, put back in place a trap-door--not a square,
noticeable thing, but a clump of boards of divers lengths that fell into
place with as innocent an aspect as the rest of the floor. This done, he
rolled a barrel over the place, and dropped the contents of the packages
into a row of buckets that stood near.

"What's that, Grandfather Nat?" I ventured to ask, when all was safely
accomplished.

My grandfather grinned once more, and shook his head. "Go on," he said,
"I'll tell you in the bar-parlour. May as well now as let ye find out."
He blew out the light of his candle and followed me.

"Well," he said, wrapping my cold feet in my nightgown as I sat on his
knee. "What brought ye down, Stevy? Did we make a noise?"

I shook my head. "I--I felt lonely," I said.

"Lonely? Well, never mind. An' so ye came to look for me, eh? Well, now,
this is another one o' the things as you mustn't talk about, Stevy--a
little secret between ourselves, bein' pardners."

"The stuff in the pail, Gran'fa' Nat?"

"The stuff in the pail, an' the hole in the floor. You're sure you won't
get talkin', an' get your poor old gran'father in trouble?"

Yes, I was quite sure; though I could not see as yet what there was to
cause trouble.

"The stuff Bill Stagg brought, Stevy, is 'bacca. 'Bacca smashed down so
hard that a pound ain't bigger than that matchbox. An' I pitch it in the
water to swell it out again; see?"

I still failed to understand the method of its arrival. "Did Bill Stagg
steal it, gran'father?" I asked.

Grandfather Nat laughed. "No, my boy," he said; "he bought it, an' I buy
it. It comes off the Dutch boats. But it comes a deal cheaper takin' it
in that way at night-time. There's a big place I'll show you one day,
Stevy--big white house just this side o' London Bridge. There's a lot o'
gentlemen there as wants to see all the 'bacca that comes in from
aboard, an' they take a lot o' trouble over it, and charge too, fearful.
So they're very angry if parties--same as you an' me--takes any in
without lettin' 'em know, an' payin' 'em the money. An' they can get you
locked up."

This seemed a very unjust world that I had come into, in which
Grandfather Nat was in danger of such terrible penalties for such
innocent transactions--buying a watch, or getting his tobacco cheap. So
I said: "I think people are very wicked in this place."

"Ah!" said my grandfather, "I s'pose none of us ain't over good. But
there--I've told you about it now, an' that's better than lettin' you
wonder, an' p'raps go asking other people questions. So now you know,
Stevy. We've got our little secrets between us, an' you've got to keep
'em between us, else--well, you know. Nothing about anything I buy, nor
about what I take in _there_,"--with a jerk of the thumb--"nor about
'bacca in buckets o' water."

"Nor about the pocket-book, Gran'fa' Nat?"

"Lord no. 'Specially not about that. You see, Stevy, pardners is
pardners, an' they must stick together, eh? We'll stick together, won't
we?"

I nodded hard and reached for my grandfather's neck.

"Ah, that we will. What others like to think they can; they can't prove
nothing, nor it wouldn't be their game. But we're pardners, an' I've
told you what--well, what you might ha' found out in a more awkward way.
An' it ain't so bad a thing to have a pardner to talk to, neither. I
never had one till now--not since your gran'mother died, that you never
saw, Stevy; an' that was twenty years ago. I been alone most o' my
life--not even a boy, same as it might be you. 'Cause why? When your
father was your age, an' older, I was always at sea, an' never saw him,
scarcely; same as him an' you now."

And indeed Grandfather Nat and I knew each other better than my father
knew either of us. And so we sat for a few minutes talking of ourselves,
and once more of the notes in the pocket-book upstairs; till the tramp
of the three policemen on the beat stayed in the street without, and we
heard one of the three coming down the passage.

He knocked sharply at the bar-parlour door, and Grandfather Nat put me
down and opened it.

"Good evenin', Cap'en Kemp," said the policeman. "We knew you was up,
seein' a bit o' light." Then he leaned farther in, and in a lower voice,
said: "He ain't been exactly identified yet, but it's thought some of
our chaps knows 'im. Know if anything's been picked up?"

My heart gave a jump, as probably did my grandfather's. "Picked up?" he
repeated. "Why, what? What d'ye mean?"

"Well, there was nothing partic'lar on the body, an' our chaps didn't
see the knife. We thought if anybody about 'ad picked up anything, knife
or what not, you might 'ear. So there ain't nothing?"

"No," Grandfather Nat answered blankly. "I've seen no knife, nor heard
of none."

"All right, Cap'en Kemp--if you do hear of anything, give us the tip.
Good night!"

Grandfather Nat looked oddly at me, and I at him. I think we had a
feeling that our partnership was sealed. And so with no more words we
went to bed.



CHAPTER XI

STEPHEN'S TALE


I had never seen either of the partners in the firm of Viney and Marr:
as I may have said already. On the day after the man was stabbed at our
side door I saw them both.

That morning the tide was low, and Hole-in-the-Wall Stairs ended in a
causeway in the midst of a little flat of gravel and mud. So, since the
mud was nowhere dangerous, and there was no deep water to fall into, I
was allowed to go down the steps alone and play on the foreshore while
Grandfather Nat was busy with his morning's affairs; the two or three
watermen lying by the causeway undertaking to keep an eye on me. And
there I took my pleasure as I would, now raking in the wet pebbles, and
heaving over big stones that often pulled me on to all-fours, now
climbing the stairs to peep along the alley, and once or twice running
as far as the bar-parlour door to report myself to Grandfather Nat, and
inform him of my discoveries.

The little patch of foreshore soon rendered up all its secrets, and its
area grew less by reason of the rising tide; so that I turned to other
matters of interest. Out in mid-stream a cluster of lighters lay moored,
waiting for the turn of the tide. Presently a little tug came puffing
and fussing from somewhere alongshore, and after much shoving and
hauling and shouting, scuffled off, trailing three of the lighters
behind it; from which I conjectured that their loads were needed in a
hurry. But the disturbance among the rest of the lighters was not done
with when the tug had cleared the three from their midst; for a hawser
had got foul of a rudder, and two or three men were at work with poles
and hooks, recrimination and forcible words, to get things clear. Though
the thing seemed no easy job; and it took my attention for some time.

But presently I tired of it, and climbed the steps to read the bills
describing the people who had been found drowned. There were eleven of
the bills altogether, fresh and clean; and fragments of innumerable
others, older and dirtier, were round about them. Ten men and one woman
had been picked up, it would seem, and all within a week or two, as I
learned when I had spelled out the dates. I pored at these bills till I
had read them through, being horribly fascinated by the personal marks
and peculiarities so baldly set forth; the scars, the tattoo marks, the
colour of the dead eyes; the clothes and boots and the contents of the
pockets--though indeed most of the pockets would seem to have been
empty. The woman--they guessed her age at twenty-two--wore one earring;
and I entangled myself in conjectures as to what had become of the
other.

I was disturbed by a shout from the causeway. I looked and saw Bill
Stagg in his boat. "Is your gran'father there?" shouted Bill Stagg.
"Tell him they've found his boat."

This was joyful news, and I rushed to carry it. "They've found our boat,
Grandfather Nat," I cried. "Bill Stagg says so!"

Grandfather Nat was busy in the bar, and he received the information
with calmness. "Ah," he said, "I knew it 'ud turn up somewhere. Bill
Stagg there?" And he came out leisurely in his shirt sleeves, and stood
at the head of the stairs.

"P'lice galley found your boat, cap'en," Bill Stagg reported. "You'll
have to go up to the float for it."

"Right. Know where it was?"

"Up agin Elephant stairs"--Bill Stagg pointed across the river--"turned
adrift and jammed among the lighters."

Grandfather Nat nodded serenely. Bill Stagg nodded in reply, shoved off
from the causeway and went about his business.

The hawser was still foul among the lighters out in the stream, and a
man had pulled over in a boat to help. I had told grandfather of the
difficulty, and how long it had baffled the lightermen, and was asking
the third of a string of questions about it all, when there was a step
behind, and a voice: "Good mornin', Cap'en Nat."

My grandfather turned quickly. "Mr. Viney!" he said. "Well.... Good
mornin'."

I turned also, and I was not prepossessed by Mr. Viney. His face--a face
no doubt originally pale and pasty, but too long sun-burned to revert to
anything but yellow in these later years of shore-life--his yellow face
was ever stretched in an uneasy grin, a grin that might mean either
propitiation or malice, and remained the same for both. He had the
watery eyes and the goatee beard that were not uncommon among seamen,
and in total I thought he much resembled one of those same hang-dog
fellows that stood at corners and leaned on posts in the neighbourhood,
making a mysterious living out of sailors; one of them, that is to say,
in a superior suit of clothes that seemed too good for him. I suppose he
may have been an inch taller than Grandfather Nat; but in the contrast
between them he seemed very small and mean.

He offered his hand with a stealthy gesture, rather as though he were
trying to pick my grandfather's waistcoat pocket; so that the old man
stared at the hand for a moment, as if to see what he would be at,
before he shook it.

"Down in the world again, Cap'en Nat," said Viney, with a shrug.

"Ay, I heard," answered Captain Nat. "I'm very sorry; but there--perhaps
you'll be up again soon...."

       *       *       *       *       *

"I come to ask you about something," Viney proceeded, as they walked
away toward the bar-parlour door. "Something you'll tell me, bein' an
old shipmate, if you can find out, I'm sure. Can we go into your place?
No, there's a woman there."

"Only one as does washin' up an' such. I'll send her upstairs if you
like."

"No, out here's best; we'll walk up and down; people get hangin' round
doors an' keyholes in a place like that. Here we can see who's near us."

"What, secrets?"

"Ay." Viney gave an ugly twist to his grin. "I know some o' yours--one
big un' at any rate, Cap'en Nat, don't I? So I can afford to let you
into a little 'un o' mine, seein' I can't help it. Now I'd like to know
if you've seen anything of Marr."

"No,--haven't seen him for months. Bolted, they tell me, an'--well you
know better'n me, I expect."

"I don't know," Viney replied with emphasis. "I ought to know, but I
don't. See here now. Less than a week ago he cleared out, an' then I
filed my petition. He might ha' been gone anywhere--bolted. Might be
abroad, as would seem most likely. In plain fact he was only coming down
in these parts to lie low. See? Round about here a man can lie low an'
snug, an' safer than abroad, if he likes. And he had money with him--all
we could get together. See?" And Viney frowned and winked, and glanced
stealthily over his shoulder.

"Ah," remarked Captain Nat, drily, "I see. An' the creditors----"

"Damn the creditors! See here, Cap'en Nat Kemp. Remember a man called
Dan Webb?"

Captain Nat paled a little, and tightened his lips.

"Remember a man called Dan Webb?" Viney repeated, stopping in his walk
and facing the other with the uneasy grin unchanged. "A man called Dan
Webb, aboard o' the _Florence_ along o' you an' me? 'Cause I do, anyhow.
That's on'y my little hint--we're good friends altogether, o' course,
Cap'en Nat; but you know what it means. Well, Marr had money with him,
as I said. He was to come to a quiet anchorage hereabout, got up like a
seaman, an' let me know at once."

Captain Nat, his mouth still set tight, nodded, with a grunt.

"Well, he didn't let me know. I heard nothing at all from him, an' it
struck me rather of a heap to think that p'raps he'd put the double on
me, an' cleared out in good earnest. But yesterday I got news. A blind
fiddler chap gave me some sort o' news."

Captain Nat remembered the meeting at the street corner in the evening
after the funeral. "Blind George?" he queried.

"Yes, that was all the name he gave me; a regular thick 'un, that blind
chap, an' a flow o' language as would curl the sheathing off a ship's
bottom. He came the evening before, it seems, but found the place shut
up--servant gal took her hook. Well now, he'd done all but see Marr down
here at the Blue Gate--he'd seen him as clear as a blind man could, he
said, with his ears: an' he came to me to give me the tip an' earn
anything I'd give him for it. It amounted to this. It was plain enough
Marr had come along here all right, an' pitched on some sort o'
quarters; but it was clear he wasn't fit to be trusted alone in such a
place at all. For the blind chap found him drunk, an' in tow with as
precious a pair o' bully-boys as Blue Gate could show. Not only drunk,
neither, but drunk with a slack jaw--drunk an' gabbling, drunk an'
talkin' business--_my_ business--an' lettin' out all there was to
let,--this an' that an' t'other an' Lord knows what! It was only because
of his drunken jabber that the blind man found out who he was."

"And this was the day before yesterday?" asked Captain Nat.

"Yes."

Captain Nat shook his head. "If he was like that the day before
yesterday," he said, "in tow with such chaps as you say,--well, whatever
he had on him ain't on him now. An' it 'ud puzzle a cleverer man than me
to find it. You may lay to that."

Viney swore, and stamped a foot, and swore again. "But see," he said,
"ain't there a chance? It was in notes, all of it. Them chaps'll be
afraid to pass notes. Couldn't most of it be got back on an arrangement
to cash the rest? You can find 'em if you try, with all your chances.
Come--I'll pay fair for what I get, to you an' all."

"See how you've left it," remarked Captain Nat; and Viney swore again.
"This was all done the day before yesterday. Well, you don't hear of it
yourself till yesterday, an' now you don't come to me till to-day."

Viney swore once more, and grinned twice as wide in his rage. "Yes," he
said, "that was Blind George's doing. I sent him back to see what _he_
could do, an' ain't seen him since. Like as not he's standing in with
the others."

"Ay, that's likely," the old man answered, "very likely. Blind George is
as tough a lot as any in Blue Gate, for all he's blind. You'd never ha'
heard of it at all if they'd ha' greased him a bit at first. I expect
they shut him out, to keep the plant to themselves; an' so he came to
you for anything he could pick up. An' now----"

Viney cursed them all, and Blind George and himself together; but most
he cursed Marr; and so talking, the two men walked to and fro in the
passage.

       *       *       *       *       *

I could see that Viney was angry, and growing angrier still. But I gave
all my attention to the work at the fouled hawser. The man in the boat,
working patiently with a boat-hook, succeeded suddenly and without
warning, so that he almost pitched headlong into the river. The rope
came up from its entanglement with a spring and a splash, flinging some
amazing great object up with it, half out of water; and the men gave a
cry as this thing lapsed heavily to the surface.

The man in the boat snatched his hook again and reached for the thing as
it floated. Somebody threw him a length of line, and with this he made
it fast to his boat, and began pulling toward the stairs, towing it. I
was puzzled to guess what the object might be. It was no part of the
lighter's rudder, for it lay in, rather than on, the water, and it
rolled and wallowed, and seemed to tug heavily, so that the boatman had
to pull his best. I wondered if he had caught some curious
water-creature--a porpoise perhaps, or a seal, such as had been flung
ashore in a winter storm at Blackwall a year before.

Viney and Grandfather Nat had turned their steps toward the stairs, and
as they neared, my grandfather, lifting his eyes, saw the boatman and
his prize, and saw the watermen leaving their boats for the foreshore.
With a quick word to Viney he hastened down the stairs; and Viney
himself, less interested, followed half way down, and waited.

The boatman brought up alongside the foreshore, and he and another
hauled at the tow-rope. The thing in the water came in, rolling and
bobbing, growing more hideously distinct as it came; it checked at the
mud and stones, turned over, and with another pull lay ashore, staring
and grey and streaming: a dead man.

The lips were pulled tight over the teeth, and, the hair being fair, it
was the plainer to see that one side of the head and forehead was black
and open with a great wound. The limbs lay limp and tumbled, all; but
one leg fell aside with so loose a twist that plainly it was broken, and
I heard, afterwards, that it was the leg that had caused the difficulty
with the hawser.

Grandfather Nat, down at the waterside, had no sooner caught sight of
the dead face than with wide eyes he turned to Viney, and shouted the
one word "Look!" Then he went and took another view, longer and closer;
and straightway came back in six strides to the stairs, whereon Viney
was no longer standing, but sitting, his face tallowy and his grin
faded.

"See him?" cried Grandfather Nat in a hushed voice. "See him! It's Marr
himself, if I know him at all! Come--come and see!"

Viney pulled his arm from the old man's grasp, turned, and crawled up a
stair or two. "No," he said faintly, "I--I won't, now--I--they'd know me
p'raps, some of them." His breath was short, and he gulped. "Good God,"
he said presently, "it's him--it's him sure enough. And the clothes he
had on.... But ... Cap'en--Cap'en Nat; go an' try his pockets.--Go on.
There's a pocket-book--leather pocket-book.... Go on!"

"What's the good?" asked Captain Nat, with a lift of the eyebrows, and
the same low voice. "What's the good? I can't fetch it away, with all
them witnesses. Go yourself, an' say you're his pardner; you'd have a
chance then."

"No--no. I--it ain't good enough. You know 'em; I don't. I'll stand in
with you--give you a hundred if it's all there! Square 'em--you know
'em!"

"If they're to be squared you can do it as well as me. There'll be an
inquest on this, an' evidence. I ain't going to be asked what I did with
the man's pocket-book. No. I don't meddle in this, Mr. Viney. If it
ain't good enough for you to get it for yourself, it ain't good enough
for me to get it for you."

"Kemp, I'll go you halves--there! Get it, an' there's four hundred for
you. Eight hundred an' odd quid, in a pocket-book. Come, that's worth
it, ain't it? Eight hundred an' odd quid--in a leather pocket-book! An'
I'll go you halves."

Captain Nat started at the words, and stood for a moment, staring.
"Eight hundred!" he repeated under his breath. "Eight hundred an' odd
quid. In a leather pocket-book. Ah!" And the stare persisted, and grew
thoughtful.

"Yes," replied Viney, now a little more himself. "Now you know; and it's
worth it, ain't it? Don't waste time--they're turning him over
themselves. You can manage all these chaps. Go on!"

"I'll see if anything's there," answered Captain Nat. "More I can't; an'
if there's nothing that's an end of it."

He went down to where the men were bending over the body, to disengage
the tow-line. He looked again at the drawn face under the gaping
forehead, and said something to the men; then he bent and patted the
soddened clothes, now here, now there; and at last felt in the
breast-pocket.

Meantime Viney stood feverishly on the stairs, watching; fidgeting
nervously down a step, and then down another, and then down two more.
And so till Captain Nat returned.

The old man shook his head. "Cleaned out," he reported. "Cleaned out, o'
course. Hit on the head an' cleaned out, like many a score better men
before him, down these parts. Not a thing in the pockets anywhere.
Flimped clean."

Viney's eyes were wild. "Nothing at all left?" he said. "Nothing of his
own? Not a watch, nor anything?"

"No, not a watch, nor anything."

Viney stood staring at space for some moments, murmuring many oaths.
Then he asked suddenly, "Where's this blind chap? Where can I find Blind
George?"

Grandfather Nat shook his head. "He's all over the neighbourhood," he
answered. "Try the Highway; I can't give you nearer than that."

And with no more counsel to help him, Mr. Viney was fain to depart. He
went grinning and cursing up the passage and so toward the bridge,
without another word or look. And when I turned to my grandfather I saw
him staring fixedly at me, lost in thought, and rubbing his hand up in
his hair behind, through the grey and out at the brown on top.



CHAPTER XII

IN THE CLUB-ROOM


By the side of the bills stuck at the corner of Hole-in-the-Wall
Stairs--the bills that had so fascinated Stephen--a new one appeared,
with the heading "Body Found." It particularised the personal marks and
description of the unhappy Marr; his "fresh complexion," his brown hair,
his serge suit and his anklejacks. The bill might have stood on every
wall in London till it rotted, and never have given a soul who knew him
a hint to guess the body his: except Viney, who knew the fact already.
And the body might have been buried unidentified ere Viney would have
shown himself in the business, were it not for the interference of Mr.
Cripps. For industry of an unprofitable kind was a piece of Mr. Cripps's
nature; and, moreover, he was so regular a visitor at the mortuary as to
have grown an old friend of the keeper. His persistent prying among the
ghastly liers-in-state, at first on plea of identifying a friend--a
contingency likely enough, since his long-shore acquaintance was
wide--and later under the name of friendly calls, was an indulgence that
had helped him to consideration as a news-monger, and twice had raised
him to the elevation of witness at an inquest; a distinction very
gratifying to his simple vanity. He entertained high hopes of being
called witness in the case of the man stabbed at the side door of the
Hole in the Wall; and was scarce seen at Captain Nat's all the next day,
preferring to frequent the mortuary. So it happened that he saw the
other corpse that was carried thence from Hole-in-the-Wall Stairs.

"There y'are," said the mortuary-keeper. "There's a fresh 'un, just in
from the river, unknown. _You_ dunno 'im either, I expect."

But Mr. Cripps was quite sure that he did. Curious and eager, he walked
up between the two dead men, his grimy little body being all that
divided them in this their grisly reunion. "I _do_ know 'im," he
insisted, thoughtfully. "Leastways I've seen 'im somewheres, I'm sure."
The little man gazed at the dreadful head, and then at the rafters: then
shut his eyes with a squeeze that drove his nose into amazing lumps and
wrinkles; then looked at the head again, and squeezed his eyelids
together once more; and at last started back, his eyes rivalling his
very nose itself for prominence. "Why!" he gasped, "it is! It is, s'elp
me!... It's Mr. Marr, as is pardners with Mr. Viney! I on'y see 'im once
in my life, but I'll swear it's 'im!... Lord, what a phenomenal go!"

And with that Mr. Cripps rushed off incontinent to spread the news
wherever anybody would listen. He told the police, he told the loafers,
he told Captain Nat and everybody in his bar; he told the watermen at
the stairs, he shouted it to the purlmen in their boats, and he wriggled
into conversation with perfect strangers to tell them too. So that it
came to pass that Viney, being called upon by the coroner's officer, was
fain to swallow his reluctance and come forward at the inquest.

That was held at the Hole in the Wall twenty-four hours after the body
had been hauled ashore. The two inquests were held together, in fact,
Marr's and that of the broken-nosed man, stabbed in the passage. Two
inquests, or even three, in a day, made no uncommon event in those
parts, where perhaps a dozen might be held in a week, mostly ending with
the same doubtful verdict--Found Drowned. But here one of the inquiries
related to an open and witnessed murder, and that fact gave some touch
of added interest to the proceedings.

Accordingly a drifting group hung about the doors of the Hole in the
Wall at the appointed time,--just such an idle, changing group as had
hung there all the evening after the man had been stabbed; and in the
midst stood Blind George with his fiddle, his vacant white eye rolling
upward, his mouth full of noisy ribaldry, and his fiddle playing
punctuation and chorus to all he said or sang. He turned his ear at the
sound of many footsteps leaving the door near him.

"There they go!" he sang out; "there they go, twelve on 'em!" And indeed
it was the jury going off to view the bodies. "There they go, twelve
good men an' true, an' bloomin' proud they are to fancy it! Got a copper
for Blind George, gentlemen? Not a brown for pore George?... Not them;
not a brass farden among the 'ole dam good an' lawful lot.... Ahoy!
ain't Gubbins there,--the good an' lawful pork-butcher as 'ad to pay
forty bob for shovin' a lump o' fat under the scales? Tell the crowner
to mind 'is pockets!"

The idlers laughed, and one flung a copper, which Blind George snatched
almost before it had fallen. "Ha! ha!" he cried, "there's a toff
somewhere near, I can tell by the sound of his money! Here goes for a
stave!" And straightway be broke into:--

    O they call me Hanging Johnny,
      With my hang, boys, hang!

The mortuary stood at no great distance and soon the jury were back in
the club-room over the bar, and at work on the first case. The police
had had some difficulty as to identification of the stabbed man. The
difficulty arose not only because there were no relations in the
neighbourhood to feel the loss, but as much because the persons able to
make the identification kept the most distant possible terms with the
police, and withheld information from them as a matter of principle.
Albeit a reluctant ruffian was laid hold of who was induced sulkily to
admit that he had known the deceased to speak to, and lodged near him in
Blue Gate; that the deceased was called Bob Kipps; that he was quite
lately come into the neighbourhood; and that he had no particular
occupation, as far as witness knew. It needed some pressure to extract
the information that Kipps, during the short time he was in Blue Gate,
chiefly consorted with one Dan Ogle, and that witness had seen nothing
of Ogle that day, nor the day before.

There was also a woman called to identify--a woman more reluctant than
the man; a woman of coarse features, dull eyes, tousled hair, and thick
voice, sluttish with rusty finery. Name, Margaret Flynn; though at the
back of the little crowd that had squeezed into the court she was called
Musky Mag. It was said there, too, that Mag, in no degree one of the
fainting sort, had nevertheless swooned when taken into the
mortuary--gone clean off with a flop; true, she explained it, afterward,
by saying that she had only expected to see one body, but found herself
brought face to face with two; and of course there was the other
there--Marr's. But it was held no such odds between one corpse and two
that an outer-and-outer like Mag should go on the faint over it. This
was reasonable enough, for the crowd. But not for a woman who had sat to
drink with three men, and in a short hour or so had fallen over the
battered corpse of one of them, in the dark of her room; who had been
forced, now, to view the rent body of a second, and in doing it to meet
once again the other, resurrected, bruised, sodden and horrible; and who
knew that all was the work of the last of the three, and that man in
peril of the rope: the man, too, of all the world, in her eye....

Her evidence, given with plain anxiety and a nervous unsteadiness of the
mouth, added nothing to the tale. The man was Bob Kipps; he was a
stranger till lately--came, she had heard tell, from Shoreditch or
Hoxton; saw him last a day or two ago: knew nothing of his death beyond
what she had heard; did not know where Dan Ogle was (this very
vehemently, with much shaking of the head); had not seen him with
deceased--but here the police inspector handed the coroner a scribbled
note, and the coroner having read it and passed it back, said no more.
Musky Mag stood aside; while the inspector tore the note into small
pieces and put the pieces in his pocket.

Nathaniel Kemp, landlord of the house, told the story of the murder as
he saw it, and of his chase of the murderer. Did not know deceased, and
should be unable to identify the murderer if he met him again, having
seen no more than his figure in the dark.

All this time Mr. Cripps had been standing, in eager trepidation,
foremost among the little crowd, nodding and lifting his hand anxiously,
strenuous to catch the coroner's officer's attention at the dismissal of
each witness, and fearful lest his offer of evidence, made a dozen times
before the coroner came, should be forgotten. Now at last the coroner's
officer condescended to notice him, and being beckoned, Mr. Cripps
swaggered forward, his greasy widewake crushed under his arm, and his
face radiant with delighted importance. He bowed to the coroner, kissed
the book with a flourish, and glanced round the court to judge how much
of the due impression was yet visible.

The coroner signified that he was ready to hear whatever Mr. Cripps knew
of this matter.

Mr. Cripps "threw a chest," stuck an arm akimbo, and raised the other
with an oratorical sweep so large that his small voice, when it came,
seemed all the smaller. "Hi was in the bar, sir," he piped, "the bar,
sir, of this 'ouse, bein' long acquainted with an' much respectin'
Cap'en Kemp, an' in the 'abit of visitin' 'ere in the intervals of the
pursoot of my hart. Hem! Hi was in the bar, sir, when my attention was
attracted by a sudden noise be'hind, or as I may say, in the rear of,
the bar-parlour. Hi was able to distinguish, gentlemen of the jury, what
might be called, in a common way o' speakin', a bump or a bang, sich as
would be occasioned by an unknown murderer criminally shoving his
un'appy victim's 'ed agin the back-door of a public-'ouse. Hi was able
to distinguish it, sir, from a 'uman cry which follered: a 'uman cry, or
as it might be, a holler, sich as would be occasioned by the un'appy
victim 'avin' 'is 'ed shoved agin the back-door aforesaid. Genelmen, I
'esitated not a moment. I rushed forward."

Mr. Cripps paused so long to give the statement effect that the coroner
lost patience. "Yes," he said, "you rushed forward. Do you mean you
jumped over the bar?"

For a moment Mr. Cripps's countenance fell; truly it would have been
more imposing to have jumped over the bar. But he was on his oath, and
he must do his best with the facts. "No, sir," he explained, a little
tamely, "not over the bar, but reether the opposite way, so to speak,
towards the door. I rushed forward, genelmen, in a sort of rearwards
direction, through the door, an' round into the alley. Immediate as I
turned the corner, genelmen, I be'eld with my own eyes the unknown
murderer; I see 'im a-risin' from over 'is un'appy victim, an' I see as
the criminal tragedy had transpired. I--I rushed forward."

The sensation he looked for being slow in coming, another rush seemed
expedient; but it fell flat as the first, and Mr. Cripps struggled on,
desperately conscious that he had nothing else to say.

"I rushed forward, sir; seein' which the miscreant absconded--absconded,
no doubt with--with the proceeds; an' seein' Cap'en Kemp abscondin'
after him, I turned an' be'eld the un'appy victim--the corpse now in
custody, sir--a-layin' in the bar-parlour, 'elpless an'--an'
decimated.... I--rushed forward."

It was sad to see how little the coroner was impressed; there was even
something in his face not unlike a smile; and Mr. Cripps was at the end
of his resources. But if he could have seen the face of Musky Mag, in
the little crowd behind him, he might have been consoled. She alone, of
all who heard, had followed his rhetoric with an agony of attention,
word by word: even as she had followed the earlier evidence. Now her
strained face was the easier merely by contrast with itself when Mr.
Cripps was in full cry; and a moment later it was tenser than ever.

"Yes, yes, Mr. Cripps," the coroner said; "no doubt you were very
active, but we don't seem to have increased the evidence. You say you
saw the man who stabbed the deceased in the passage. Did you know him at
all? Ever see him before?"

Here, mayhap, was some chance of an effect after all. Mr. Cripps could
scarce have distinguished the murderer from one of the posts in the
alley; but he said, with all the significance he could give the words:
"Well, sir, I won't go so far as to swear to 'is name, sir; no, sir, not
to 'is _name_, certainly not." And therewith he made his sensation at
last, bringing upon himself the twenty-four eyes of the jury all
together.

The coroner looked up sharply. "Oh," he said, "you know him by sight
then? Does he belong to the neighbourhood?"

Now it was not Mr. Cripps who had said he knew the murderer by sight,
but the coroner. Far be it from him, thought the aspirant for fame, to
contradict the coroner, and so baulk himself of the credit thus thrust
upon him. So he answered with the same cautious significance and a
succession of portentous nods. "Your judgment, sir, is correct; quite
correct."

"Come then, this is important. You would be able to recognise him again,
of course?"

There was no retreat--Mr. Cripps was in for it. It was an unforeseen
consequence of the quibble, but since plunge he must he plunged neck and
crop. "I'd know 'im anywhere," he said triumphantly.

There was an odd sound in the crowd behind, and a fall. Captain Nat
strode across, and the crowd wondered; for Musky Mag had fainted again.

The landlord lifted her, and carried her to the stairs. When the door
had closed behind them, and the coroner's officer had shouted the little
crowd into silence, the inquest took a short course to its end.

Mr. Cripps, in the height of his consequence, began to feel serious
misgivings as to the issue of his stumble beyond the verities; and the
coroner's next words were a relief.

"I think that will be enough, Mr. Cripps," the coroner said; "no doubt
the police will be glad of your assistance." And with that he gave the
jury the little summing up that the case needed. There was the medical
evidence, and the evidence of the stabbing, and that evidence pointed to
an unmistakable conclusion. Nobody was in custody, nor had the murderer
been positively identified, and such evidence as there was in this
respect was for the consideration of the police. He thought the jury
would have no difficulty in arriving at a verdict. The jury had none;
and the verdict was Murder by some Person or Persons unknown.

The other inquest gave even less trouble. Mr. Henry Viney, shipowner,
had seen the body, and identified it as that of his partner Lewis Marr.
Marr had suddenly disappeared a week ago, and an examination of his
accounts showed serious defalcations, in consequence of which witness
had filed his petition in bankruptcy. Whether or not Marr had taken
money with him witness could not say, as deceased had entire charge of
the accounts; but it seemed more likely that embezzlement had been going
on for some time past, and Marr had fled when detection could no longer
be averted. This might account for his dressing, and presumably seeking
work, as a sailor.

The divisional surgeon of police had examined the body, and found a
large wound on the head, fully sufficient to have caused death,
inflicted either by some heavy, blunt instrument, or by a fall from a
height on a hard substance. One thigh was fractured, and there were
other wounds and contusions, but these, as well as the broken thigh,
were clearly caused after death. The blow on the head might have been
caused by an accident on the riverside, or it might have been inflicted
wilfully by an assailant.

Then there was the evidence of the man who had found the body foul of a
rudder and a hawser, and of the police who had found nothing on the
body. And there was no more evidence at all. The coroner having
sympathised deeply with Mr. Viney, gave the jury the proper lead, and
the jury with perfect propriety returned the open verdict that the
doctor's evidence and the coroner's lead suggested. The case, except for
the circumstances of Marr's flight, was like a hundred others inquired
upon thereabout in the course of a few weeks, and in an hour it was in a
fair way to be forgotten, even by the little crowd that clumped
downstairs to try both cases all over again in the bar of the Hole in
the Wall.

To the coroner, the jury, and the little crowd, these were two inquests
with nothing to connect them but the accident of time and the
convenience of the Hole in the Wall club-room. But Blind George,
standing in the street with his fiddle, and getting the news from the
club-room in scraps between song and patter, knew more and guessed
better.



CHAPTER XIII

STEPHEN'S TALE


I found it a busy morning at the Hole in the Wall, that of the two
inquests. I perceived that, by some occult understanding, business in
one department was suspended; the pale man idled without, and nobody
came into the little compartment to exhibit valuables. Grandfather Nat
had a deal to do in making ready the club-room over the bar, and then in
attending the inquests. And it turned out that Mrs. Grimes had settled
on this day in particular to perform a vast number of extra feats of
housewifery in the upper floors. Notwithstanding the disturbance of this
additional work, Mrs. Grimes was most amazingly amiable, even to me; but
she was so persistent in requiring, first the key of one place, then of
another, next of a chest of drawers, and again of a cupboard, that at
last my grandfather distractedly gave her the whole bunch, and told her
not to bother him any more. The bunch held all she could require--indeed
I think it comprised every key my grandfather had, except that of his
cash-box--and she went away with it amiable still, notwithstanding the
hastiness of his expressions; so that I was amazed to find Mrs. Grimes
so meek, and wondered vaguely and childishly if it were because she felt
ill, and expected to die shortly.

Mr. Cripps was in the bar as soon as the doors were open, in a wonderful
state of effervescence. He was to make a great figure at the inquest, it
appeared, and the pride and glory of it kept him nervously on the strut,
till the coroner came, and Mr. Cripps mounted to the club-room with the
jury. He was got up for his part as completely as circumstances would
allow; grease was in his hair, his hat stood at an angle, and his face
exhibited an unfamiliar polish, occasioned by a towel.

For my own part, I sat in the bar-parlour and amused myself as I might.
Blind George was singing in the street, and now and again I could hear
the guffaw that signalised some sally that had touched his audience.
Above, things were quiet enough for some while, and then my grandfather
came heavily downstairs carrying a woman who had fainted. I had not
noticed the woman among the people who went up, but now Grandfather Nat
brought her through the bar, and into the parlour; and as she lay on the
floor just as the stabbed man had lain, I recognised her face also; for
she was the coarse-faced woman who had stopped my grandfather near Blue
Gate with vague and timid questions, when we were on our way from the
London Dock.

Grandfather Nat roared up the little staircase for Mrs. Grimes, and
presently she descended, amiable still; till she saw the coarse woman,
and was asked to help her. She looked on the woman with something of
surprise and something of confusion; but carried it off at once with a
toss of the head, a high phrase or so--"likes of 'er--respectable
woman"--and a quick retreat upstairs.

I believe my grandfather would have brought her down again by main
force, but the woman on the floor stirred, and began scrambling up, even
before she knew where she was. She held the shelf, and looked dully
about her, with a hoarse "Beg pardon, sir, beg pardon." Then she went
across toward the door, which stood ajar, stared stupidly, with a look
of some dawning alarm, and said again, "Beg pardon, sir--I bin queer";
and with that was gone into the passage.

It was not long after her departure ere the business above was over, and
the people came tramping and talking down into the bar, filling it
close, and giving Joe the potman all the work he could do. The coroner
came down by our private stairs into the bar-parlour, ushered with great
respect by my grandfather; and at his heels, taking occasion by a
desperately extemporised conversation with Grandfather Nat, came Mr.
Cripps.

There had never been an inquest at the Hole in the Wall before, and my
grandfather had been at some exercise of mind as to the proper
entertainment of the coroner. He had decided, after consideration, that
the gentleman could scarce be offended at the offer of a little lunch,
and to that end he had made ready with a cold fowl and a bottle of
claret, which Mrs. Grimes would presently be putting on the table. The
coroner was not offended, but he would take no lunch; he was very
pleasantly obliged by the invitation, but his lunch had been already
ordered at some distance; and so he shook hands with Grandfather Nat and
went his way. A circumstance that had no small effect on my history.

For it seemed to Mr. Cripps, who saw the coroner go, that by dexterous
management the vacant place at our dinner-table (for what the coroner
would call lunch we called dinner) might fall to himself. It had
happened once or twice before, on special occasions, that he had been
allowed to share a meal with Captain Nat, and now that he was brushed
and oiled for company, and had publicly distinguished himself at an
inquest, he was persuaded that the occasion was special beyond
precedent, and he set about to improve it with an assiduity and an
innocent cunning that were very transparent indeed. So he was
affectionately admiring with me, deferentially loquacious with my
grandfather, and very friendly with Joe the potman and Mrs. Grimes. It
was a busy morning, he observed, and he would be glad to do anything to
help.

At that time the houses on Wapping Wall were not encumbered with
dust-bins, since the river was found a more convenient receptacle for
rubbish. Slops were flung out of a back window, and kitchen refuse went
the same way, or was taken to the river stairs and turned out, either
into the water or on the foreshore, as the tide might chance. Mrs.
Grimes carried about with her in her dustings and sweepings an old
coal-scuttle, which held hearth-bushes, shovels, ashes, cinders,
potato-peelings, and the like; and at the end of her work, when the
brushes and shovels had been put away, she carried the coal-scuttle,
sometimes to the nearest window, but more often to the river stairs, and
flung what remained into the Thames.

Just as Mr. Cripps was at his busiest and politest, Mrs. Grimes appeared
with the old coal-scuttle, piled uncommonly high with ashes and dust and
half-burned pipe-lights. She set it down by the door, gave my
grandfather his keys, and turned to prepare the table. Instantly Mr.
Cripps, watchful in service, pounced on the scuttle.

"I'll pitch this 'ere away for you, mum," he said, "while you're seein'
to Cap'en Kemp's dinner"; and straightway started for the stairs.

Mrs. Grimes's back was turned at the moment, and this gave Mr. Cripps
the start of a yard or two; but she flung round and after him like a
maniac; so that both Grandfather Nat and I stared in amazement.

"Give me that scuttle!" she cried, snatching at the hinder handle. "Mind
your own business, an' leave my things alone!"

Mr. Cripps was amazed also, and he stuttered, "I--I--I--on'y--on'y----"

"Drop it, you fool!" the woman hissed, so suddenly savage that Mr.
Cripps did drop it, with a start that sent him backward against a post;
and the consequence was appalling.

Mr. Cripps was carrying the coal-scuttle by its top handle, and Mrs.
Grimes, reaching after it, had seized that at the back; so that when Mr.
Cripps let go, everything in the scuttle shot out on the paving-stones;
first, of course, the ashes and the pipe-lights; then on the top of
them, crowning the heap--Grandfather Nat's cash-box!

I suppose my grandfather must have recovered from his astonishment
first, for the next thing I remember is that he had Mrs. Grimes back in
the bar-parlour, held fast by the arm, while he carried his cash-box in
the disengaged hand. Mr. Cripps followed, bewildered but curious; and my
grandfather, pushing his prisoner into a far corner, turned and locked
the door.

Mrs. Grimes, who had been crimson, was now white; but more, it seemed to
me, with fury than with fear. My grandfather took the key from his
watchguard and opened the box, holding it where the contents were
visible to none but himself. He gave no more than a quick glance within,
and re-locked it; from which I judged--and judged aright--that the
pocket-book was safe.

"There's witnesses enough here," said my grandfather,--for Joe the
potman was now staring in from the bar--"to give you a good dose o'
gaol, mum. 'Stead o' which I pay your full week's money and send you
packin'!" He pulled out some silver from his pocket. "Grateful or not to
me don't matter, but I hope you'll be honest where you go next, for your
own sake."

"Grateful! Honest!" Mrs. Grimes gasped, shaking with passion. "'Ear 'im
talk! Honest! Take me to the station now, and bring that box an' show
'em inside it! Go on!"

I felt more than a little alarmed at this challenge, having regard to
the history of the pocket-book; and I remembered the night when we first
examined it, the creaking door, and the soft sounds on the stairs. But
Grandfather Nat was wholly undisturbed; he counted over the money
calmly, and pushed it across the little table.

"There it is, mum," he said, "an' there's your bonnet an' shawl in the
corner. There's nothing else o' yours in the place, I believe, so
there's no need for you to go out o' my sight till you go out of it
altogether. That you'd better do quick. I'll lay the dinner myself."

Mrs. Grimes swept up the money and began fixing her bonnet on her head
and tying the strings under her chin, with savage jerks and a great play
of elbow; her lips screwing nervously, and her eyes blazing with spite.

"Ho yus!" she broke out--though her rage was choking her--as she
snatched her shawl. "Ho yus! A nice pusson, Cap'en Nat Kemp, to talk
about honesty an' gratefulness--a nice pusson! A nice teacher for young
master 'opeful, I must say, an' 'opin' 'e'll do ye credit! It ain't the
last you'll see o' me, Captain Nat Kemp!... Get out o' my way, you old
lickspittle!"

Mr. Cripps got out of it with something like a bound, and Mrs. Grimes
was gone with a flounce and a slam of the door.

Scold as she was, and furious as she was, I was conscious that something
in my grandfather's scowl had kept her speech within bounds, and
shortened her clamour; for few cared to face Captain Nat's anger. But
with the slam of the door the scowl broke, and he laughed.

"Come," he said, "that's well over, an' I owe you a turn, Mr. Cripps,
though you weren't intending it. Stop an' have a bit of dinner. And if
you'd like something on account to buy the board for the sign--or say
two boards if you like--we'll see about it after dinner."

It will be perceived that Grandfather Nat had no reason to regret the
keeping of his cash-box key on his watchguard. For had it been with the
rest, in Mrs. Grimes's hands, she need never have troubled to smuggle
out the box among the ashes, since the pocket-book was no such awkward
article, and would have gone in her pocket. Mrs. Grimes had taken her
best chance and failed. The disorders caused by the inquests had left
her unobserved, the keys were in her hands, and the cash-box was left in
the cupboard upstairs; but the sedulous Mr. Cripps had been her
destruction.

As for that artist, he attained his dinner, and a few shillings under
the name of advance; and so was well pleased with his morning's work.



CHAPTER XIV

STEPHEN'S TALE


A policeman brought my grandfather a bill, which was stuck against the
bar window with gelatines; and just such another bill was posted on the
wall at the head of Hole-in-the-Wall Stairs, above the smaller bills
that advertised the found bodies. This new bill was six times the size
of those below; it was headed "Murder" in grim black capitals, and it
set forth an offer of fifty pounds reward for information which should
lead to the apprehension of the murderer of Robert Kipps.

The offer gave Grandfather Nat occasion for much solemn banter of Mr.
Cripps; banter which seemed to cause Mr. Cripps a curious uneasiness,
and time and again stopped his eloquence in full flood. He had been at
the pains to cut from newspapers such reports of the inquest as were
printed; and though they sadly disappointed him by their brevity, and
all but two personally affronted him by disregarding his evidence and
himself altogether, still he made great play with the exceptional two,
in the bar. But he was quick to drop the subject when Captain Nat urged
him in pursuit of the reward.

"Come," my grandfather would say, "you're neglecting your fortune, you
know. There's fifty pound waitin' for you to pick up, if you'd only go
an' collar that murderer. An' you'd know him anywhere." Whereupon Mr.

Cripps would look a little frightened, and subside.

I did not learn till later how the little painter's vanity had pushed
him over bounds at the inquest, so far that he committed himself to an
absolute recognition of the murderer. The fact alarmed him not a little,
on his return to calmness, and my grandfather, who understood his
indiscretion as well as himself, and enjoyed its consequences, in his
own grim way, amused himself at one vacant moment and another by setting
Mr. Cripps's alarm astir again.

"You're throwing away your luck," he would say, perhaps, "seein' you
know him so well by sight. If you're too well-off to bother about fifty
pound, give some of us poor 'uns a run for it, an' put us on to him. I
wish I'd been able to see him so clear." For in truth Grandfather Nat
well knew that nobody had had so near a chance of seeing the murderer's
face as himself; and that Mr. Cripps, at the top of the passage--perhaps
even round the corner--had no chance at all.

It was because of Mr. Cripps's indiscretion, in fact--this I learned
later still--that the police were put off the track of the real
criminal. For after due reflection on the direful complications
whereinto his lapse promised to fling him, that distinguished witness,
as I have already hinted, fell into a sad funk. So, though he needs must
hold to the tale that he knew the man by sight, and could recognise him
again, he resolved that come what might, he would identify nobody, and
so keep clear of further entanglements. Now the police suspicions fell
shrewdly on Dan Ogle, a notorious ruffian of the neighbourhood. He had
been much in company of the murdered man of late, and now was suddenly
gone from his accustomed haunts. Moreover, there was the plain agitation
of the woman he consorted with, Musky Mag, at the inquest: she had
fainted, indeed, when Mr. Cripps had been so positive about identifying
the murderer. These things were nothing of evidence, it was true; for
that they must depend on the witness who saw the fellow's face, knew him
by sight, and could identify him. But when they came to this witness
with their inquiries and suggestions the thing went overboard at a
breath. Was the assassin a tall man? Not at all--rather short, in fact.
Was he a heavy-framed, bony fellow? On the contrary, he was fat rather
than bony. Did Mr. Cripps ever happen to have seen a man called Dan
Ogle, and was this man at all like him? Mr. Cripps had been familiar
with Dan Ogle's appearance from his youth up (this was true, for the
painter's acquaintance was wide and diverse) but the man who killed Bob
Kipps was as unlike him as it was possible for any creature on two legs
to be. Then, would Mr. Cripps, if the thing came to trial, swear that
the man he saw was not Dan Ogle? Mr. Cripps was most fervently and
desperately ready and anxious to swear that it was not, and could not by
any possibility be Dan Ogle, or anybody like him.

This brought the police inquiries to a fault; even had their suspicions
been stronger and better supported, it would have been useless to arrest
Dan Ogle, supposing they could find him; for this, the sole possible
witness to identity, would swear him innocent. So they turned their
inquiries to fresh quarters, looking among the waterside population
across the river--since it was plain that the murderer had rowed
over--for recent immigrants from Wapping. For a little while Mr. Cripps
was vexed and disquieted with invitations to go with a plain-clothes
policeman and "take a quiet look" at some doubtful characters; but of
course with no result, beyond the welcome one of an occasional free
drink ordered as an excuse for waiting at bars and tavern-corners; and
in time these attentions ceased, for the police were reduced to waiting
for evidence to turn up; and Mr. Cripps breathed freely once more. While
Dan Ogle remained undisturbed, and justice was balked for a while; for
it turned out in the end that when the police suspected Dan Ogle they
were right, and when they went to other conjectures they were wrong.

All this was ahead of my knowledge at the moment, however, as, indeed,
it is somewhat ahead of my story; and for the while I did no more than
wonder to see Mr. Cripps abashed at an encouragement to earn fifty
pounds; for he seemed not a penny richer than before, and still
impetrated odd coppers on account of the signboard of promise.

Once or twice we saw Mr. Viney, and on each occasion he borrowed money
off Grandfather Nat. The police were about the house a good deal at this
time, because of the murder, or I think he might have come oftener. The
first time he came I heard him telling my grandfather that he had got
hold of Blind George, that Blind George had told him a good deal about
the missing money, and that with his help he hoped for a chance of
saving some of it. He added, mysteriously, that it had been "nearer
hereabouts than you might think, at one time"; a piece of news that my
grandfather received with a proper appearance of surprise. But was it
safe to confide in Blind George? Viney swore for answer, and said that
the rascal had stipulated for such a handsome share that it would pay
him to play square.

On the last of these visits I again overheard some scraps of their talk,
and this time it was angrier. I judged that Viney wanted more money than
my grandfather was disposed to give him. They were together in the back
room where the boxes and bottles were--the room into which I had seen
Bill Stagg's head and shoulders thrust by way of the trap-door. My
grandfather's voice was low, and from time to time he seemed to be
begging Viney to lower his; so that I wondered to find Grandfather Nat
so mild, since in the bar he never twice told a man to lower his voice,
but if once were not enough, flung him into the street. And withal Viney
paid no heed, but talked as he would, so that I could catch his phrases
again and again.

"Let them hush as is afraid--I ain't," he said. And again: "O, am I? Not
me.... It's little enough for me, if it does; not the rope, anyway." And
later, "Yes, the rope, Cap'en Kemp, as you know well enough; the rope at
Newgate Gaol.... Dan Webb, aboard o' the _Florence_.... The _Florence_
that was piled up on the Little Dingoes in broad day.... As you was
ordered o' course, but that don't matter.... That's what I want now, an'
no less. Think it lucky I offer to pay back when I get--... Well, be
sensible--... I'm friendly enough.... Very well."

Presently my grandfather, blacker than common about brow and eyes, but a
shade paler in the cheek, came into the bar-parlour and opened the trade
cash-box--not the one that Mrs. Grimes had hidden among the cinders, but
a smaller one used for gold and silver. He counted out a number of
sovereigns--twenty, I believe--put the box away, and returned to the
back room. And in a few minutes, with little more talk, Mr. Viney was
gone.

Grandfather Nat came into the bar-parlour again, and his face cleared
when he saw me, as it always would, no matter how he had been ruffled.
He stood looking in my face for a little, but with the expression of one
whose mind is engaged elsewhere. Then he rubbed his hand on my head, and
said abstractedly, and rather to himself, I fancied, than to me: "Never
mind, Stevy; we got it back beforehand, forty times over." A remark that
I thought over afterward, in bed, with the reflection that forty times
twenty was eight hundred.

But Mr. Viney's talk in the back room brought most oddly into my mind,
in a way hard to account for, the first question I put to my grandfather
after my arrival at the Hole in the Wall: "Did you ever kill a man,
Grandfather Nat?"



CHAPTER XV

STEPHEN'S TALE


The repeated multiplication of twenty by forty sent me to sleep that
night, and I woke with that arithmetical exercise still running in my
head. A candle was alight in the room--ours was one of several houses in
Wapping Wall without gas--and I peeped sleepily over the bed-clothes.
Grandfather Nat was sitting with the cash-box on his knees, and the
pocket-book open in his hand. He may just have been counting the notes
over again, or not; but now he was staring moodily at the photograph
that lay with them. Once or twice he turned his eyes aside, and then
back again to the picture, as though searching his memory for some old
face; then I thought he would toss it away as something valueless; but
when his glance fell on the fireless grate he returned the card to its
place and locked the box.

When the cash-box was put away in the little cupboard at his bed-head,
he came across and looked down at me. At first I shut my eyes, but
peeped. I found him looking on me with a troubled and thoughtful face;
so that presently I sat up with a jump and asked him what he was
thinking about.

"Fox's sleep, Stevy?" he said, with his hand under my chin. "Well, boy,
I was thinking about you. I was thinking it's a good job your father's
coming home soon, Stevy; though I don't like parting with you."

Parting with me? I did not understand. Wouldn't father be going away
again soon?

"Well, I dunno, Stevy, I dunno. I've been thinking a lot just lately,
that's a fact. This place is good enough for me, but it ain't a good
place to bring up a boy like you in; not to make him the man I want you
to be, Stevy. Somehow it didn't strike me that way at first, though it
ought to ha' done. It ought to ha' done, seein' it struck strangers--an'
not particular moral strangers at that."

He was thinking of Blind George and Mrs. Grimes. Though at the moment I
wondered if his talk with Mr. Viney had set him doubting.

"No, Stevy," he resumed, "it ain't giving you a proper chance, keeping
you here. You can't get lavender water out o' the bilge, an' this part's
the bilge of all London. I want you to be a better man than me, Stevy."

I could not imagine anybody being a better man than Grandfather Nat, and
the prospect of leaving him oppressed me dismally. And where was I to
go? I remembered the terrible group of aunts at my mother's funeral, and
a shadowy fear that I might be transferred to one of those virtuous
females--perhaps to Aunt Martha--put a weight on my heart. "Don't send
me away, Gran'fa Nat!" I pleaded, with something pulling at the corners
of my mouth; "I haven't been a bad boy yet, have I?"

He caught me up and sat me on his fore-arm, so that my face almost
touched his, and I could see my little white reflection in his eyes.
"You're the best boy in England, Stevy," he said, and kissed me
affectionately. "The best boy in the world. An' I wouldn't let go o' you
for a minute but for your own good. But see now, Stevy, see; as to goin'
away, now. You'll have to go to school, my boy, won't you? An' the best
school we can manage--a gentleman's school; boardin' school, you know.
Well, that'll mean goin' away, won't it? An' then it wouldn't do for you
to go to a school like that, not from here, you know--which you'll
understand when you get there, among the others. My boy--my boy an' your
father's--has got to be as good a gentleman as any of 'em, an' not
looked down on because o' comin' from a Wapping public like this, an'
sent by a rough old chap like me. See?"

I thought very hard over this view of things, which was difficult to
understand. Who should look down on me because of Grandfather Nat, of
whom I was so fond and so proud? Grandfather Nat, who had sailed ships
all over the world, had seen storms and icebergs and wrecks, and who was
treated with so much deference by everybody who came to the Hole in the
Wall? Then I thought again of the aunts at the funeral, and remembered
how they had tilted their chins at him; and I wondered, with
forebodings, if people at a boarding school were like those aunts.

"So I've been thinking, Stevy, I've been thinking," my grandfather went
on, after a pause. "Now, there's the wharf on the Cop. The work's
gettin' more, and Grimes is gettin' older. But you don't know about the
wharf. Grimes is the man that manages there for me; he's Mrs. Grimes's
brother-in-law, an' when his brother died he recommended the widder to
me, an' that's how she came: an' now she's gone; but that's neither here
nor there. Years ago Grimes himself an' a boy was enough for all the
work there was; now there's three men reg'lar, an' work for more. Most
o' the lime comes off the barges there for the new gas-works, an' more
every week. Now there's business there, an' a respectable business--too
much for Grimes. An' if your father'll take on a shore job--an' it's a
hard life, the sea--here it is. He can have a share--have the lot if he
likes--for your sake, Stevy; an' it'll build up into a good thing.
Grimes'll be all right--we can always find a job for him. An' you can go
an' live with your father somewhere respectable an' convenient; not such
a place as Wapping, an' not such people. An' you can go to school from
there, like any other young gentleman. We'll see about it when your
father comes home."

"But shan't I ever see you, Gran'fa' Nat?"

"See me, my boy? Ay, that you will--if you don't grow too proud--that
you will, an' great times we'll have, you an' your father an' me, all
ashore together, in the holidays, won't we? An' I'll take care of your
own little fortune--the notes--till you're old enough to have it. I've
been thinking about that, too." Here he stood me on my bed and playfully
pushed me back and forward by the shoulders. "I've been thinking about
that, an' if it was lyin' loose in the street I'd be puzzled clean to
say who'd really lost it, what with one thing an' another. But it
_ain't_ in the street, an' it's yours, with no puzzle about it. But
there--lie down, Stevy, an' go to sleep. Your old grandfather's holdin'
forth worse'n a parson, eh? Comes o' bein' a lonely man an' havin'
nobody to talk to, except myself, till you come. Lie down an' don't
bother yourself. We must wait till your father comes home. We'll keep
watch for the _Juno_ in the List,--she ought to ha' been reported at
Barbadoes before this. An' we must run down to Blackwall, too, an' see
if there's any letters from him. So go to sleep now, Stevy--we'll settle
it all--we'll settle it all when your father comes home!"

So I lay and dozed, with words to send me to sleep instead of figures:
till they made a tune and seemed to dance to it. "When father comes
home: when father comes home: we'll settle it all, when father comes
home!" And presently, in some unaccountable way, Mr. Cripps came into
the dance with his "Up to their r'yals, up to their r'yals: the wessels
is deep in, up to their r'yals!" and so I fell asleep wholly.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the morning I was astir early, and watching the boats and the
shipping from the bedroom window ere my grandfather had ceased his
alarming snore. It was half an hour later, and Grandfather Nat was busy
with his razor on the upper lip that my cheeks so well remembered, when
we heard Joe the potman at the street door. Whereat I took the keys and
ran down to let him in; a feat which I accomplished by aid of a pair of
steps, much tugging at heavy bolts, and a supreme wrench at the big key.

Joe brought _Lloyd's List_ in with him every morning from the early
newsagent's in Cable Street. I took the familiar journal at once, and
dived into the midst of its quaint narrow columns, crowded with italics,
in hope of news from Barbadoes. For I wished to find for myself, and run
upstairs, with a child's importance, to tell Grandfather Nat. But there
was no news from Barbadoes--that is, there was no news of my father's
ship. The name Barbadoes stood boldly enough, with reports below it, of
arrivals and sailings, and one of an empty boat washed ashore; but that
was all. So I sat where I was, content to wait, and to tell Grandfather
Nat presently, offhand from over my paper, like a politician in the bar,
that there was no news. Thus, cutting the leaves with a table-knife, my
mind on my father's voyage, it occurred to me that I could not spell La
Guaira, the name of the port his ship was last reported from; and I
turned the paper to look for it. The name was there, with only one
message attached, and while I was slowly conning the letters over for
the third time, I was suddenly aware of a familiar word beneath--the
name of the _Juno_ herself. And this was the notice that I read:

     LA GUAIRA, Sep. 1.

     The _Juno_ (brig) of London, Beecher, from this for Barbadoes,
     foundered N of Margarita. Total loss. All crew saved except
     first mate. Master and crew landed Margarita.



CHAPTER XVI

STEPHEN'S TALE


I cannot remember how I reached Grandfather Nat. I must have climbed the
stairs, and I fancy I ran into him on the landing; but I only remember
his grim face, oddly grey under the eyes, as he sat on his bed and took
the paper in his hand. I do not know even what I said, and I doubt if I
knew then; the only words present to my mind were "all crew saved except
first mate"; and very likely that was what I said.

My grandfather drew me between his knees, and I stood with his arm about
me and his bowed head against my cheek. I noticed bemusedly that with
his hair fresh-brushed the line between the grey and the brown at the
back was more distinct than common; and when there was a sudden clatter
in the bar below I wondered if Joe had smashed something, or if it were
only a tumble of the pewters. So we were for a little; and then
Grandfather Nat stood up with a sound between a sigh and a gulp, looking
strangely askant at me, as though it surprised him to find I was not
crying. For my part I was dimly perplexed to see that neither was he;
though the grey was still under his eyes, and his face seemed pinched
and older. "Come, Stevy," he said, and his voice was like a groan;
"we'll have the house shut again."

I cannot remember that he spoke to me any more for an hour, except to
ask if I would eat any breakfast, which I did with no great loss of
appetite; though indeed I was trying very hard to think, hindered by an
odd vacancy of mind that made a little machine of me.

Breakfast done, my grandfather sent Joe for a cab to take us to
Blackwall. I was a little surprised at the unaccustomed conveyance, and
rather pleased. When we were ready to go, we found Mr. Cripps and two
other regular frequenters of the bar waiting outside. I think Mr. Cripps
meant to have come forward with some prepared condolence; but he stopped
short when he saw my grandfather's face, and stood back with the others.
The four-wheeler was a wretched vehicle, reeking of strong tobacco and
stale drink; for half the employment of such cabs as the neighbourhood
possessed was to carry drunken sailors, flush of money, who took bottles
and pipes with them everywhere.

Whether it was the jolting of the cab--Wapping streets were paved with
cobbles--that shook my faculties into place; whether it was the
association of the cab and the journey to Blackwall that reminded me of
my mother's funeral; or whether it was the mere lapse of a little time,
I cannot tell. But as we went, the meaning of the morning's news grew on
me, and I realised that my father was actually dead, drowned in the sea,
and that I was wholly an orphan; and it struck me with a sense of
self-reproach that the fact afflicted me no more than it did. When my
mother and my little brother had died I had cried myself sodden and
faint; but now, heavy of heart as I was, I felt curiously ashamed that
Grandfather Nat should see me tearless. True, I had seen very little of
my father, but when he was at home he was always as kind to me as
Grandfather Nat himself, and led me about with him everywhere; and last
voyage he had brought me a little boomerang, and only laughed when I
hove it through a window that cost him three shillings. Thus I pondered
blinkingly in the cab; and I set down my calmness to the reflection that
my mother would have him always with her now, and be all the happier in
heaven for it; for she always cried when he went to sea.

So at last we came in sight of the old quay, and had to wait till the
bridge should swing behind a sea-beaten ship, with her bulwarks patched
with white plank, and the salt crust thick on her spars. I could see
across the lock the three little front windows of our house, shut close
and dumb; and I could hear the quick chanty from the quay, where the
capstan turned:--

    O, I served my time on the Black Ball Line,
        Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!
    From the South Sea north to the sixty-nine,
        Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!

And somehow with that I cried at last.

The ship passed in, the bridge shut, and the foul old cab rattled till
it stopped before the well-remembered door. The house had been closed
since my mother was buried, Grandfather Nat paying the rent and keeping
the key on my father's behalf; and now the door opened with a protesting
creak and a shudder, and the air within was close and musty.

There were two letters on the mat, where they had fallen from the
letter-flap, and both were from my father, as was plain from the
writing. We carried them into the little parlour, where last we had sat
with the funeral party, and my grandfather lifted the blind and flung
open the window. Then he sat and put one letter on each knee.

"Stevy," he said, and again his voice was like a groan; "look at them
postmarks. Ain't one Belize?"

Yes, one was Belize, the other La Guaira; and both for my mother.

"Ah, one's been lyin' here; the other must ha' come yesterday, by the
same mail as brought the news." He took the two letters again, turned
them over and over, and shook his head. Then he replaced them on his
knees and rested his fists on his thighs, just above where they lay.

"I don't know as we ought to open 'em, Stevy," he said wearily. "I
dunno, Stevy, I dunno."

He turned each over once more, and shut his fists again. "I dunno, I
dunno.... Man an' wife, between 'emselves.... Wouldn't do it, living....
Stevy boy, we'll take 'em home an' burn 'em."

But to me the suggestion seemed incomprehensible--even shocking. I could
see no reason for burning my father's last message home. "Perhaps
there's a little letter for me, Gran'father Nat," I said. "He used to
put one in sometimes. Can't we look? And mother used to read me her
letters too."

My grandfather sat back and rubbed his hand up through his hair behind,
as he would often do when in perplexity. At last he said, "Well, well,
it's hard to tell. We should never know what we'd burnt, if we did....
We'll look, Stevy.... An' I'll read no further than I need. Come, the
Belize letter's first.... Send I ain't doin' wrong, that's all."

He tore open the cover and pulled out the sheets of flimsy foreign
note-paper, holding them to the light almost at arm's length, as
long-sighted men do. And as he read, slowly as always, with a leathery
forefinger following the line, the grey under the old man's eyes grew
wet at last, and wetter. What the letter said is no matter here. There
was talk of me in it, and talk of my little brother--or sister, as it
might have been for all my father could know. And again there was the
same talk in the second letter--the one from La Guaira. But in this
latter another letter was enclosed, larger than that for my mother,
which was in fact uncommonly short. And here, where the dead spoke to
the dead no more, but to the living, was matter that disturbed my
grandfather more than all the rest.

The enclosure was not for me, as I had hoped, but for Grandfather Nat
himself; and it was not a simple loose sheet folded in with the rest,
but a letter in its own smaller envelope, close shut down, with the
words "Capn. Kemp" on the face. My grandfather read the first few lines
with increasing agitation, and then called me to the window.

"See here, Stevy," he said, "it's wrote small, to get it in, an' I'm
slow with it. Read it out quick as you can."

And so I read the letter, which I keep still, worn at the folds and
corners by the old man's pocket, where he carried it afterward.

     DEAR FATHER,--Just a few lines private hoping they find you
     well. This is my hardest trip yet, and the queerest, and I
     write in case anything happens and I don't see you again. This
     is for yourself, you understand, and I have made it all
     cheerful to the Mrs., specially as she is still off her health,
     no doubt. Father, the _Juno_ was not meant to come home this
     trip, and if ever she rounds Blackwall Point again it will be
     in spite of the skipper. He had his first try long enough back,
     on the voyage out, and it was then she was meant to go; for she
     was worse found than ever I saw a ship--even a ship of Viney's;
     and not provisioned for more than half the run out, proper
     rations. And I say it plain, and will say it as plain to
     anybody, that the vessel would have been piled up or dropped
     under and the insurance paid months before you get this if I
     had not pretty nigh mutinied more than once. He said he would
     have me in irons, but he shan't have the chance if I can help
     it. You know Beecher. Four times I reckon he has tried to pile
     her up, every time in the best weather and near a safe
     port--_foreign_. The men would have backed me right
     through--some of them did--but they deserted one after another
     all round the coast, Monte Video, Rio and Bahia, and small
     blame to them, and we filled up with half-breeds and such. The
     last of the ten and the boy went at Bahia, so that now I have
     no witness but the second mate, and he is either in it or a
     fool--I think a fool: but perhaps both. Not a man to back me.
     Else I might have tried to report or something, at Belize,
     though that is a thing best avoided of course. No doubt he has
     got his orders, so I am not to blame him, perhaps. But I have
     got no orders--not to lose the ship, I mean--and so I am doing
     my duty. Twice I have come up and took the helm from him, but
     that was with the English crew aboard. He has been quiet
     lately, and perhaps he has given the job up; at any rate I
     expect he won't try to pile her up again--more likely a quiet
     turn below with a big auger. He is still mighty particular
     about the long-boat being all right, and the falls clear, etc.
     If he does it I have a notion it may be some time when I have
     turned in; I can't keep awake all watches. And he knows I am
     about the only man aboard who won't sign whatever he likes
     before a consul. You know what I mean; and you know Beecher
     too. Don't tell the Mrs. of course. Say this letter is about a
     new berth or what not. No doubt it is all right, but it came in
     my head to drop you a line, on the off chance, and a precious
     long line I have made of it. So no more at present from--Your
     Affectionate Son,

     NATHANIEL.

     P.S. I am in half a mind to go ashore at Barbadoes, and report.
     But perhaps best not. That sort of thing don't do.

While I read, my grandfather had been sitting with his head between his
hands, and his eyes directed to the floor, so that I could not see his
face. So he remained for a little while after I had finished, while I
stood in troubled wonder. Then he looked up, his face stern and hard
beyond the common: and his was a stern face at best.

"Stevy," he said, "do you know what that means, that you've been
a-readin'?"

I looked from his face to the letter, and back again. "It
means--means ... I think the skipper sank the ship on purpose."

"It means Murder, my boy, that's what it means. Murder, by the law of
England! 'Feloniously castin' away an' destroyin';' that's what they
call the one thing, though I'm no lawyer-man. An' it means prison;
though why, when a man follows orders faithful, I can't say; but well I
know it. An' if any man loses his life thereby it's Murder, whether
accidental or not; Murder an' the Rope, by the law of England, an'
bitter well I know that too! O bitter well I know it!"

He passed his palm over his forehead and eyes, and for a moment was
silent. Then he struck the palm on his knee and broke forth afresh.

"Murder, by the law of England, even if no more than accident in God's
truth. How much the more then this here, when the one man as won't stand
and see it done goes down in his berth? O, I've known that afore, too,
with a gimlet through the door-frame; an' I know Beecher. But orders is
orders, an' it's them as gives them as is to reckon with. I've took
orders myself.... Lord! Lord! an' I've none but a child to talk to! A
little child!... But you're no fool, Stevy. See here now, an' remember.
You know what's come to your father? He's killed, wilful; murdered, like
what they hang people for, at Newgate, Stevy, by the law. An' do you
know who's done it?"

I was distressed and bewildered, as well as alarmed by the old man's
vehemence. "The captain," I said, whimpering again.

"Viney!" my grandfather shouted. "Henry Viney, as I might ha' served the
same way, an' I wish I had! Viney and Marr's done it; an' Marr's paid
for it already. Lord, Lord!" he went on, with his face down in his hands
and his elbows on his knees. "Lord! I see a lot of it now! It was what
they made out o' the insurance that was to save the firm; an' when my
boy put in an' stopped it all the voyage out, an' more, they could hold
on no longer, but plotted to get out with what they could lay hold of.
Lord! it's plain as print, plain as print! Stevy!" He lowered his hands
and looked up. "Stevy! that money's more yours now than ever. If I ever
had a doubt--if it don't belong to the orphan they've made--but there,
it's sent you, boy, sent you, an' any one 'ud believe in Providence
after that."

In a moment more he was back at his earlier excitement. "But it's
Viney's done it," he said, with his fist extended before him. "Remember,
Stevy, when you grow up, it's Viney's done it, an' it's Murder, by the
law of England. Viney has killed your father, an' if it was brought
against him it 'ud be Murder!"

"Then," I said, "we'll go to the police station and they will catch
him."

My grandfather's hand dropped. "Ah, Stevy, Stevy," he groaned, "you
don't know, you don't know. It ain't enough for that, an' if it was--if
it was, I can't; I can't--not with you to look after. I might do it, an'
risk all, if it wasn't for that.... My God, it's a judgment on me--a
cruel judgment! My own son--an' just the same way--just the same way!...
I can't, Stevy, not with you to take care of. Stevy, I must keep myself
safe for your sake, an' I can't raise a hand to punish Viney. I can't,
Stevy, I can't; for I'm a guilty man myself, by the law of England--an'
Viney knows it! Viney knows it! Though it wasn't wilful, as God's my
judge!"

Grandfather Nat ended with a groan, and sat still, with his head bowed
in his hands. Again I remembered, and now with something of awe, my
innocent question: "Did you ever kill a man, Grandfather Nat?"

Still he sat motionless and silent, till I could endure it no longer:
for in some way I felt frightened. So I went timidly and put my arm
about his neck. I fancied, though I was not sure, that I could feel a
tremble from his shoulders; but he was silent still. Nevertheless I was
oddly comforted by the contact, and presently, like a dog anxious for
notice, ventured to stroke the grey hair.

Soon then he dropped his hands and spoke. "I shouldn't ha' said it,
Stevy; but I'm all shook an' worried, an' I talked wild. It was no need
to say it, but there ain't a soul alive to speak to else, an' somehow I
talk as it might be half to myself. But you know what about things I
say--private things--don't you? Remember?" He sat erect again, and
raised a forefinger warningly, even sternly. "Remember, Stevy!... But
come--there's things to do. Give me the letter. We'll get together any
little things to be kep', papers an' what not, an' take 'em home. An'
I'll have to think about the rest, what's best to be done; sell 'em, or
what. But I dunno, I dunno!"



CHAPTER XVII

IN BLUE GATE


In her den at the black stair-top in Blue Gate, Musky Mag lurked,
furtive and trembling, after the inquests at the Hole in the Wall. Where
Dan Ogle might be hiding she could not guess, and she was torn between a
hundred fears and perplexities. Dan had been seen, and could be
identified; of that she was convinced, and more than convinced, since
she had heard Mr. Cripps's testimony. Moreover she well remembered at
what point in her own evidence the police-inspector had handed the note
to the coroner, and she was not too stupid to guess the meaning of that.
How could she warn Dan, how help or screen him, how put to act that
simple fidelity that was the sole virtue remaining in her, all the
greater for the loss of the rest? She had no money; on the other hand
she was confident that Dan must have with him the whole pocket-book full
of notes which had cost two lives already, and now seemed like to cost
the life she would so gladly buy with her own; for they had not been
found on Kipps's body, nor in any way spoken of at the inquest. But then
he might fear to change them. He could scarcely carry a single one to
the receivers who knew him, for his haunts would be watched; more, a
reward was offered, and no receiver would be above making an extra fifty
pounds on the transaction. For to her tortured mind it seemed every
moment more certain that the cry was up, and not the police alone, but
everybody else was on the watch to give the gallows its due. She was
uneasy at having no message. Doubtless he needed her help, as he had
needed it so often before; doubtless he would come for it if he could,
but that would be to put his head in the noose. How could she reach him,
and give it? Even if she had known where he lay, to go to him would be
to lead the police after her, for she had no doubt that her own
movements would be watched. She knew that the boat wherein he had
escaped had been found on the opposite side of the river, and she, like
others, judged from that that he might be lurking in some of the
waterside rookeries of the south bank; the more as it was the commonest
device of those "wanted" in Ratcliff or Wapping to "go for a change" to
Rotherhithe or Bankside, and for those in a like predicament on the
southern shores to come north in the same way. But again, to go in
search of him were but to share with the police whatever luck might
attend the quest. So that Musky Mag feared alike to stay at home and to
go abroad; longed to find Dan, and feared it as much; wished to aid him,
yet equally dreaded that he should come to her or that she should go to
him. And there was nothing to do, therefore, but to wait and listen
anxiously; to listen for voices, or footsteps, even for creaks on the
stairs; for a whistle without that might be a signal; for an uproar or a
sudden hush that might announce the coming of the police into Blue Gate;
even for a whisper or a scratching at door or window wherewith the
fugitive might approach, fearful lest the police were there before him.
But at evening, when the place grew dark, and the thickest of the gloom
drew together, to make a monstrous shadow on the floor, where once she
had fallen over something in the dark--then she went and sat on the
stair-head, watching and dozing and waking in terror.

So went a day and a night, and another day. The corners of the room grew
dusk again, and with the afternoon's late light the table flung its
shadow on that same place on the floor; so that she went and moved it
toward the wall.

As she set it down she started and crouched, for now at last there was a
step on the stair--an unfamiliar step. A woman's, it would seem, and
stealthy. Musky Mag held by the table, and waited.

The steps ceased at the landing, and there was a pause. Then, with no
warning knock, the door was pushed open, and a head was thrust in,
covered by an old plaid shawl; a glance about the room, and the rest of
the figure followed, closing the door behind it; and, the shawl being
flung back from over the bonnet, there stood Mrs. Grimes, rusty and
bony, slack-faced and sour.

Mrs. Grimes screwed her red nose at the woman before her, jerked up her
crushed bonnet, and plucked her rusty skirt across her knees with the
proper virtuous twitch. Then said Mrs. Grimes: "Where's my brother Dan?"

For a moment Musky Mag disbelieved eyes and ears together. The visit
itself, even more than the question, amazed and bewildered her. She had
been prepared for any visitor but this. For Mrs. Grimes's relationship
to Dan Ogle was a thing that exemplary lady made as close a secret as
she could, as in truth was very natural. She valued herself on her
respectability; she was the widow of a decent lighterman, of a decent
lightering and wharf-working family, and she called herself
"house-keeper" (though she might be scarce more than charwoman) at the
Hole in the Wall. She had never acknowledged her lawless brother when
she could in any way avoid it, and she had, indeed, bargained that he
should not come near her place of employment, lest he compromise her;
and so far from seeking him out in his lodgings, she even had a way of
failing to see him in the street. What should she want in Blue Gate at
such a time as this, asking thus urgently for her brother Dan? What but
the reward? For an instant Mag's fears revived with a jump, though even
as it came she put away the fancy that such might be the design of any
sister, however respectable.

"Where's my brother Dan?" repeated Mrs. Grimes, abruptly.

"I--I don't know, mum," faltered Mag, husky and dull. "I ain't seen 'im
for--for--some time."

"O, nonsense. I want 'im particular. I got somethink to tell 'im
important. If you won't say where 'e is, go an' find 'im."

"I wish I could, mum, truly. But I can't."

"Do you mean 'e's left you?" Mrs. Grimes bridled high, and helped it
with a haughty sniff.

"No, mum, not quite, in your way of speakin', I think, mum. But
'e's--'e's just gone away for a bit."

"Ho. In trouble again, you mean, eh?"

"O, no, mum, not there," Mag answered readily; for, with her, "trouble"
was merely a genteel name for gaol. "Not there--not for a long while."

"Where then?"

"That's what I dunno, mum; not at all."

Mrs. Grimes tightened her lips and glared; plainly she believed none of
these denials. "P'raps 'e's wanted," she snapped, "an' keepin' out o'
the way just now. Is that it?"

This was what no torture would have made Mag acknowledge; but, with all
her vehemence of denial, her discomposure was plain to see. "No, mum,
not that," she declared, pleadingly. "Reely 'e ain't, mum--reely 'e
ain't; not that!"

"Pooh!" exclaimed Mrs. Grimes, seating herself with a flop. "That's a
lie, plain enough. 'E's layin' up somewhere, an' you know it. What harm
d'ye suppose I'm goin' to do 'im? 'E ain't robbed me--leastways not
lately. I got a job for 'im, I tell you--money in 'is pocket. If you
won't tell me, go an' tell 'im; go on. An' I'll wait."

"It's Gawd's truth, mum, I don't know where 'e is," Mag protested
earnestly. "'Ark! there's someone on the stairs! They'll 'ear. Go away,
mum, do. I'll try an' find 'im an' tell 'im--s'elp me I will! Go
away--they're comin'!"

In truth the footsteps had reached the stair-top, and now, with a thump,
the door was thrust open, and Blind George appeared, his fiddle under
his arm, his stick sweeping before him, and his white eye rolling at the
ceiling.

"Hullo!" he sung out. "Lady visitors! Or is it on'y one? 'Tain't polite
to tell the lady to go away, Mag! Good afternoon, mum, good afternoon!"
He nodded and grinned at upper vacancy, as one might at a descending
angel; Mrs. Grimes, meanwhile, close at his elbow, preparing to get away
as soon as he was clear past her. For Blind George's keenness of hearing
was well known, and she had no mind he should guess her identity.

"Good afternoon, mum!" the blind man repeated. "Havin' tea?" He advanced
another step, and extended his stick. "What!" he added, suddenly
turning. "What! Table gone? What's this? Doin' a guy? Clearin' out?"

"No, George," Mag answered. "I only moved the table over to the wall.
'Ere it is--come an' feel it." She made a quick gesture over his
shoulder, and Mrs. Grimes hurried out on tip-toe.

But at the first movement Blind George turned sharply. "There she goes,"
he said, making for the door. "She don't like me. Timid little darlin'!
Hullo, my dear!" he roared down the stairs. "Hullo! you never give me a
kiss! I know you! Won't you say good-bye?"

He waited a moment, listening intently; but Mrs. Grimes scuttled into
the passage below without a word, and instantly Blind George
supplemented his endearments with a burst of foul abuse, and listened
again. This expedient succeeded no better than the first, and Mrs.
Grimes was gone without a sound that might betray her identity.

Blind George shut the door. "Who was that?" he asked.

"Oh, nobody partic'lar," Mag answered with an assumption of
indifference. "On'y a woman I know--name o' Jane. What d'you want?"

"Ah, now you're come to it." Blind George put his fiddle and bow on the
table and groped for a chair. "Fust," he went on, "is there anybody else
as can 'ear? Eh? Cracks or crannies or peepholes, eh? 'Cause I come as a
pal, to talk private business, I do."

"It's all right, George; nobody can hear. What is it?"

"Why," said the blind man, catching her tight by the arm, and leaning
forward to whisper; "it's Dan, that's what it is. It's Dan!"

She was conscious of a catching of the breath and a thump of the heart;
and Blind George knew it too, for he felt it through the arm.

"It's Dan," he repeated. "So now you know if it's what you'd like
listened to."

"Go on," she said.

"Ah. Well, fust thing, all bein' snug, 'ere's five bob; catch 'old." He
slid his right hand down to her wrist, and with his left pressed the
money into hers. "All right, don't be frightened of it, it won't 'urt
ye! Lord, I bet Dan 'ud do the same for me if I wanted it, though 'e is
a bit rough sometimes. I ain't rich, but I got a few bob by me; an' if a
pal ain't to 'ave 'em, who is? Eh? Who is?"

He grinned under the white eye so ghastly a counterfeit of friendly
good-will that the woman shrank, and pulled at the wrist he held.

"Lord love ye," he went on, holding tight to the wrist, "I ain't the
bloke to round on a pal as is under a cloud. See what I might 'a' done,
if I'd 'a' wanted. I might 'a' gone an' let out all sorts o' things, as
you know very well yerself, at the inquest--both the inquests. But did
I? Not me. Not a bit of it. _That_ ain't my way. No; I lay low, an' said
nothing. What arter that? Why, there's fifty quid reward offered, fifty
quid--a fortune to a pore bloke like me. An' all I got to do is to go
and say 'Dan Ogle' to earn it--them two words an' no more. Ain't that
the truth? D'y' hear, ain't that the truth?"

He tugged at her wrist to extort an answer, and the woman's face was
drawn with fear. But she made a shift to say, with elaborate
carelessness, "Reward? What reward, George? I dunno nothin' about it."

"Gr-r-r!" he growled, pushing the wrist back, but gripping it still.
"That ain't 'andsome, not to a pal it ain't; not to a faithful pal as
comes to do y' a good turn. You know all about it well enough; an' you
needn't think as I don't know too. Blind, ain't I? Blind from a kid, but
not a fool! You ought to know that by this time--not a fool. Look
'ere!"--with another jerk at the woman's arm--"look 'ere. The last time
I was in this 'ere room there was me an' you an' Dan an' two men as is
dead now, an' post-mortalled, an' inquested an' buried, wasn't there?
Well, Dan chucked me out. I ain't bearin' no malice for that, mind
ye--ain't I just give ye five bob, an' ain't I come to do ye a turn? I
was chucked out, but ye don't s'pose I dunno what 'appened arter I was
gone, do ye? Eh?"

The room was grown darker, and though the table was moved, the shadow on
the floor took its old place, and took its old shape, and grew; but it
was no more abhorrent than the shadowy face with its sightless white eye
close before hers, and the hand that held her wrist, and by it seemed to
feel the pulse of her very mind. She struggled to her feet.

"Let go my wrist," she said. "I'll light a candle. You can go on."

"Don't light no candle on my account," he said, chuckling, as he let her
hand drop. "It's a thing I never treat myself to. There's parties as is
afraid o' the dark, they tell me--I'm used to it."

She lit the candle, and set it where it lighted best the place of the
shadow. Then she returned and stood by the chair she had been sitting
in. "Go on," she said again. "What's this good turn you want to do me?"

"Ah," he replied, "that's the pint!" He caught her wrist again with a
sudden snatch, and drew her forward. "Sit down, my gal, sit down, an'
I'll tell ye comfortable. What was I a-sayin'? Oh, what 'appened arter I
was gone; yes. Well, that there visitor was flimped clean, clean as a
whistle; but fust--eh?--fust!" Blind George snapped his jaws, and made a
quick blow in the air with his stick. "Eh? Eh? Ah, well, never mind! But
now I'll tell you what the job fetched. Eight 'undred an' odd quid in a
leather pocket-book, an' a silver watch! Eh? I thought that 'ud make ye
jump. Blind, ain't I? Blind from a kid,--but not a fool!"

"Well now," he proceeded, "so far all right. If I can tell ye that, I
can pretty well tell ye all the rest, can't I? All about Bob Kipps goin'
off to sell the notes, an' Dan watchin' 'im, bein' suspicious, an'
catchin' 'im makin' a bolt for the river, an'--eh?" He raised the stick
in his left hand again, but now point forward, with a little stab toward
her breast. "Eh? Eh? Like that, eh? All right--don't be frightened. I'm
a pal, I am. It served that cove right, I say, playin' a trick on a pal.
I don't play a trick on a pal. I come 'ere to do 'im a good turn, I do.
Don't I?--Well, Dan got away, an' good luck to 'im. 'E got away, clear
over the river, with the eight 'undred quid in the leather pocket-book.
An' now 'e's a-layin' low an' snug, an' more good luck to 'im, says I,
bein' a pal. Ain't that right?"

Mag shuffled uneasily. "Go on," she said, "if you think you know such a
lot. You ain't come to that good turn yet that you talk so much about."

"Right! Now I'll come to it. Now you know I know as much as
anybody--more'n anybody 'cept Dan, p'rhaps a bit more'n what you know
yourself; an' I kep' it quiet when I might 'a' made my fortune out of
it; kep' it quiet, bein' a faithful pal. An' bein' a faithful pal an'
all I come 'ere with five bob for ye, bein' all I can afford, 'cos I
know you're a bit short, though Dan's got plenty--got a fortune. Why
should you be short, an' Dan got a fortune? On'y 'cos you want a pal as
you can trust, like me! That's all. 'E can't come to you 'cos o' showin'
'isself. _You_ can't go to 'im 'cos of being watched an' follered. So I
come to do ye both a good turn goin' between, one to another. Where is
'e?"

Mag was in some way reassured. She feared and distrusted Blind George,
and she was confounded to learn how much he knew: but at least he was
still ignorant of the essential thing. So she said, "Knowin' so much
more'n me, I wonder you dunno that too. Any'ow _I_ don't."

"What? _You_ dunno. Dunno where 'e is?"

"No, I don't; no more'n you."

"O, that's all right--all right for anybody else; but not for a pal like
me--not for a pal as is doin' y' a good turn. Besides, it ain't you
on'y; it's 'im. 'Ow'll 'e get on with the stuff? 'E won't be able to
change it, an' 'e'll be as short as you, an' p'rhaps get smugged with it
on 'im. That 'ud never do; an' I can get it changed. What part o'
Rotherhithe is it, eh? I can easy find 'im. Is it Dockhead?"

"There or anywhere, for all I know. I tell ye, George, I dunno no more'n
you. Let go my arm, go on."

But he gave it another pull--an angry one. "What? What?" he cried. "If
Dan knowed as you was keepin' 'is ol' pal George from doin' 'im a good
turn, what 'ud 'e do, eh? 'E'd give it you, my beauty, wouldn't 'e? Eh?
Eh?" He twisted the arm, ground his teeth, and raised his stick
menacingly.

But this was a little too much. He was a man, and stronger, but at any
rate he was blind. She rose and struggled to twist her arm from his
grasp. "If you don't put down that stick, George," she said, "if you
don't put it down an' let go my arm, I'll give it you same as Bob Kipps
got it--s'elp me I will! I'll give you the chive--I will! Don't you make
me desprit!"

He let go the wrist and laughed. "Whoa, beauty!" he cried; "don't make a
rumpus with a faithful pal! If you won't tell me I s'pose you won't,
bein' a woman; whether it's bad for Dan or not, eh?"

"I tell you I can't, George; I swear solemn I dunno no more'n
you--p'rhaps not so much. 'E ain't bin near nor sent nor nothing,
since--since then. That's gospel truth. If I do 'ear from 'im I'll--well
then I'll see."

"Will ye tell 'im, then? 'Ere, tell 'im this. Tell 'im he mustn't go
tryin' to sell them notes, or 'e'll be smugged. Tell 'im I can put 'im
in the way o' gettin' money for 'em--'ard quids, an' plenty on 'em. Tell
'im that, will ye? Tell 'im I'm a faithful pal, an' nobody can do it but
me. I know things you don't know about, nor 'im neither. Tell 'im
to-night. Will ye tell 'im to-night?"

"'Ow can I tell 'im to-night? I'll tell 'im right enough when I see 'im.
I s'pose you want to make your bit out of it, pal or not."

"There y'are!" he answered quickly. "There y'are! If you won't believe
in a pal, look at that! If I make a fair deal, man to man, with them
notes, an' get money for 'em instead o' smuggin'--quids instead o'
quod--I'll 'ave my proper reg'lars, won't I? An' proper reg'lars on all
that, paid square, 'ud be more'n I could make playin' the snitch, if
Dan'll be open to reason. See? You won't forget, eh?" He took her arm
again eagerly, above the elbow. "Know what to say, don't ye? Best for
all of us. 'E mustn't show them notes to a soul, till 'e sees me. _I'm_
a pal. _I_ got the little tip 'ow to do it proper--see? Now you know.
Gimme my fiddle. 'Ere we are. Where's the door? All right--don't
forget!"

Blind George clumped down the black stair, and so reached the street of
Blue Gate. At the door he paused, listening till he was satisfied of
Musky Mag's movements above; then he walked a few yards along the dark
street, and stopped.

From a black archway across the street a man came skulking out, and over
the roadway to Blind George's side. It was Viney. "Well?" he asked
eagerly. "What's your luck?"

Blind George swore vehemently, but quietly. "Precious little," he
answered. "She dunno where 'e is. I thought at first it was kid, but it
ain't. She ain't 'eard, an' she dunno. I couldn't catch hold o' the
other woman, an' she got away an' never spoke. You see 'er again when
she came out, didn't ye? Know 'er?"

"Not me--she kept her shawl tighter about her head than ever. An' if she
hadn't it ain't likely I'd know her. What now? Stand watch again? I'm
sick of it."

"So am I, but it's for good pay, if it comes off. Five minutes might do
it. You get back, an' wait in case I tip the whistle."

Viney crept growling back to his arch, and Blind George went and
listened at Mag's front door for a few moments more. Then he turned into
the one next it, and there waited, invisible, listening still.

Five minutes went, and did not do it, and ten minutes went, and five
times ten. Blue Gate lay darkling in evening, and foul shadows moved
about it. From one den and another came a drawl and a yaup of drunken
singing; a fog from the river dulled the lights at the Highway end, and
slowly crept up the narrow way. It was near an hour since Viney and
Blind George had parted, when there grew visible, coming through the
mist from the Highway, the uncertain figure of a stranger: drifting
dubiously from door to door, staring in at one after another, and
wandering out toward the gutter to peer ahead in the gloom.

Blind George could hear, as well as another could see, that here was a
stranger in doubt, seeking somebody or some house. Soon the man,
middle-sized, elderly, a trifle bent, and all dusty with lime, came in
turn to the door where he stood; and at once Blind George stepped full
against him with an exclamation and many excuses.

"Beg pardon, guv'nor! Pore blind chap! 'Ope I didn't 'urt ye! Was ye
wantin' anybody in this 'ouse?"

The limy man looked ahead, and reckoned the few remaining doors to the
end of Blue Gate. "Well," he said, "I fancy it's 'ere or next door. D'ye
know a woman o' the name o' Mag--Mag Flynn?"

"I'm your bloke, guv'nor. Know 'er? Rather. Up 'ere--I'll show ye. Lord
love ye, she's an old friend o' mine. Come on.... I should say you'd be
in the lime trade, guv'nor, wouldn't you? I smelt it pretty strong, an'
I'll never forget the smell o' lime. Why, says you? Why, 'cos o' losin'
my blessed sight with lime, when I was a innocent kid. Fell on a
slakin'--bed, guv'nor, an' blinded me blessed self; so I won't forget
the smell o' lime easy. Ain't you in the trade, now? Ain't I right?" He
stopped midway on the stairs to repeat the question. "Ain't I right? Is
it yer own business or a firm?"

"Ah well, I do 'ave to do with lime a good bit," said the stranger,
evasively. "But go on, or else let me come past."

Blind George turned, and reaching the landing, thumped his stick on the
door and pushed it open. "'Ere y'are," he sang out. "'Ere's a genelman
come to see ye, as I found an' showed the way to. Lord love ye, 'e'd
never 'a' found ye if it wasn't for me. But I'm a old pal, ain't I? A
faithful old pal!"

He swung his stick till he found a chair, and straightway sat in it,
like an invited guest. "Lord love ye, yes," he continued, rolling his
eye and putting his fiddle across his knees; "one o' the oldest pals
she's got, or 'im either."

The newcomer looked in a puzzled way from Blind George to the woman, and
back again. "It's private business I come about," he said, shortly.

"All right, guv'nor," shouted Blind George, heartily, "Out with it!
We're all pals 'ere! Old pals!"

"You ain't my old pal, anyhow," the limy man observed. "An' if the
room's yours, we'll go an' talk somewheres else."

"Get out, George, go along," said Mag, with some asperity, but more
anxiety. "You clear out, go on."

"O, all right, if you're goin' to be unsociable," said the fiddler,
rising. "Damme, _I_ don't want to stay--not me. I was on'y doin' the
friendly, that's all; bein' a old pal. But I'm off all right--I'm off.
So long!"

He hugged his fiddle once more, and clumped down into the street. He
tapped with his stick till he struck the curb, and then crossed the
muddy roadway; while Viney emerged again from the dark arch to meet him.

"All right," said Blind George, whispering huskily. "It's business now,
I think--business. You come on now. You'll 'ave to foller 'em if they
come out together. If they don't--well, you must look arter the one as
does."



CHAPTER XVIII

ON THE COP


When the limy man left Blue Gate he went, first, to the Hole in the
Wall, there to make to Captain Kemp some small report on the wharf by
the Lea. This did not keep him long, and soon he was on his journey home
to the wharf itself, by way of the crooked lanes and the Commercial
Road.

He had left Blue Gate an hour and more when Musky Mag emerged from her
black stairway, peering fearfully about the street ere she ventured her
foot over the step. So she stood for a few seconds, and then, as one
chancing a great risk, stepped boldly on the pavement, and, turning her
back to the Highway, walked toward Back Lane. This was the nearer end of
Blue Gate, and, the corner turned, she stopped short, and peeped back.
Satisfied that she had no follower, she crossed Back Lane, and taking
every corner, as she came to it, with a like precaution, threaded the
maze of small, ill-lighted streets that lay in the angle between the
great Rope Walk and Commercial Road. This wide road she crossed, and
then entered the dark streets beyond, in rear of the George Tavern; and
so, keeping to obscure parallel ways, sometimes emerging into the glare
of the main road, more commonly slinking in its darker purlieus, but
never out of touch with it, she travelled east; following in the main
the later course of the limy man, who had left Blue Gate by its opposite
end.

The fog, that had dulled the lights in Ratcliff Highway, met her again
near Limehouse Basin; but, ere she reached the church, she was clear of
it once more. Beyond, the shops grew few, and the lights fewer. For a
little while decent houses lined the way: the houses of those last
merchants who had no shame to live near the docks and the works that
brought their money. At last, amid a cluster of taverns and shops that
were all for the sea and them that lived on it, the East India Dock
gates stood dim and tall, flanked by vast raking walls, so that one
might suppose a Chinese city to seethe within. And away to the left, the
dark road that the wall overshadowed was lined on the other side by
hedge and ditch, with meadows and fields beyond, that were now no more
than a vast murky gulf; so that no stranger peering over the hedge could
have guessed aright if he looked on land or on water, or on mere black
vacancy.

Here the woman made a last twist: turning down a side street, and coming
to a moment's stand in an archway. This done, she passed through the
arch into a path before a row of ill-kept cottages; and so gained the
marshy field behind the Accident Hospital, the beginning of the waste
called The Cop.

Here the great blackness was before her and about her, and she stumbled
and laboured on the invisible ground, groping for pits and ditches, and
standing breathless again and again to listen. The way was so hard as to
seem longer than it was, and in the darkness she must needs surmount
obstacles that in daylight she would have turned. Often a ditch barred
her way; and when, after long search, a means of crossing was found, it
was commonly a plank to be traversed on hands and knees. There were
stagnant pools, too, into which she walked more than once; and twice she
suffered a greater shock of terror: first at a scurry of rats, and later
at quick footsteps following in the sodden turf--the footsteps, after
all, of nothing more terrible than a horse of inquiring disposition, out
at grass.

So she went for what seemed miles: though there was little more than
half a mile in a line from where she had left the lights to where at
last she came upon a rough road, seamed with deep ruts, and made visible
by many whitish blotches where lime had fallen, and had there been
ground into the surface. To the left this road stretched away toward the
lights of Bromley and Bow Common, and to the right it rose by an easy
slope over the river wall skirting the Lea, and there ended at Kemp's
Wharf.

Not a creature was on the road, and no sound came from the black space
behind her. With a breath of relief she set foot on the firmer ground,
and hurried up the slope. From the top of the bank she could see Kemp's
Wharf just below, with two dusty lighters moored in the dull river; and
beyond the river the measureless, dim Abbey Marsh. Nearer, among the
sheds, a dog barked angrily at the sound of strange feet.

A bright light came from the window of the little house that made office
and dwelling for the wharf-keeper, and something less of the same light
from the open door; for there the limy man stood waiting, leaning on the
door-post, and smoking his pipe.

He grunted a greeting as Mag came down the bank. "Bit late," he said.
"But it ain't easy over the Cop for a stranger."

"Where?" the woman whispered eagerly. "Where is he?"

The limy man took three silent pulls at his pipe. Then he took it from
his mouth with some deliberation, and said: "Remember what I said? I
don't want 'im 'ere. I dunno what 'e's done, an' don't want; but if 'e
likes to come 'idin' about, I ain't goin' to play the informer. I dunno
why I should promise as much as that, just 'cos my brother married 'is
sister. _She_ ain't done me no credit, from what I 'ear now. Though she
'ad a good master, as I can swear; 'cos 'e's mine too."

"Where is he?" was all Mag's answer, again in an anxious whisper.

"Unnerstand?" the limy man went on. "I'm about done with the pair on 'em
now, but I ain't goin' to inform. 'E come 'ere a day or two back an'
claimed shelter; an' seein' as I was goin' up to Wappin' to-night, 'e
wanted me to tell you where 'e was. Well, I've done that, an' I ain't
goin' to do no more; see? 'E ain't none o' mine, an' I won't 'ave part
nor parcel with 'im, nor any of ye. I keep myself decent, I do. I shan't
say 'e's 'ere an' I shan't say 'e ain't; an' the sooner 'e goes the
better 'e'll please me. See?"

"Yes, Mr. Grimes, sir; but tell me where he is!"

The limy man took his pipe from his mouth, and pointed with a
comprehensive sweep of the stem at the sheds round about. "You can go
an' look in any o' them places as ain't locked," he said off-handedly.
"The dog's chained up. Try the end one fust."

Grimes the wharfinger resumed his pipe, and Mag scuffled off to where
the light from the window fell on the white angle of a small wooden
shelter. The place was dark within, dusted about with lime, and its door
stood inward. She stopped and peered.

"All right," growled Dan Ogle from the midst of the dark. "Can't ye see
me now y' 'ave come?" And he thrust his thin face and big shoulders out
through the opening.

"O Dan!" the woman cried, putting out her hands as though she would take
him by the neck, but feared repulse. "O Dan! Thank Gawd you're safe,
Dan! I bin dyin' o' fear for you, Dan!"

"G-r-r-r!" he snorted. "Stow that! What I want's money. Got any?"



CHAPTER XIX

ON THE COP


It was at a bend of the river-wall by the Lea, in sight of Kemp's Wharf,
that Dan Ogle and his sister met at last. Dan had about as much regard
for her as she had for him, and the total made something a long way
short of affection. But common interests brought them together. Mrs.
Grimes had told Mag that she knew of something that would put money in
Dan's pocket; and, as money was just what Dan wanted in his pocket, he
was ready to hear what his sister had to tell: more especially as it
seemed plain that she was unaware--exactly--of the difficulty that had
sent him into hiding.

So, instructed by Mag, she came to the Cop on a windy morning, where,
from the top of the river-wall, one might look east over the Abbey
Marsh, and see an unresting and unceasing press of grey and mottled
cloud hurrying up from the flat horizon to pass overhead, and vanish in
the smoke of London to the West. Mrs. Grimes avoided the wharf; for she
saw no reason why her brother-in-law, her late employer's faithful
servant, should witness her errand. She climbed the river-wall at a
place where it neared the road at its Bromley end, and thence she walked
along the bank-top.

Arrived where it made a sharp bend, she descended a little way on the
side next the river, and there waited. Dan, on the look-out from his
shed, spied her be-ribboned bonnet from afar, and went quietly and
hastily under shelter of the river-wall toward where she stood. Coming
below her on the tow-path, he climbed the bank, and brother and sister
stood face to face; unashamed ruffianism looking shabby respectability
in the eyes.

"Umph," growled Dan. "So 'ere y'are, my lady."

"Yes," the woman answered, "'ere I am; an' there you are--a nice
respectable sort of party for a brother!"

"Ah, ain't I? If I was as respectable as my sister I might get a job up
at the Hole in the Wall, mightn't I? 'Specially as I 'ear as there's a
vacancy through somebody gettin' the sack over a cash-box!"

Mrs. Grimes glared and snapped. "I s'pose you got that from 'im," she
said, jerking her head in the direction of the wharf. "Well, I ain't
come 'ere to call names--I come about that same cash-box; at any rate I
come about what's in it.... Dan, there's a pile o' bank notes in that
box, that don't belong to Cap'en Nat Kemp no more'n they belong to you
or me! Nor as much, p'raps, if you'll put up a good way o' gettin' at
'em!"

"You put up a way as wasn't a good un, seemin'ly," said Dan. "'Ow d'ye
mean they don't belong to Kemp?"

"There was a murder at the Hole in the Wall; a week ago."

"Eh?" Dan's jaw shut with a snap, and his eye was full of sharp inquiry.

"A man was stabbed against the bar-parlour door, an' the one as did it
got away over the river. One o' the two dropped a leather pocket-book
full o' notes, an' the kid--Kemp's grandson--picked it up in the rush
when nobody see it. I see it, though, afterward, when the row was over.
I peeped from the stairs, an' I see Kemp open it an' take out
notes--bunches of 'em--dozens!"

"Ah, you did, did ye?" Dan observed, staring hard at his sister.
"Bunches o' bank notes--dozens. See a photo, too? Likeness of a woman
an' a boy? 'Cos it was there."

Mrs. Grimes stared now. "Why, yes," she said. "But--but 'ow do you come
to know? Eh?... Dan!... Was you--was you----"

"Never mind whether I was nor where I was. If it 'adn't been for you I'd
a had them notes now, safe an' snug, 'stead o' Cap'en Nat. You lost me
them!"

"I did?"

"Yes, you. Wouldn't 'ave me come to the Hole in the Wall in case Cap'en
Nat might guess I was yer brother--bein' so much like ye! Like you!
G-r-r-r! 'Ope I ain't got a face like that!"

"Ho yes! You're a beauty, Dan Ogle, ain't ye? But what's all that to do
with the notes?" Mrs. Grimes's face was blank with wonder and doubt, but
in her eyes there was a growing and hardening suspicion. "What's all
that to do with the notes?"

"It's all to do with 'em. 'Cos o' that I let another chap bring a watch
to sell, 'stead o' takin' it myself. An' 'e come back with a fine tale
about Cap'en Nat offerin' to pay 'igh for them notes; an' so I was fool
enough to let 'im take them too, 'stead o' goin' myself. But I watched
'im, though--watched 'im close. 'E tried to make a bolt--an'--an' so
Cap'en Nat got the notes after all, it seems, then?"

"Dan," said Mrs. Grimes retreating a step; "Dan, it was you! It was you,
an' you're hiding for it!"

The man stood awkward and sulky, like a loutish schoolboy, detected and
defiant.

"Well," he said at length, "s'pose it was? _You_ ain't got no proof of
it; an' if you 'ad----What 'a' ye come 'ere for, eh?"

She regarded him now with a gaze of odd curiosity, which lasted through
the rest of their talk; much as though she were convinced of some
extraordinary change in his appearance, which nevertheless eluded her
observation.

"I told you what I come for," she answered, after a pause. "About
gettin' them notes away from Kemp--the old wretch!"

"Umph! Old wretch. 'Cos 'e wanted to keep 'is cash-box, eh? Well, what's
the game?"

Mrs. Grimes in no way abated her intent gaze, but she came a little
closer, with a sidling step, as if turning her back to a possible
listener. "There was two inquests at the Hole in the Wall," she said;
"two on the same day. There was Kipps, as lost the notes when Cap'en
Kemp got 'em. An' there was Marr the shipowner--an' it was 'im as lost
'em first!"

She took a pace back as she said this, looking for its effect. But Dan
made no answer. Albeit his frown grew deeper and his eye sharper, and he
stood alert, ready to treat his sister as friend or enemy according as
she might approve herself.

"Marr lost 'em first," she repeated, "an' I can very well guess how,
though when I came here I didn't know you was in it. How did I know,
thinks you, that Marr lost 'em first? I got eyes, an' I got ears, an' I
got common sense; an' I see the photo you spoke of--Marr an' 'is mother,
most likely; anyhow the boy was Marr, plain, whoever the woman was. It
on'y wanted a bit o' thinkin' to judge what them notes had gone through.
But I didn't dream you was so deep in it! Lor, no wonder Mag was
frightened when I see 'er!"

Still Dan said nothing, but his eyes seemed brighter and
smaller--perhaps dangerous.

So the woman proceeded quickly: "It's all right! You needn't be
frightened of my knowin' things! All the more reason for your gettin'
the notes now, if you lost 'em before. But it's halves for me, mind ye.
Ain't it halves for me?"

Dan was silent for a moment. Then he growled, "We ain't got 'em yet."

"No, but it's halves when we do get 'em; or else I won't say another
word. Ain't it halves?"

Dan Ogle could afford any number of promises, if they would win him
information. "All right," he said. "Halves it is, then, when we get 'em.
An' how are we goin' to do it?"

Mrs. Grimes sidled closer again. "Marr the shipowner lost 'em first,"
she said, "an' he was pulled out o' the river, dead an' murdered, just
at the back o' the Hole in the Wall. See?"

"Well?"

"Don't see it? Kemp's got the pocket-book."

"Yes."

"Don't see it yet? Well; there's more. There's a room at the back o' the
Hole in the Wall, where it stands on piles, with a trap-door over the
water. The police don't know there's a trap-door there. I do."

Dan Ogle was puzzled and suspicious. "What's the good o' that?" he
asked.

"I didn't think you such a fool, Dan Ogle. There's a man murdered with
notes on him, an' a photo, an' a watch--you said there was a watch. He's
found in the river just behind the Hole in the Wall. There's a
trap-door--secret--at the Hole in the Wall, over the water; just the
place he might 'a' been dropped down after he was killed. An' Kemp the
landlord's got the notes an' the pocket-book an' the photo all complete;
an' most likely the watch too, since you tell me he bought it; an' Viney
could swear to 'em. Ain't all that enough to hang Cap'en Nat Kemp, if
the police was to drop in sudden on the whole thing?"

Dan's mouth opened, and his face cleared a little. "I s'pose," he said,
"you mean you might put it on to the police as it was Cap'en Nat did it;
an' when they searched they'd find all the stuff, an' the pocket-book,
an' the watch, an' the likeness, an' the trap-door; an' that 'ud be
evidence enough to put 'im on the string?"

"Of course I mean it," replied Mrs. Grimes, with hungry spite in her
eyes. "Of course I mean it! An' dearly I'd love to see it done, too!
Cap'en Nat Kemp, with 'is money an' 'is gran'son 'e's goin' to make a
gentleman of, an' all! ''Ope you'll be honest where you go next,' says
Cap'en Kemp, 'whether you're grateful to me or not!' Honest an'
grateful! I'll give 'im honest an' grateful!"

Dan Ogle grinned silently. "No," he said, "you won't forgive 'im, I bet,
if it was only 'cos you began by makin' such a pitch to marry 'im!" A
chuckle broke from behind the grin. "You'd rather hang him than get his
cash-box now, I'll swear!"

Mrs. Grimes was red with anger. "I would that!" she cried. "You're
nearer truth than you think, Dan Ogle! An' if you say too much you'll
lose the money you're after, for I'll go an' do it! So now!"

Dan clicked his tongue derisively. "Thought you'd come to tell me how to
get the stuff," he said. "'Stead o' that you tell me how to hang Cap'en
Nat, very clever, an' lose it. I don't see that helps us."

"Go an' threaten him."

"Threaten Cap'en Nat?" exclaimed Dan, glaring contempt, and spitting it.
"Oh yes, I see myself! Cap'en Nat ain't that sort o' mug. I'm as 'ard as
most, but I ain't 'ard enough for a job like that: or soft enough, for
that's what I'd be to try it on. Lor' lumme! Go an' ask any man up the
Highway to face Cap'en Nat, an' threaten him! Ask the biggest an'
toughest of 'em. Ask Jim Crute, with his ear like a blue-bag, that he
chucked out o' the bar like a kitten, last week! 'Cap'en Nat,' says I,
'if you don't gimme eight hundred quid, I'll hit you a crack!' Mighty
fine plan that! That 'ud get it, wouldn't it? Ah, it 'ud get something!"

"I didn't say that sort of threat, you fool! You've got no sense for
anything but bashing. There's the evidence that 'ud hang him; go an'
tell him that, and say he _shall_ swing for it, if he doesn't hand
over!"

Dan stared long and thoughtfully. Then his lip curled again. "Pooh!" he
said. "I'm a fool, am I? O! Anyhow, whether I am or not, I'm a fool's
brother. Threaten Cap'en Nat with the evidence, says you! What evidence?
The evidence what he's got in his own hands! S'pose I go, like a mug,
an' do it. Fust thing he does, after he's kicked me out, is to chuck the
pocket-book an' the likeness on the fire, an' the watch in the river.
Then he changes the notes, or sells 'em abroad, an' how do we stand
then? Why, you're a bigger fool than I thought you was!... What's that?"

It was nothing but a gun on the marsh, where a cockney sportsman was out
after anything he could hit. But Dan Ogle's nerves were alert, and
throughout the conversation he had not relaxed his watch toward London;
so that the shot behind disturbed him enough to break the talk.

"We've been here long enough," he said. "You hook it. I'll see about
Cap'en Nat. Your way's no good. I'll try another, an' if that don't come
off--well, then you can hang him if you like, an' welcome. But now hook
it, an' shut your mouth till I've had my go. 'Nough said. Don't go back
the way you come."



CHAPTER XX

STEPHEN'S TALE


My father's death wrought in Grandfather Nat a change that awed me. He
looked older and paler--even smaller. He talked less to me, but began, I
fancied, to talk to himself. Withal, his manner was kinder than before,
if that were possible; though it was with a sad kindness that distressed
and troubled me. More than once I woke at night with candle-light on my
face, and found him gazing down at me with a grave doubt in his eyes;
whereupon he would say nothing, but pat my cheek, and turn away.

Early one evening as I sat in the bar-parlour, and my grandfather stood
moodily at the door between that and the bar, a man came into the
private compartment whom I had seen there frequently before. He was, in
fact, the man who had brought the silver spoons on the morning when I
first saw Ratcliff Highway, and he was perhaps the most regular visitor
to the secluded corner of the bar. This time he slipped quietly and
silently in at the door, and, remaining just within it, out of sight
from the main bar, beckoned; his manner suggesting business above the
common.

But my grandfather only frowned grimly, and stirred not as much as a
finger. The man beckoned again, impatiently; but there was no favour in
Grandfather Nat's eye, and he answered with a growl. At that the man
grew more vehement, patted his breast pocket, jerked his thumb, and made
dumb words with a great play of mouth.

"You get out!" said Grandfather Nat.

A shade of surprise crossed the man's face, and left plain alarm behind
it. His eyes turned quickly toward the partition which hid the main bar
from him, and he backed instantly to the door and vanished.

A little later the swing doors of the main bar were agitated, and an eye
was visible between them, peeping. They parted, and disclosed the face
of that same stealthy visitor but lately sent away from the other door.
Reassured, as it seemed, by what he saw of the company present, he came
boldly in, and called for a drink with an elaborate air of unconcern.
But, as he took the glass from the potman, I could perceive a sidelong
glance at my grandfather, and presently another. Captain Nat, however,
disregarded him wholly; while the pale man, aware of he knew not what
between them, looked alertly from one to the other, ready to abandon his
long-established drink, or to remain by it, according to circumstances.

The man of the silver spoons looked indifferently from one occupant of
the bar to the next, as he took his cold rum. There was the pale man,
and Mr. Cripps, and a sailor, who had been pretty regular in the bar of
late, and who, though noisy and apt to break into disjointed song, was
not so much positively drunk as never wholly sober. And there were two
others, regular frequenters both. Having well satisfied himself of
these, the man of the silver spoons finished his rum and walked out.
Scarce had the door ceased to swing behind him, when he was once more in
the private compartment, now with a knowing and secure smile, a cough
and a nod. For plainly he supposed there must have been a suspicious
customer in the house, who was now gone.

Grandfather Nat let fall the arm that rested against the door frame.
"Out you go!" he roared. "If you want another drink the other bar's good
enough for you. If you don't I don't want you here. So out you go!"

The man was dumbfounded. He opened his mouth as though to say something,
but closed it again, and slunk backward.

"Out you go!" shouted the unsober sailor in the large bar. "Out you go!
You 'bey orders, see? Lord, you'd better 'bey orders when it's Cap'en
Kemp! Ah, I know, I do!" And he shook his head, stupidly sententious.

But the fellow was gone for good, and the pale man was all eyes,
scratching his cheek feebly, and gazing on Grandfather Nat.

"Out he goes!" the noisy sailor went on. "That's cap'en's orders.
Cap'en's orders or mate's orders, all's one. Like father, like son. Ah,
I know!'"

"Ah," piped Mr. Cripps, "a marvellous fine orficer Cap'en Kemp must ha'
been aboard ship, I'm sure. Might you ever ha' sailed under 'im?"

"Me?" cried the sailor with a dull stare. "Me? Under _him_?... Well no,
not under _him_. But cap'en's orders or mate's orders, all's one."

"P'raps," pursued Mr. Cripps in a lower voice, with a glance over the
bar, "p'raps you've been with young Mr. Kemp--the late?"

"Him?" This with another and a duller stare. "Him? Um! Ah, well--never
mind. Never you mind, see? You mind your own business, my fine feller!"

Mr. Cripps retired within himself with no delay, and fixed an abstracted
gaze in his half-empty glass. I think he was having a disappointing
evening; people were disagreeable, and nobody had stood him a drink.
More, Captain Nat had been quite impracticable of late, and for days all
approaches to the subject of the sign, or the board to paint it on, had
broken down hopelessly at the start. As to the man just sent away, Mr.
Cripps seemed, and no doubt was, wholly indifferent. Captain Nat was
merely exercising his authority in his own bar, as he did every day, and
that was all.

But the pale man was clearly uneasy, and that with reason. For, as
afterwards grew plain, the event was something greater than it seemed.
Indeed, it was nothing less than the end of the indirect traffic in
watches and silver spoons. From that moment every visitor to the private
compartment was sent away with the same peremptory incivility; every
one, save perhaps some rare stranger of the better sort, who came for
nothing but a drink. So that, in course of a day or two, the private
compartment went almost out of use; and the pale man's face grew paler
and longer as the hours went. He came punctually every morning, as
usual, and sat his time out with the stagnant drink before him, till he
received my grandfather's customary order to "drink up"; and then
vanished till the time appointed for his next attendance. But he made no
more excursions into the side court after sellers of miscellaneous
valuables. From what I know of my grandfather's character, I believe
that the pale man must have been paid regular wages; for Grandfather Nat
was not a man to cast off a faithful servant, though plainly the man
feared it. At any rate there he remained with his perpetual drink; and
so remained until many things came to an end together.

There was a certain relief, and, I think, an odd touch of triumph in
Grandfather Nat's face and manner that night as he kissed me, and bade
me good-night. As for myself, I did not realise the change, but I had a
vague idea that my grandfather had sent away his customer on my account;
and for long I lay awake, and wondered why.



CHAPTER XXI

IN THE BAR-PARLOUR


Stephen was sound asleep, and the Hole in the Wall had closed its eyes
for the night. The pale man had shuffled off, with his doubts and
apprehensions, toward the Highway, and Mr. Cripps was already home in
Limehouse. Only the half-drunken sailor was within hail, groping toward
some later tavern, and Captain Nat, as he extinguished the lamps in the
bar, could hear his song in the distance--

    The grub was bad an' the pay was low,
      Leave her, Johnny, leave her!
    So hump your duds an' ashore you go
      For it's time for us to leave her!

Captain Nat blew out the last light in the bar and went into the
bar-parlour. He took out the cash-box, and stood staring thoughtfully at
the lid for some seconds. He was turning at last to extinguish the lamp
at his elbow, when there was a soft step without, and a cautious tap at
the door.

Captain Nat's eyes widened, and the cash-box went back under the shelf.
The tap was repeated ere the old man could reach the door and shoot back
the bolts. This done, he took the lamp in his left hand, and opened the
door.

In the black of the passage a man stood, tall and rough. Just such a
figure Captain Nat had seen there before, less distinctly, and in a
briefer glimpse; for indeed it was Dan Ogle.

"Well?" said Captain Nat.

"Good evenin', cap'en," Dan answered, with an uncouth mixture of respect
and familiarity. "I jist want five minutes with you."

"O, you do, do you?" replied the landlord, reaching behind himself to
set the lamp on the table. "What is it? I've a notion I've seen you
before."

"Very like, cap'en. It's all right; on'y business."

"Then what's the business?"

Dan Ogle glanced to left and right in the gloom of the alley, and edged
a step nearer. "Best spoke of indoors," he said, hoarsely. "Best for you
an' me too. Nothin' to be afraid of--on'y business."

"Afraid of? Phoo! Come in, then."

Dan complied, with an awkward assumption of jaunty confidence, and
Captain Nat closed the door behind him.

"Nobody to listen, I suppose?" asked Ogle.

"No, nobody. Out with it!"

"Well, cap'en, just now you thought you'd seen me before. Quite right;
so you have. You see me in the same place--just outside that there door.
An' I borrowed your boat."

"Umph!" Captain Nat's eyes were keen and hard. "Is your name Dan Ogle?"

"That's it, cap'en." The voice was confident, but the eye was shifty.
"Now you know. A chap tried to do me, an' I put his light out. You went
for me, an' chased me, but you stuck your hooks in the quids right
enough." Dan Ogle tried a grin and a wink, but Captain Nat's frown never
changed.

"Well, well," Dan went on, after a pause, "it's all right, anyhow. I
outed the chap, an' you took care o' the ha'pence; so we helped each
other, an' done it atween us. I just come along to-night to cut it up."

"Cut up what?"

"Why, the stuff. Eight hundred an' ten quid in notes, in a leather
pocket-book. Though I ain't particular about the pocket-book." Dan tried
another grin. "Four hundred an' five quid'll be good enough for me:
though it ought to be more, seein' I got it first, an' the risk an'
all."

Captain Nat, with a foot on a chair and a hand on the raised knee,
relaxed not a shade of his fierce gaze. "Who told you," he asked
presently, "that I had eight hundred an' ten pound in a leather
pocket-book?"

"O, a little bird--just a pretty little bird, cap'en."

"Tell me the name o' that pretty little bird."

"Lord lumme, cap'en, don't be bad pals! It ain't a little bird what'll
do any harm! It's all safe an' snug enough between us, an' I'm doin' it
on the square, ain't I? I knowed about you, an' you didn't know about
me; but I comes fair an' open, an' says it was me as done it, an' I on'y
want a fair share up between pals in a job together. That's all right,
ain't it?"

"Was it a pretty little bird in a bonnet an' a plaid shawl? A scraggy
sort of a little bird with a red beak? The sort of little bird as likes
to feather its nest with a cash-box--one as don't belong to it? Is that
your pattern o' pretty little bird?"

"Well, well, s'pose it is, cap'en? Lord, don't be bad pals! I ain't, am
I? Make things straight, an' I'll take care _she_ don't go a
pretty-birdin' about with the tale. I'll guarantee that, honourable. You
ain't no need be afraid o' that."

"D'ye think I look afraid?"

"Love ye, cap'en, why, I didn't mean that! There ain't many what 'ud try
to frighten you. That ain't my tack. You're too hard a nut for _that_,
anybody knows." Dan Ogle fidgeted uneasily with a hand about his
neck-cloth; while the other arm hung straight by his side. "But look
here, now, cap'en," he went on; "you're a straight man, an' you don't
round on a chap as trusts you. That's right ain't it?"

"Well?" Truly Captain Nat's piercing stare, his unwavering frown, were
disconcerting. Dan Ogle had come confidently prepared to claim a share
of the plunder, just as he would have done from any rascal in Blue Gate.
But, in presence of the man he knew for his master, he had had to begin
with no more assurance than he could force on himself; and now, though
he had met not a word of refusal, he was reduced well-nigh to pleading.
But he saw the best opening, as by a flash of inspiration; and beyond
that he had another resource, if he could but find courage to use it.

"Well?" said Captain Nat.

"You're the sort as plays the square game with a man as trusts you,
cap'en. Very well. _I've_ trusted you. I come an' put myself in your
way, an' told you free what I done, an' I ask, as man to man, for my
fair whack o' the stuff. Bein' the straight man you are, you'll do the
fair thing."

Captain Nat brought his foot down from the chair, and the knee from
under his hand; and he clenched the hand on the table. But neither
movement disturbed his steady gaze. So he stood for three seconds. Then,
with an instant dart, he had Dan Ogle by the hanging arm, just above the
wrist.

Dan sprang and struggled, but his wrist might have been chained to a
post. Twice he made offer to strike at Captain Nat's face with the free
hand, but twice the blow fainted ere it had well begun. Tall and
powerful as he was, he knew himself no match for the old skipper. Pallid
and staring, he whispered hoarsely: "No, cap'en--no! Drop it! Don't put
me away! Don't crab the deal! D' y' 'ear----"

Captain Nat, grim and silent, slowly drew the imprisoned fore-arm
forward, and plucked a bare knife from within the sleeve. There was
blood on it, for his grip had squeezed arm and blade together.

"Umph!" growled Captain Nat; "I saw that in time, my lad"; and he stuck
the knife in the shelf behind him.

"S'elp me, cap'en, I wasn't meanin' anythink--s'elp me I wasn't," the
ruffian pleaded, cowering but vehement, with his neckerchief to his cut
arm. "That's on'y where I carry it, s'elp me--on'y where I keep it!"

"Ah, I've seen it done before; but it's an awkward place if you get a
squeeze," the skipper remarked drily. "Now you listen to me. You say
you've come an' put yourself in my power, an' trusted me. So you
have--with a knife up your sleeve. But never mind that--I doubt if you'd
ha' had pluck to use it. You killed a man at my door, because of eight
hundred pounds you'd got between you; but to get that money you had to
kill another man first."

"No, cap'en, no----"

"Don't try to deny it, man! Why it's what's saving you! I know where
that money come from--an' it's murder that got it. Marr was the man's
name, an' he was a murderer himself; him an' another between 'em ha'
murdered my boy; murdered him on the high seas as much as if it was
pistol or poison. He was doin' his duty, an' it's murder, I tell
you--murder, by the law of England! That man ought to ha' been hung, but
he wasn't, an' he never would ha' been. He'd ha' gone free, except for
you, an' made money of it. But you killed that man, Dan Ogle, an' you
shall go free for it yourself; for that an' because I won't sell what
you trusted me with about this other."

Captain Nat turned and took the knife from the shelf. "Now see," he went
on. "You've done justice on a murderer, little as you meant it; but
don't you come tryin' to take away the orphan's compensation--not as
much as a penny of it! Don't you touch the compensation, or I'll give
you up! I will that! Just you remember when you're safe. The man lied as
spoke to seein' you that night by the door; an' now he's gone back on
it, an' so you've nothing to fear from him, an' nothing to fear from the
police. Nothing to fear from anybody but me; so you take care, Dan
Ogle!... Come, enough said!"

Captain Nat flung wide the door and pitched the knife into the outer
darkness. "There's your knife; go after it!"



CHAPTER XXII

ON THE COP


When Viney followed the limy man from Musky Mag's door he kept him well
in view as far as the Hole in the Wall, and there waited. But when
Grimes emerged, and Viney took up the chase, he had scarce made
three-quarters of the way through the crooked lanes toward the
Commercial Road, when, in the confusion and the darkness of the
turnings, or in some stray rack of fog, the man of lime went wholly
amissing. Viney hurried forward, doubled, and scoured the turnings about
him. Drawing them blank, he hastened for the main road, and there
consumed well nigh an hour in profitless questing to and fro; and was
fain at last to seek out Blind George, and confess himself beaten.

But Blind George made a better guess. After Viney's departure in the
wake of Grimes, he had stood patiently on guard in the black archway,
and had got his reward. For he heard Musky Mag's feet descend her
stairs; noted her timid pause at the door; and ear-watched her progress
to the street corner. There she paused again, as he judged, to see that
nobody followed; and then hurried out of earshot. He was no such fool as
to attempt to dog a woman with eyes, but contented himself with the
plain inference that she was on her way to see Dan Ogle, and that the
man whom Viney was following had brought news of Dan's whereabouts; and
with that he turned to the Highway and his fiddling. So that when he
learned that the limy man had called at the Hole in the Wall, and had
gone out of Viney's sight on his way east, Blind George was quick to
think of Kemp's Wharf, and to resolve that his next walk abroad should
lead him to the Lea bank.

The upshot of this was that, after some trouble, Dan Ogle and Blind
George met on the Cop, and that Dan consented to a business interview
with Viney. He was confident enough in any dealings with either of them
so long as he cockered in them the belief that he still had the notes.
So he said very little, except that Viney might come and make any
proposal he pleased; hoping for some chance-come expedient whereby he
might screw out a little on account.

And so it followed that on the morning after his unsuccessful
negotiation with Captain Nat, Dan Ogle found himself face to face with
Henry Viney at that self-same spot on the bank-side where he had talked
with Blind George.

Dan was surly; first because it was policy to say little, and to seem
intractable, and again because, after the night's adventure, it came
natural. "So you're Viney, are you?" he said. "Well, I ain't afraid o'
you. I know about you. Blind George told me _your_ game."

"Who said anything about afraid?" Viney protested, the eternal grin
twitching nervously in his yellow cheeks. "We needn't talk about being
afraid. It seems to me we can work together."

"O, does it? How?"

"Well, you know, you can't change 'em."

"What?"

"O, damn it, you know what I mean. The money--the notes."

"O, that's what you mean, is it? Well, s'pose I can't?"

"Well--of course--if you can't--eh? If you can't, they might be so much
rags, eh?"

"P'raps they might--_if_ I can't."

"But you know you can't," retorted the other, with a spasm of
apprehension. "Else you'd have done it and--and got farther off."

"Well, p'raps I might. But that ain't all you come to say. Go on."

Viney thoughtfully scratched his lank cheek, peering sharply into Dan's
face. "Things bein' what they are," he said, reflectively, "they're no
more good to you than rags; not so much."

"All right. S'pose they ain't; you don't think I'm a-goin' to make you a
present of 'em, do you?"

"Why no, I didn't think that. I'll pay--reasonable. But you must
remember that they're no good to you at all--not worth rag price; so
whatever you got 'ud be clear profit."

"Then how much clear profit will you give me?"

Viney's forefinger paused on his cheek, and his gaze, which had sunk to
Dan Ogle's waistcoat, shot sharply again at his eyes. "Ten pounds," said
Viney.

Dan chuckled, partly at the absurdity of the offer, partly because this
bargaining for the unproducible began to amuse him. "Ten pound clear
profit for me," he said, "an' eight hundred pound clear profit for you.
That's your idea of a fair bit o' trade!"

"But it was mine first, and--and it's no good to you--you say so
yourself!"

"No; nor no good to you neither--'cause why? You ain't got it!" Dan's
chuckle became a grin. "If you'd ha' said a hundred, now----"

"What?"

"Why, then I'd ha' said four hundred. That's what I'd ha' said!"

"Four hundred? Why, you're mad! Besides I haven't got it--I've got
nothing till I can change the notes; only the ten."

Dan saw the chance he had hoped for. "I'll make it dirt cheap," he said,
"first an' last, no less an' no more. Will you give me fifty down for
'em when you've got 'em changed?"

"Yes, I will." Viney's voice was almost too eager.

"Straight? No tricks, eh?"

Viney was indignant at the suggestion. He scorned a trick.

"No hoppin' the twig with the whole lot, an' leavin' me in the cart?"

Viney was deeply hurt. He had never dreamed of such a thing.

"Very well, I'll trust you. Give us the tenner on account." Dan Ogle
stuck out his hand carelessly; but it remained empty.

"I said I'd give fifty when they're changed," grinned Viney, knowingly.

"What? Well, I know that; an' not play no tricks. An' now when I ask you
to pay first the ten you've got, you don't want to do it! That don't
look like a chap that means to part straight and square, does it?"

Viney put his hand in his pocket. "All right," he said, "that's fair
enough. Ten now an' forty when the paper's changed. Where's the paper?"

"O, I ain't got that about me just now," Dan replied airily. "Be here
to-morrow, same time. But you can give me the ten now."

Viney's teeth showed unamiably through his grin. "Ah," he said; "I'll be
here to-morrow with that, same time!"

"What?" It was Dan's honour that smarted now. "What? Won't trust me with
ten, when I offer, free an' open, to trust you with forty? O, it's off
then. I'm done. It's enough to make a man sick." And he turned loftily
away.

Viney's grin waxed and waned, and he followed Dan with his eyes,
thinking hard. Dan stole a look behind, and stopped.

"Look here," Viney said at last. "Look here. Let's cut it short. We
can't sharp each other, and we're wasting time. You haven't got those
notes."

Dan half-turned, and answered in a tone between question and retort. "O,
haven't I?" he said.

"No; you haven't. See here; I'll give you five pounds if you'll show 'em
to me. Only show 'em."

Dan was posed. "I said I hadn't got 'em about me," he said, rather
feebly.

"No; nor can't get 'em. Can you? Cut it short."

Dan looked up and down, and rubbed his cap about his head. "I know where
they are," he sulkily concluded.

"You know where they are, but you can't get 'em," Viney retorted with
decision. "Can I get 'em?"

Dan glanced at him superciliously. "You?" he answered. "Lord, no."

"Can we get 'em together?"

Dan took to rubbing his cap about his head again, and staring very
thoughtfully at the ground. Then he came a step nearer, and looked up.
"Two might," he said, "if you'd see it through. With nerve."

Viney took him by the upper arm, and drew close. "We're the two," he
said. "You know where the stuff is, and you say we can get it. We'll
haggle no more. We're partners and we'll divide all we get. How's that?"

"How about Blind George?"

"Never mind Blind George--unless you want to make him a present. _I_
don't. Blind George can fish for himself. He's shoved out. We'll do it,
and we'll keep what we get. Now where are the notes? Who's got them?"

Dan Ogle stood silent a moment, considering. He looked over the bank
toward the London streets, down on the grass at his feet, and then up at
an adventurous lark, that sang nearer and still nearer the town smoke.
Last he looked at Viney, and make up his mind. "Who's got 'em?" he
repeated; "Cap'en Nat Kemp's got 'em."

"What? Cap'en----"

"Cap'en Nat Kemp's got 'em."

Viney took a step backward, turned his foot on the slope, and sat back
on the bank, staring at Dan Ogle. "Cap'en Nat Kemp?" he said. "Cap'en
Nat Kemp?"

"Ay; Cap'en Nat Kemp. The notes, an' the leather pocket-book; an' the
photo; an' the whole kit. Marr's photo, ain't it, with his mother?"

"Yes," Viney answered. "When he was a boy. He wasn't a particular
dutiful son, but he always carried it: for luck, or something.
But--Cap'en Kemp! Where did _he_ get them?"

Dan Ogle sat on the bank beside Viney, facing the river, and there told
him the tale he had heard from Mrs. Grimes. Also he told him, with many
suppressions, just as much of his own last night's adventure at the Hole
in the Wall as made it plain that Captain Nat meant to stick to what he
had got.

Viney heard it all in silence, and sat for a while with his head between
his hands, thinking, and occasionally swearing. At last he looked up,
and dropped one hand to his knee. "I'd have it out of him by myself," he
said, "if it wasn't that I want to lie low a bit."

Dan grunted and nodded. "I know," he replied, "The _Juno_. I know about
that."

Viney started. "What do you know about that?" he asked.

"Pretty well all you could tell me. I hear things, though I am lyin' up;
but I heard before, too. Marr chattered like a poll-parrot."

Viney swore, and dropped his other hand. "Ay; so Blind George said.
Well, there's nothing for me out of the insurance, and I'm going to let
the creditors scramble for it themselves. There'd be awkward questions
for me, with the books in the receiver's hands, and what not. So I'm not
showing for a bit. Though," he added, thoughtfully, "I don't know that I
mightn't try it, even now."

Dan's eyes grew sharp. "We're doin' this together, Mr. Viney," he said.
"You'd better not go tryin' things without me; I mightn't like it. I
ain't a nice man to try games on with; one's tried a game over this
a'ready, mind."

"I'm trying no games," Viney protested. "Tell us your way, if you don't
want to hear about mine."

Dan Ogle was sitting with his chin on his doubled fists, gazing
thoughtfully at the muddy river. "My way's rough," he replied, "but it's
thorough. An' it wipes off scores. I owe Cap'en Nat one."

Viney looked curiously at his companion. "Well?" he said.

"An' there'd be more in it than eight hundred an' ten. P'raps a lump
more."

"How?" Viney's eyes widened.

"Umph." Dan was silent a moment. Then he turned and looked Viney in the
eyes. "Are you game?" he asked. "You ain't a faintin' sort, are you? You
oughtn't to be, seein' you was a ship's officer."

Viney's mouth closed tight. "No," he said; "I don't think I am. What is
it?"

Dan Ogle looked intently in his face for a few seconds, and then said:
"Only him an' the kid sleeps in the house."

Viney started. "You don't mean breaking in?" he exclaimed. "I won't do
that; it's too--too----"

"Ah, too risky, of course," Dan replied, with a curl of the lip. "But I
don't mean breakin' in. Nothing like it. But tell me first; s'pose
breakin' in _wasn't_ risky; s'pose you knew you'd get away safe, with
the stuff. Would you do it then?" And he peered keenly at Viney's face.

Viney frowned. "That don't matter," he said, "if it ain't the plan.
S'pose I would?"

"Ha-ha! that'll do! I know your sort. Not that I blame you about the
busting--it 'ud take two pretty tough 'uns to face Cap'en Nat, I can
tell you. But now see here. Will you come with me, an' knock at his side
door to-night, after the place is shut?"

"Knock? And what then?"

"I'll tell you. You know the alley down to the stairs?"

"Yes."

"Black as pitch at night, with a row o' posts holding up the house. Now
when everybody's gone an' he's putting out the lights, you go an' tap at
the door."

"Well?"

"You tap at the door, an' he'll come. You're alone--see? I stand back in
the dark, behind a post. He never sees me. 'Good evenin',' says you. 'I
just want a word with you, if you'll step out.' And so he does."

"And what then?"

"Nothing else--not for you; that's all your job. Easy enough, ain't it?"

Viney turned where he sat, and stared fixedly at his confederate's face.
"And then--then--what----"

"Then I come on. He don't know I'm there--behind him."

Viney's mouth opened a little, but with no grin; and for a minute the
two sat, each looking in the other's face. Then said Viney, with a
certain shrinking: "No, no; not that. It's hanging, you know; it's
hanging--for both."

Dan laughed--an ugly laugh, and short. "It ain't hanging for _that_," he
said; "it's hanging for gettin' caught. An' where's the chance o' that?
We take our own time, and the best place you ever see for a job like
that, river handy at the end an' all; an' everything settled beforehand.
Safe a job as ever I see. Look at me. I ain't hung yet, am I? But I've
took my chances, an' took 'em when it wasn't safe, like as this is."

Viney stared at vacancy, like a man in a brown study; and his dry tongue
passed slowly along his drier lips.

"As for bein' safe," Dan went on, "what little risk there is, is for
_me_. You're all right. We don't know each other. Not likely. How should
you know I was hidin' there in the dark when you went to speak to Cap'en
Nat Kemp? Come to that, it might ha' been _you_ outed instead o' your
friend what you was talkin' so sociable with. An' there's more there
than what's in the pocket-book. Remember that. There's a lump more than
that."

Viney rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand. "How do you know?" he
asked, huskily.

"How do I know? How did I know about the pocket-book an' the notes? I
ain't been the best o' pals with my sister, but she couldn't ha' been
there all this time without my hearing a thing or two about Cap'en Nat;
to say nothing of what everybody knows as knows anything about him.
Money? O' course there's money in the place; no telling how much; an'
watches, an' things, as he buys. P'raps twice that eight hundred, an'
more."

Viney's eyes were growing sharper--growing eager. "It sounds all right,"
he remarked, a little less huskily. "Especially if there's more in it
than the eight hundred. But--but--are you--you know--sure about it?"

"You leave that to me. I'll see after my department, an' yours is easy
enough. Come, it's a go, ain't it?"

"But perhaps he'll make a row--call out, or something."

"He ain't the sort o' chap to squeal; an' if he was he wouldn't--not the
way I'm goin' to do it. You'll see."

"An' there's the boy--what about him?"

"O, the kid? Upstairs. He's no account, after we've outed Cap'en Nat. No
more'n a tame rabbit. An' we'll have all night to turn the place over,
if we want it--though we shan't. We'll be split out before the potman
comes: fifty mile apart, with full pockets, an' nobody a ha'porth the
wiser."

Viney bit at his fingers, and his eyes lifted and sank, quick and keen,
from the ground to Ogle's face, and back again. But it was enough, and
he asked for no more persuasion. Willing murderers both, they set to
planning details: what Viney should say, if it were necessary to carry
the talk with Captain Nat beyond the first sentence or so; where they
must meet; and the like. And here, on Viney's motion, a change was made
as regarded time. Not this immediate night, but the night following, was
resolved on for the stroke that should beggar the Hole in the Wall of
money and of life. For to Viney it seemed desirable, first, to get his
belongings away from his present lodgings, for plain reasons; so as to
throw off Blind George, and so as to avoid flight from a place where he
was known, on the very night of the crime. This it were well to do at
once; yet, all unprepared as he was, he could not guess what delays
might intervene; and so for all reasons Captain Nat and the child were
reprieved for twenty-four hours.

Thus in full terms the treaty was made. Dan Ogle, shrink as he might
from Captain Nat face to face (as any ruffian in Blue Gate would), was
as ready to stab him in the back for vengeance as for gain. For he was
conscious that never in all his years of bullying and scoundrelism had
he cut quite so poor a figure in face of any man as last night in face
of Captain Nat. As to the gain, it promised to be large, and easy in the
getting; and for his sister, now that she could help no more,--she could
as readily be flung out of the business as Blind George. The opportunity
was undeniable. A better place for the purpose than the alley leading to
the head of Hole-in-the-Wall Stairs could never have been planned. Once
the house was shut, and the potman gone, no more was needed than to see
the next police patrol go by, and the thing was done. Here was the
proper accomplice too: a man known to Captain Nat, and one with whom he
would readily speak; and, in Ogle's eyes, the business was no more than
a common stroke of his trade, with an uncommon prospect of profit. As
for Viney, money was what he wanted, and here it could be made, as it
seemed, with no great risk. It was surer, far, than going direct to
Captain Nat and demanding the money under the old threat. That was a
little outworn, and, indeed, was not so substantial a bogey as it might
seem in the eyes of Captain Nat, for years remorseful, and now
apprehensive for his grandchild's sake; for the matter was old, and
evidence scarce, except Viney's own, which it would worse than
inconvenience him to give. So that a large demand might break down;
while here, as he was persuaded, was the certainty of a greater gain,
which was the main thing. And if any shadow of scruple against direct
and simple murder remained, it vanished in the reflection that not he,
but Ogle, would be the perpetrator, as well as the contriver. For
himself, he would but be opening an innocent conversation with Kemp. So
Viney told himself; and so desire and conscience are made to run
coupled, all the world over, and all time through.

All being appointed, the two men separated. They stood up, they looked
about them, over the Lea and over the ragged field; and they shook
hands.



CHAPTER XXIII

ON THE COP


It was morning still, as Viney went away over the Cop; and, when he had
vanished beyond the distant group of little houses, Dan Ogle turned and
crept lazily into his shelter: there to make what dinner he might from
the remnant of the food that Mag had brought him the evening before; and
to doze away the time on his bed of dusty sacks, till she should bring
more in the evening to come. He would have given much for a drink, for
since his retreat to Kemp's Wharf the lime had penetrated clothes and
skin and had invaded his very vitals. More particularly it had invaded
his throat; and the pint or so of beer that Mag brought in a bottle was
not enough to do more than aggravate the trouble. But no drink was
there, and no money to buy one; else he might well have ventured out to
a public-house, now that the police sought him no more. As for Grimes of
the wharf (who had been growing daily more impatient of Dan's stay), he
offered no better relief than a surly reference to the pump. So there
was nothing for it but to sit and swear; with the consolation that this
night should be his last at Kemp's Wharf.

Sunlight came with the afternoon, and speckled the sluggish Lea; then
the shadow of the river wall fell on the water and it was dull again;
and the sun itself grew duller, and lower, and larger, in the haze of
the town. If Dan Ogle had climbed the bank, and had looked across the
Cop now, he would have seen Blind George, stick in hand, feeling his way
painfully among hummocks and ditches in the distance. Dan, however, was
expecting nobody, and he no longer kept watch on all comers, so that
Blind George neared unnoted. He gained the lime-strewn road at last, and
walked with more confidence. Up and over the bank, and down on the side
next the river, he went so boldly that one at a distance would never
have guessed him blind; for on any plain road he had once traversed he
was never at fault; and he turned with such readiness at the proper
spot, and so easily picked his way to the shed, that Dan had scarce more
warning than could bring him as far as the door, where they met.

"Dan!" the blind man said; "Dan, old pal! It's you I can hear, I'll bet,
ain't it? Where are ye?" And he groped for a friendly grip.

Dan Ogle was taken by surprise, and a little puzzled. Still, he could do
no harm by hearing what Blind George had to say; so he answered: "All
right. What is it?"

Guided by the sound, Blind George straightway seized Dan's arm; for this
was his way of feeling a speaker's thoughts while he heard his words.
"He's gone," he said, "gone clean. Do you know where?"

Dan glared into the sightless eye and shook his captured arm roughly.
"Who?" he asked.

"Viney. Did you let him have the stuff?"

"What stuff? When?"

"What stuff? That's a rum thing to ask. Unless--O!" George dropped his
voice and put his face closer. "Anybody to hear?" he whispered.

"No."

"Then why ask what stuff? You didn't let him have it this morning, did
you?"

"Dunno what you mean. Never seen him this morning."

Blind George retracted his head with a jerk, and a strange look grew on
his face: a look of anger and suspicion; strange because the great
colourless eye had no part in it. "Dan," he said, slowly, "them ain't
the words of a pal--not of a faithful pal, they ain't. It's a damn lie!"

"Lie yourself!" retorted Dan, thrusting him away. "Let go my arm, go
on!"

"I knew he was coming," Blind George went on, "an' I follered up, an'
waited behind them houses other side the Cop. I want my whack, I do. I
heared him coming away, an' I called to him, but he scuttled off. I know
his step as well as what another man 'ud know his face. I'm a poor blind
bloke, but I ain't a fool. What's your game, telling me a lie like that?"

He was standing off from the door now, angry and nervously alert. Dan
growled, and then said: "You clear out of it. You come to me first from
Viney, didn't you? Very well, you're his pal in this. Go and talk to him
about it."

"I've been--that's where I've come from. I've been to his lodgings in
Chapman Street, an' he's gone. Said he'd got a berth aboard ship--a lie.
Took his bag an' cleared, soon as ever he could get back from here. He's
on for doing me out o' my whack, arter I put it all straight for
him--that's about it. You won't put me in the cart, Dan, arter all I
done! Where's he gone?"

"I dunno nothing about him, I tell you," Dan answered angrily. "You
sling your hook, or I'll make ye!"

"Dan," said the blind man, in a voice between appeal and threat; "Dan, I
didn't put you away, when I found you was here!"

"Put me away? You? You can go an' try it now, if you like. I ain't
wanted; they won't have me. An' if they would--how long 'ud you last,
next time you went into Blue Gate? Or even if you didn't go, eh? How
long would a man last, that had both his eyes to see with, eh?" And
indeed Blind George knew, as well as Dan himself, that London was
unhealthy for any traitor to the state and liberty of Blue Gate. "How
long would he last? You try it."

"Who wants to try it? I on'y want to know----"

"Shut your mouth, Blind George, an' get out o' this place!" Ogle cried,
fast losing patience, and making a quick step forward. "Go, or you'll be
lame as well as blind, if I get hold o' ye!"

Blind George backed involuntarily, but his blank face darkened and
twisted devilishly, and he gripped his stick like a cudgel. "Ah, I'm
blind, ain't I? Mighty bold with a blind man, ain't ye? If my eyes was
like yours, or you was blind as me, you'd----"

"Go!" roared Dan furiously, with two quick steps. "Go!"

The blind man backed as quickly, fiercely brandishing his stick. "I'll
go--just as far as suits me, Dan Ogle!" he cried. "I ain't goin' to be
done out o' what's mine! One of ye's got away, but I'll stick to the
other! Keep off! I'll stick to ye till--keep off!"

As Dan advanced, the stick, flourished at random, fell on his wrist with
a crack, and in a burst of rage he rushed at the blind man, and smote
him down with blow on blow. Blind George, beaten to a heap, but cowed
not at all, howled like a wild beast, and struck madly with his stick.
The stick reached its mark more than once, and goaded Ogle to a greater
fury. He punched and kicked at the plunging wretch at his feet: who,
desperate and unflinching, with his mouth spluttering blood and curses,
never ceased to strike back as best he might.

At the noise Grimes came hurrying from his office. For a moment he stood
astonished, and then he ran and caught Dan by the arm. "I won't have
it!" he cried. "If you want to fight you go somewhere else.
You--why--why, damme, the man's blind!"

Favoured by the interruption, Blind George crawled a little off,
smearing his hand through the blood on his face, breathless and
battered, but facing his enemy still, with unabashed malevolence. For a
moment Ogle turned angrily on Grimes, but checked himself, and let fall
his hands. "Blind?" he snarled. "He'll be dead too, if he don't keep
that stick to hisself; that's what he'll be!"

The blind man got on his feet, and backed away, smearing the grisly face
as he went. "Ah! hold him back!" he cried, with a double mouthful of
oaths. "Hold him hack for his own sake! I ain't done with you, Dan Ogle,
not yet! Fight? Ah, I'll fight you--an' fight you level! I mean it! I
do! I'll fight you level afore I've done with you! Dead I'll be, will I?
Not afore you, an' not afore I've paid you!" So he passed over the bank,
threatening fiercely.

"Look here," said Grimes to Ogle, "this ends this business. I've had
enough o' you. You find some other lodgings."

"All right," Ogle growled. "I'm going: after to-night."

"I dunno why I was fool enough to let you come," Grimes pursued. "An'
when I did, I never said your pals was to come too. I remember that
blind chap now; I see him in Blue Gate, an' I don't think much of him.
An' there was another chap this morning. Up to no good, none of ye; an'
like as not to lose me my job. So I'll find another use for that shed,
see?"

"All right," the other sulkily repeated. "I tell ye I'm going: after
to-night."



CHAPTER XXIV

ON THE COP


Once he had cut clear from his lodgings without delay and trouble, Viney
fell into an insupportable nervous impatience, which grew with every
minute. His reasons for the day's postponement now seemed wholly
insufficient: it must have been, he debated with himself, that the first
shock of the suggestion had driven him to the nearest excuse to put the
job off, as it were a dose of bitter physic. But now that the thing was
resolved upon, and nothing remained to do in preparation, the suspense
of inactivity became intolerable, and grew to torment. It was no matter
of scruple or compunction; of that he never dreamed. But the enterprise
was dangerous and novel, and, as the vacant hours passed, he imagined
new perils and dreamed a dozen hangings. Till at last, as night came on,
he began to fear that his courage could not hold out the time; and,
since there was now no reason for delay, he ended with a resolve to get
the thing over and the money in his pockets that same night, if it were
possible. And with that view he set out for the Cop....

       *       *       *       *       *

Meantime no nervousness troubled his confederate; for him it was but a
good stroke of trade, with a turn of revenge in it; and the penniless
interval mattered nothing--could be slept off, in fact, more or less,
since there was nothing else to do.

The sun sank below London, and night came slow and black over the
marshes and the Cop. Grimes, rising from the doorstep of his office,
knocked the last ashes from his pipe and passed indoors. Dan Ogle,
sitting under the lee of his shed, found no comfort in his own empty
pipe, and no tobacco in his empty pocket. He rose, stretched his arms,
and looked across the Lea and the Cop. He could see little or nothing,
for the dark was closing on him fast. "Blind man's holiday," muttered
Dan Ogle; and he turned in for a nap on his bed of sacks.

A sulky red grew up into the darkening western sky, as though the
extinguished sun were singeing all the world's edge. So one saw London's
nimbus from this point every night, and saw below it the scattered
spangle of lights that were the suburban sentries of the myriads beyond.
The Cop and the marshes lay pitch-black, and nothing but the faint lap
of water hinted that a river divided them.

Here, where an hour's habit blotted the great hum of London from the
consciousness, sounds were few. The perseverance of the lapping water
forced a groan now and again from the moorings of an invisible barge
lying by the wharf; and as often a ghostly rustle rose on the wind from
an old willow on the farther bank. And presently, more distinct than
either, came a steady snore from the shed where Dan Ogle lay....

A rustle, that was not of any tree, began when the snore was at its
steadiest; a gentle rustle indeed, where something, some moving shadow
in the black about it, crept over the river wall. Clearer against a
faint patch, which had been white with lime in daylight, the figure grew
to that of a man; a man moving in that murky darkness with an amazing
facility, address, and quietness. Down toward the riverside he went, and
there stooping, dipped into the water some small coarse bag of cloth,
that hung in his hand. Then he rose, and, after a listening pause,
turned toward the shed whence came the snore.

With three steps and a pause, and three steps more, he neared the door:
the stick he carried silently skimming the ground before him, his face
turned upward, his single eye rolling blankly at the sky that was the
same for him at night or noon; and the dripping cloth he carried
diffused a pungent smell, as of wetted quick-lime. So, creeping and
listening, he reached the door. Within, the snore was regular and deep.

Nothing held the door but a latch, such as is lifted by a finger thrust
through a hole. He listened for a moment with his ear at this hole, and
then, with infinite precaution, inserted his finger, and lifted the
latch....

       *       *       *       *       *

Up by the George Tavern, beyond Stepney, Henry Viney was hastening along
the Commercial Road to call Dan Ogle to immediate business. Ahead of him
by a good distance, Musky Mag hurried in the same direction, bearing
food in a saucer and handkerchief, and beer in a bottle. But hurry as
they might, here was a visitor well ahead of both....

       *       *       *       *       *

The door opened with something of a jar, and with that there was a
little choke in the snore, and a moment's silence. Then the snore began
again, deep as before. Down on his knees went Dan Ogle's visitor, and so
crawled into the deep of the shed.

He had been gone no more than a few seconds, when the snore stopped. It
stopped with a thump and a gasp, and a sudden buffeting of legs and
arms; and in the midst arose a cry: a cry of so hideous an agony that
Grimes the wharf-keeper, snug in his first sleep fifty yards away,
sprang erect and staring in bed, and so sat motionless for half a minute
ere he remembered his legs, and thrust them out to carry him to the
window. And the dog on the wharf leapt the length of its chain,
answering the cry with a torrent of wild barks.

Floundering and tumbling against the frail boards of the shed, the two
men came out at the door in a struggling knot: Ogle wrestling and
striking at random, while the other, cunning with a life's blindness,
kept his own head safe, and hung as a dog hangs to a bull. His hands
gripped his victim by ear and hair, while the thumbs still drove at the
eyes the mess of smoking lime that clung and dripped about Ogle's head.
It trickled burning through his hair, and it blistered lips and tongue,
as he yelled and yelled again in the extremity of his anguish. Over they
rolled before the doorway; and Ogle, snatching now at last instead of
striking, tore away the hands from his face.

"Fight you level, Dan Ogle, fight you level now!" Blind George gasped
between quick breaths. "Hit me now you're blind as me! Hit me! Knock me
down! Eh?"

Quickly he climbed to his feet, and aimed a parting blow with the stick
that hung from his wrist. "Dead?" he whispered hoarsely. "Not afore I've
paid you! No!"

He might have stayed to strike again, but his own hands were blistered
in the struggle, and he hastened off toward the bank, there to wash them
clear of the slaking lime. Away on the wharf the dog was yelping and
choking on its chain like a mad thing.

Screaming still, with a growing hoarseness, and writhing where he lay,
the blinded wretch scratched helplessly at the reeking lime that
scorched his skin and seared his eyes almost to the brain. Grimes came
running in shirt and trousers, and, as soon as he could find how matters
stood, turned and ran again for oil. "Good God!" he said. "Lime in his
eyes! Slaking lime! Why--why--it must be the blind chap! It must! Fight
him level, he said--an' he's blinded him!..." 

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a group of people staring at the patients' door of the
Accident Hospital when Viney reached the spot. He was busy enough with
his own thoughts, but he stopped, and stared also, involuntarily. The
door was an uninteresting object, however, after all, and he turned: to
find himself face to face with one he well remembered. It was the limy
man he had followed from Blue Gate to the Hole in the Wall, and then
lost sight of.

Grimes recognised Viney at once as Ogle's visitor of the morning.
"That's a pal o' yourn just gone in there," he said.

Viney was taken aback. "A pal?" he asked. "What pal?"

"Ogle--Dan Ogle. He's got lime in his eyes, an' blinded."

"Lime? Blinded? How?"

"I ain't goin' to say nothing about how--I dunno, an' 'tain't my
business. He's got it, anyhow. There's a woman in there along of
him--his wife, I b'lieve, or something. You can talk to her about it, if
you like, when she comes out. I've got nothing to do with it."

Grimes had all the reluctance of his class to be "mixed up" in any
matter likely to involve trouble at a police-court; and what was more,
he saw himself possibly compromised in the matter of Ogle's stay at the
Wharf. But Viney was so visibly concerned by the news that soon the
wharf-keeper relented a little--thinking him maybe no such bad fellow
after all, since he was so anxious about his friend. "I've heard said,"
he added presently in a lower tone, "I've heard said it was a blind chap
done it out o' spite; but of course I dunno; not to say myself; on'y
what I heard, you see. I don't think they'll let you in; but you might
see the woman. They won't let her stop long, 'specially takin' on as she
was."

Indeed it was not long ere Musky Mag emerged, reluctant and pallid,
trembling at the mouth, staring but seeing nothing. Grimes took her by
the arm and led her aside, with Viney. "Here's a friend o' Dan's,"
Grimes said, not unkindly, giving the woman a shake of the arm. "He
wants to know how he's gettin' on."

"What's 'nucleate?" she asked hoarsely, with a dull look in Viney's
face. "What's 'nucleate? I heard a doctor say to let 'im rest to-night
an' 'nucleate in the mornin'. What's 'nucleate?"

"Some sort o' operation," Grimes hazarded. "Did they say anything else?"

"Blinded," the woman answered weakly. "Blinded. But the pain's eased
with the oil."

"What did he say?" interposed Viney, fullest of his own concerns. "Did
he say someone did it?"

"He told me about it--whispered. But I shan't say nothing; nor him, not
till he comes out."

"I say--he mustn't get talkin' about it," Viney said, anxiously.
"It--it'll upset things. Tell him when you see him. Here, listen." He
took her aside out of Grimes's hearing. "It wouldn't do," he said, "it
wouldn't do to have anybody charged or anything just now. We've got
something big to pull off. I say--I ought to see him, you know. Can't I
see him? But there--someone might know me. No. But you must tell him. He
mustn't go informing, or anything like that, not yet. Tell him, won't
you?"

"Chargin'? Infornin'?" Mag answered, with contempt in her shaking voice.
"'Course 'e wouldn't go informin', not Dan. Dan ain't that sort--'e
looks arter hisself, 'e does; 'e don't go chargin' people. Not if 'e was
dyin'."

Indeed Viney did not sufficiently understand the morals of Blue Gate:
where to call in the aid of the common enemy, the police, was a foul
trick to which none would stoop. In Blue Gate a man inflicted his own
punishments, and to ask aid of the police was worse than mean and
scandalous: it was weak; and that in a place where the weak "did not
last," as the phrase went. It was the one restraint, the sole virtue of
the place, enduring to death; and like some other virtues, in some other
places, it had its admixture of necessity; for everybody was "wanted" in
turn, and to call for the help of a policeman who might, as likely as
not, begin by seizing oneself by the collar, would even have been poor
policy: bad equally for the individual and for the community. So that to
resort to the law's help in any form was classed with "narking" as the
unpardonable sin.

"You're sure o' that, are you?" asked Viney, apprehensively.

"Sure? 'Course I'm sure. Dunno what sort o' chap you take 'im for.
_'E's_ no nark. An' besides--'e can't. There's other things, an'----"

She turned away with a sigh that was near a sob, and her momentary
indignation lapsed once more into anxious grief.

Viney went off with his head confused and his plans in the melting-pot.
Ogle's scheme was gone by the board, and alone he could scarce trust
himself in any enterprise so desperate. What should he do now? Make what
terms he might with Captain Nat? Need was pressing; but he must think.



CHAPTER XXV

STEPHEN'S TALE


I have said something of the change in my grandfather's habits after the
news of the loss of the _Juno_ and my father's death; something but not
all. Not only was he abstracted in manner and aged in look, but he grew
listless in matters of daily life, and even doubtful and infirm of
purpose: an amazing thing in him, whose decision of character had made
his a corner of the world in which his will was instant law. And with
it, and through it all, I could feel that I was the cause. "It ain't the
place for you, Stevy, never the place for you," he would say, wistful
and moody; wholly disregarding my protests, which I doubt he even heard.
"I've put one thing right," he said once, thinking aloud, as I sat on
his knee; "but it ain't enough; it ain't enough." And I was sure that he
was thinking of the watches and spoons.

As to that matter, people with valuables had wholly ceased from coming
to the private compartment. But the pale man still sat in his corner,
and Joe the potman still supplied the drink he neglected. His uneasiness
grew less apparent in a day or so; but he remained puzzled and curious,
though no doubt well enough content with this, the most patent example
of Grandfather Nat's irresolution.

As for Mr. Cripps, that deliberate artist's whole practice of life was
disorganised by Captain Nat's indifference, and he was driven to depend
for the barest necessaries on the casual generosity of the bar. In
particular he became the client of the unsober sailor I have spoken of
already: the disciplinarian, who had roared confirmation of my
grandfather's orders when the man of the silver spoons got his
dismissal. This sailor was old in the ways of Wapping, as in the
practice of soaking, it would seem, and he gave himself over to no
crimp. Being ashore, with money to spend, he preferred to come alone to
the bar of The Hole in the Wall, and spend it on himself, getting full
measure for every penny. Beyond his talent of ceaselessly absorbing
liquor without becoming wholly drunk, and a shrewd eye for his correct
change, he exhibited the single personal characteristic of a very
demonstrative respect for Captain Nat Kemp. He would confirm my
grandfather's slightest order with shouts and threats, which as often as
not were only to be quelled by a shout or a threat from my grandfather
himself, a thing of instant effect, however. "Ay, ay, sir!" the man
would answer, and humbly return to his pot. "Cap'en's orders" he would
sometimes add, with a wink and a hoarse whisper to a chance neighbour.
"Always 'bey cap'en's orders. Knowed 'em both, father _an'_ son."

So that Mr. Cripps's ready acquiescence in whatever was said loudly, and
in particular his own habit of blandiloquence, led to a sort of
agreement between the two, and an occasional drink at the sailor's
expense.

But, meantime, his chief patron was grown so abstracted from
considerations of the necessities of genius, so impervious to hints, so
deaf to all suggestion of grant-in-aid, that Mr. Cripps was driven to a
desperate and dramatic stroke. One morning he appeared in the bar
carrying the board for the sign; no tale of a board, no description or
account of a board, no estimate or admeasurement of a board; but the
actual, solid, material board itself.

By what expedient he had acquired it did not fully appear, and, indeed,
with him, cash and credit were about equally scarce. But upon one thing
he most vehemently insisted: that he dared not return home without the
money to pay for it. The ravening creditor would be lying in wait at the
corner of his street.

Mr. Cripps's device for breaking through Captain Nat's abstraction
succeeded beyond all calculation. For my grandfather laid hands on Mr.
Cripps and the board together, and hauled both straightway into the
skippers' parlour at the back.

"There's the board," he said with decision, "an' there's you. Where's
the paints an' brushes?"

Mr. Cripps's stock of paints was low, it seemed, or exhausted. His
brushes were at home and--his creditor was at the corner of the street.

"If I could take the proceeds"--Mr. Cripps began; but Grandfather Nat
interrupted. "Here's you, an' here's the board, an' we'll soon get the
tools: I'll send for 'em or buy new. Here, Joe! Joe'll get 'em. You say
what you want, an' he'll fetch 'em. Here you are, an' here you stick,
an' do my signboard!"

Mr. Cripps dared not struggle for his liberty, and indeed a promise of
his meals at the proper hours reconciled him to my grandfather's
defiance of Magna Charta. So the skipper's parlour became his studio;
and there he was left in company with his materials, a pot of beer, and
a screw of tobacco. I much desired to see the painting, but it was ruled
that Mr. Cripps must not be disturbed. I think I must have restrained my
curiosity for an hour at least, ere I ventured on tip-toe to peep
through a little window used for the passing in and out of drinks and
empty glasses. Here my view was somewhat obstructed by Mr. Cripps's pot,
which, being empty, he had placed upside down in the opening, as a
polite intimation to whomsoever it might concern; but I could see that
Mr. Cripps's labours having proceeded so far as the selection of a
convenient chair, he was now taking relaxation in profound slumber. So I
went away and said nothing.

When at last he was disturbed by the arrival of his dinner, Mr. Cripps
regained consciousness with a sudden bounce that almost deposited him on
the floor.

"Conception," he gasped, rubbing his eyes, "conception, an' meditation,
an' invention, is what you want in a job like this!"

"Ah," replied my grandfather grimly, "that's all, is it? Then common
things like dinner don't matter. Perhaps Joe'd better take it away?"

But it seemed that Mr. Cripps wanted his dinner too. He had it; but
Grandfather Nat made it clear that he should consider meditation wholly
inconsistent with tea. So that, in course of the afternoon, Mr. Cripps
was fain to paint the board white, and so earn a liberal interval of
rest, while it dried. And at night he went away home without the price
of the board, but, instead, a note to the effect that the amount was
payable on application to Captain Kemp at the Hole in the Wall, Wapping.
This note was the production, after three successive failures, of my own
pen, and to me a matter of great pride and delight; so that I was sadly
disappointed to observe that Mr. Cripps received it with emotions of a
wholly different character.

Next morning Mr. Cripps returned to durance with another pot and another
screw of tobacco. Grandfather Nat had business in the Minories in the
matter of a distiller's account; and for this reason divers injunctions,
stipulations, and warnings were entered into and laid upon Mr. Cripps
before his departure. As for instance:--

It was agreed that Mr. Cripps should remain in the skipper's parlour.

Also (after some trouble) that no exception should be made to the
foregoing stipulation, even in the event of Mr. Cripps feeling it
necessary to go out somewhere to study a brick wall (or the hole in it)
from nature.

Nor even if he felt overcome by the smell of paint.

Agreed, however: that an exception be granted in the event of the house
being on fire.

Further: this with more trouble: that one pot of beer before dinner is
enough for any man seriously bent on the pursuit of art.

Moreover: that the board must not be painted white again.

Lastly: that the period of invention and meditation be considered at an
end; and that sleep on Mr. Cripps's part be regarded as an
acknowledgment that meals are over for the day.

These articles being at length agreed and confirmed, and Mr. Cripps
having been duly witnessed to make certain marks with charcoal on the
white board, as a guarantee of good faith, Grandfather Nat and I set out
for the Minories.

His moodiness notwithstanding, it was part of his new habit to keep me
near him as much as possible, day and night, with a sort of wistful
jealousy. So we walked hand in hand over the swing bridge, past Paddy's
Goose, into the Highway, and on through that same pageant of romance and
squalor. The tradesmen at their doors saluted Grandfather Nat with a
subdued regard, as I had observed most people to do since the news of
_Juno's_ wreck. Indeed that disaster was very freely spoken of, all
along the waterside, as a deliberate scuttling, and it was felt that
Captain Nat could lay his bereavement to something worse than the fair
chance of the seas. Such things were a part of the daily talk by the
Docks, and here all the familiar features were present; while it was
especially noted that nothing had been seen of Viney since the news
came. He meant to lie safe, said the gossips; since, as a bankrupt, he
stood to gain nothing by the insurance.

One tradesman alone, a publican just beyond Blue Gate, greeted my
grandfather noisily, but he was thoughtless with the pride of commercial
achievement. For he was enlarging his bar, a large one already, by the
demolition of the adjoining shop, and he was anxious to exhibit and
explain his designs.

"Why, good mornin', Cap'en," cried the publican, from amid scaffold
poles and brick-dust. "You're a stranger lately. See what I'm doin'?
Here: come in here an' look. How's this, eh? Another pair o' doors just
over there, an' the bar brought round like so, an' that for Bottle an'
Jug, and throw the rest into Public Bar. Eh?"

The party wall had already been removed, and the structure above rested
on baulks and beams. The bar was screened off now from the place of its
enlargement by nothing but canvas and tarpaulin, and my grandfather and
his acquaintance stood with their backs to this, to survey the work of
the builders.

Waiting by my grandfather's side while he talked, I was soon aware that
business was brisk in the bar beyond the canvas; and I listened idly to
the hum of custom and debate. Suddenly I grew aware of a voice I
knew--an acrid voice just within the canvas.

"Then if you're useless, I ain't," said the voice, "an' I shan't let it
drop." And indeed it was Mrs. Grimes who spoke.

I looked up quickly at Grandfather Nat, but he was interested in his
discussion, and plainly had not heard. Mrs. Grimes's declaration drew a
growling answer in a man's voice, wholly indistinct; and I found a patch
in the canvas, with a loose corner, which afforded a peep-hole.

Mrs. Grimes was nearest, with her back to the canvas, so that her skirts
threatened to close my view. Opposite her were two persons, in the
nearest of whom I was surprised to recognise the coarse-faced woman I
had seen twice before: once when she came asking confused questions to
Grandfather Nat about the man who sold a watch, and once when she
fainted at the inquest, and Mrs. Grimes was too respectable to stay near
her. The woman looked sorrowful and drawn about the eyes and cheeks, and
she held to the arm of a tall, raw-boned man. His face was seamed with
ragged and blistered skin, and he wore a shade over the hollows where
now, peeping upward, I could see no eyes, but shut and sunken lids; so
that at first it was hard to recognise the fellow who had been talking
to this same coarse-faced woman by Blue Gate, when she left him to ask
those questions of my grandfather; and indeed I should never have
remembered him but that the woman brought him to my mind.

It was this man whose growling answer I had heard. Now Mrs. Grimes spoke
again. "All my fault from the beginning?" she said. "O yes, I like that:
because I wanted to keep myself respectable! My fault or not, I shan't
wait any longer for you. If I ain't to have it, you shan't. An' if I
can't get the money I can get something else."

The man growled again and swore, and beat his stick impotently on the
floor. "You're a fool," he said. "Can't you wait till I'm a bit
straight? You an' your revenge! Pah! When there's money to be had!"

"Not much to be had your way, it seems, the mess you've made of it; an'
precious likely to do any better now, ain't you? An' as to money--well
there's rewards given----"

Grandfather Nat's hand fell on my cap, and startled me. He had
congratulated his friend, approved his plans, made a few suggestions,
and now was ready to resume the walk. He talked still as he took my
hand, and stood thus for a few minutes by the door, exchanging views
with the publican on the weather, the last ships in, and the state of
trade. I heard one more growl, louder and angrier than the others, from
beyond the screen, and a sharper answer, and then there was a movement
and the slam of a door; and I got over the step, and stretched my
grandfather's arm and my own to see Mrs. Grimes go walking up the
street.

When we were free of the publican, I told Grandfather Nat that I had
seen Mrs. Grimes in the bar. He made so indifferent a reply that I said
nothing of the conversation I had overheard; for indeed I knew nothing
of its significance. And so we went about our business.



CHAPTER XXVI

STEPHEN'S TALE


On our way home we were brought to a stand at the swing bridge, which
lay open to let through a ship. We were too late for the perilous lock;
for already the capstans were going, and the ship's fenders were
squeaking and groaning against the masonry. So we stood and waited till
fore, main, and mizzen had crawled by; and then I was surprised to
observe, foremost and most impatient among the passengers on the
opposite side, Mr. Cripps.

The winches turned, and the bridge swung; and my surprise grew, when I
perceived that Mr. Cripps made no effort to avoid Grandfather Nat, but
hurried forward to meet him.

"Well," said my grandfather gruffly, "house on fire?"

"No, sir--no. But I thought----"

"Sign done?"

"No, Cap'en, not done exactly. But I just got curious noos, an' so I
come to meet you."

"What's the news?"

"Not p'raps exactly as you might say noos, sir, but
information--information that's been transpired to me this mornin'. More
or less unique information, so to say,--uncommon unique; much uniquer
than usual."

With these repetitions Mr. Cripps looked hard in my grandfather's eyes,
as one does who wishes to break news, or lead up to a painful subject.
"What's it all about?" asked Grandfather Nat.

"The _Juno_."

"Well?"

"She _was_ scuttled wilful, Cap'en Kemp, scuttled wilful by Beecher.
It's more'n rumour or scandal: it's plain evidence."

My grandfather looked fixedly at Mr. Cripps. "What's the plain
evidence?" he asked.

"That chap that's been so much in the bar lately," Mr. Cripps answered,
his eyes wide with the importance of his discovery. "The chap that soaks
so heavy, an' shouts at any one you order out. He was aboard the _Juno_
on the voyage out, an' he deserted at Monte Video to a homeward bound
ship."

"Then he doesn't know about the wreck." I thought my grandfather made
this objection almost eagerly.

"No, Cap'en; but he deserted 'cos he said he preferred bein' on a ship
as was meant to come back, an' one as had some grub aboard--him an'
others. Beecher tried to pile 'em up time an' again; an' says the
chap--Conolly's his name--says he, anything as went wrong aboard the
_Juno_ was Beecher's doin'; which was prophesied in the fo'c'sle a score
o' times 'fore she got to Monte Video. An'--an' Conolly said more." Mr.
Cripps stole another sidelong glance at Grandfather Nat. "Confidential
to me this mornin', Conolly said more."

"What?"

"He said it was the first officer, your son, Cap'en, as prevented the
ship bein' piled up on the voyage out, an' all but knocked Beecher down
once. An' he said they was near fightin' half the time he was with 'em,
an' he said--surprisin' solemn too--solemn as a man could as was half
drunk--that after what he'd seen an' heard, anything as happened to the
first mate was no accident, or anything like it. That's what he said,
cap'en, confidential to me this mornin'."

We were walking along together now; and Mr. Cripps seemed puzzled that
his information produced no more startling effect on my grandfather. The
old man's face was pale and hard, but there was no sign of surprise;
which was natural, seeing that this was no news, as Mr. Cripps supposed,
but merely confirmation.

"He said there was never any skipper so partic'ler about the boats an'
davits bein' kep' in order as Beecher was that trip," Mr. Cripps
proceeded. "An' he kep' his own life-belt wonderful handy. As for the
crew, they kep' their kit-bags packed all the time; they could see
enough for that. An' he said there was some as could say more'n he
could."

We came in view of the Hole in the Wall, and Mr. Cripps stopped short.
"He don't know I'm tellin' you this," he said. "He came in the skipper's
room with a drink, an' got talkin' confidential. He's very close about
it. You know what sailors are."

Grandfather Nat frowned, and nodded. Indeed nobody knew better the
common sailor-man's horror of complications and "land-shark" troubles
ashore: of anything that might lead to his being asked for responsible
evidence, even for his own protection. It gave impunity to
three-quarters of the iniquity practised on the high seas.

"An' then o' course he's a deserter," Mr. Cripps proceeded. "So I don't
think you'd better say I told you, cap'en--not to him. You can give
information--or I can--an' then they'll make him talk, at the Old
Bailey; an' they'll bring others."

Grandfather Nat winced, and turned away. Then he stopped again and said
angrily: "Damn you, don't meddle! Keep your mouth shut, an' don't
meddle."

Mr. Cripps's jaw dropped, and his very nose paled. "But--but----" he
stammered, "but, Cap'en, it's murder! Murder agin Beecher an' Viney too!
You'll do something, when it's your own son! Your own son. An' it's
murder, Cap'en!"

My grandfather went two steps on his way, with a stifled groan.
"Murder!" he muttered, "murder it is, by the law of England!"

Mr. Cripps came at his heels, very blank in the face. Suddenly my
grandfather turned on him again, pale and fierce. "Shut your mouth, d'ye
hear? Stow your slack jaw, an' mind your own business, or I'll----"

Grandfather Nat lifted his hand; and I believe nothing but a paralysis
of terror kept Mr. Cripps from a bolt. Several people stopped to stare,
and the old man saw it. So he checked his wrath and walked on.

"I'll see that man," he said presently, flinging the words at Mr. Cripps
over his shoulder. And so we reached the Hole in the Wall.

Mr. Cripps sat speechless in the bar and trembled, while Grandfather Nat
remained for an hour in the skipper's parlour with Conolly the
half-drunken. What they said one to another I never learned, nor even if
my grandfather persuaded the man to tell him anything; though there can
be no doubt he did.

For myself, I moved uneasily about the bar-parlour, and presently I
slipped out into the alley to gaze at the river from the stair-head. I
was troubled vaguely, as a child often is who strives to analyse the
behaviour of his elders. I stared some while at the barges and the tugs,
and at Bill Stagg's boat with its cage of fire, as it went in and about
among the shipping; I looked at the bills on the wall, where new tales
of men and women Found Drowned displaced those of a week ago; and I fell
again into the wonderment and conjecture they always prompted; and last
I turned up the alley, though whether to look out on the street or to
stop at the bar-parlour door, I had not determined.

As I went, I grew aware of a tall, florid man with thick boots and very
large whiskers, who stood at the entry, and regarded me with a wide and
ingratiating smile. I had some cloudy remembrance of having seen him
before, walking in the street of Wapping Wall; and, as he seemed to be
coming to meet me, I went on past the bar-parlour door to meet him.

"Ah!" he said with a slight glance toward the door, "you're a smart
fellow, I can see." And he patted my head and stooped. "Now I've got
something to show you. See there!"

He pulled a watch from his pocket and opened it. I was much interested
to see that the inward part swung clear out from the case, on a hinge,
exactly as I had seen happen with another watch on my first evening at
the Hole in the Wall. "That's a rum trick, ain't it?" observed the
stranger, smiling wider than ever.

I assented, and thanked him for the demonstration.

"Ah," he replied, "you're as clever a lad as ever I see; but I lay you
never see a watch like that before?"

"Yes, I did," I answered heartily. "I saw one once."

"No, no," said the florid man, still toying with the watch, "I don't
believe that--it's your gammon. Why, where did you see one?"

He shot another stealthy glance toward the bar-parlour door as he said
it, and the glance was so unlike the smile that my sleeping caution was
alarmed. I remembered how my grandfather had come by the watch with the
M on the back; and I remember his repeated warnings that I must not
talk.

"----Why, where did you see one?" asked the stranger.

"In a man's hand," I said, with stolid truth.

He looked at me so sharply through his grin that I had an uncomfortable
feeling that I had somehow let out the secret after all. But I resolved
to hold on tight.

"Ha! ha!" he laughed, "in a man's hand, of course! I knew you was a
smart one. Mine hasn't got any letter on the back, you see."

"No," I answered with elaborate indifference; "no letter." And as I
spoke I found more matter of surprise. For if I had eyes in my head--and
indeed I had sharp ones--there was Mrs. Grimes in a dark entry across
the street, watching this grinning questioner and me.

"Some have letters on the back," said the questioner. "Mine ain't that
sort. What sort----"

Here Joe the potman dropped, or knocked over, something in the
bar-parlour; and the stranger started.

"I think I'm wanted indoors," I said, moving off, glad of the
interruption. "Good-bye!"

The florid stranger rose and walked off at once, with a parting smile.
He turned at the corner, and went straight away, without so much as a
look toward the entry where Mrs. Grimes was. I fancied he walked rather
like a policeman.



CHAPTER XXVII

IN THE BAR-PARLOUR


Dan Ogle, blinded and broken, but silent and saving his revenge: Musky
Mag, stricken and pitiable, but faithful even if to death: Henry Viney,
desperate but fearful, and urgently needy: these three skulked at bay in
dark holes by Blue Gate.

Sullen and silent to doggedness, Ogle would give no word to the hospital
doctors of how his injury had befallen; and in three days he would brook
confinement no longer, but rose and broke away, defiant of persuasion,
to grope into the outer world by aid of Mag's arm. Blind George was
about still, but had scarcely been near the Highway except at night,
when, as he had been wont to boast, he was as good as most men with
sound eyes. It was thought that he spent his days over the water, as
would be the way of one feeling the need of temporary caution. It did
not matter: that could rest a bit. Blind George should be paid, and paid
bitter measure; but first the job in hand, first the scheme he had
interrupted; first the money.

Here were doubt and difficulty. Dan Ogle's plan of murder and
comprehensive pillage was gone by the board; he was next to helpless. It
was plain that, whatever plan was followed, Viney must bear the active
part; Dan Ogle raved and cursed to find his partner so unpractised a
ruffian, so cautious and doubtful a confederate.

Mrs. Grimes made the matter harder, and it was plain that the thing must
be either brought to a head or wholly abandoned, if only on her account.
For she had her own idea, with her certain revenge on Captain Nat, and a
contingent reward; furthermore, she saw her brother useless. And things
were brought to a head when she would wait no more, but carried her
intrigue to the police.

Nothing but a sudden move would do now, desperate as it might be; and
the fact screwed Viney to the sticking-place, and gave new vigour to
Ogle's shaken frame. After all, the delay had not been great--no more
than a few days. Captain Nat suspected nothing, and the chances lay that
the notes were still in hand, as they had been when Ogle's sister last
saw them; for he could afford to hold them, and dispose of them at a
later and safer time. The one danger was from this manoeuvre of Mrs.
Grimes: if the police thought well enough of her tale to act without
preliminary inquiry, they might be at the Hole in the Wall with a
search-warrant at any moment. The thing must be done at once--that very
night.

Musky Mag had never left Dan's side a moment since she had brought him
from the hospital; now she was thrust aside, and bidden to keep to
herself. Viney took to pen, ink and paper; and the two men waited
impatiently for midnight.

It was then that Viney, with Ogle at his elbow, awaited the closing of
the Hole in the Wall, hidden in the dark entry, whence Mrs. Grimes had
watched the plain-clothes policeman fishing for information a few hours
earlier. The customers grew noisier as the hour neared; and Captain
Nat's voice was heard enjoining order once or twice, ere at last it was
raised to clear the bar. Then the company came out, straggling and
staggering, wrangling and singing, and melted away into the dark, this
way and that. Mr. Cripps went east, the pale pensioner west, each like a
man who has all night to get home in; and the potman, having fastened
the shutters, took his coat and hat, and went his way also.

There was but one other tavern in sight, and that closed at the same
time as the Hole in the Wall; and since none nearer than Paddy's Goose
remained open till one, Wapping Wall was soon dark and empty. There were
diamond-shaped holes near the top of the shutters at the Hole in the
Wall, and light was visible through these: a sign that Captain Nat was
still engaged in the bar. Presently the light dulled, and then
disappeared: he had extinguished the lamps. Now was the time--while he
was in the bar-parlour. Viney came out from the entry, pulling Ogle by
the arm, and crossed the street. He brought him to the court entrance,
and placed his hand on the end post.

"This is the first post in the court," Viney whispered. "Wait here while
I go. We both know what's to do."

Viney tip-toed to the bar-parlour door, and tapped. There was a heavy
footstep within, and the door was flung open. There stood Captain Nat
with the table-lamp in his hand. "Who's that?" said Captain Nat. "Come
into the light."

Viney took a deep breath. "Me," he answered. "I'll come in; I've got
something to say."

He went in side-foremost, with his back against the door-post, and
Captain Nat turned slowly, each man watching the other. Then the
landlord put the lamp on the table, and shut the door. "Well," he said,
"I'll hear you say it."

There was something odd about Captain Nat's eyes: something new, and
something that Viney did not like. Hard and quiet; not anger, it would
seem, but some-thing indefinable--and worse. Viney braced himself with
another inspiration of breath.

"First," he said, "I'm alone here, but I've left word. There's a friend
o' mine not far off, waiting. He's waiting where he can hear the clock
strike on Shadwell Church, just as you can hear it here; an' if I'm not
back with him, safe an' sound, when it strikes one, he's going to the
police with some papers I've given him, in an envelope."

"Ah! An' what papers?"

"Papers I've written myself. Papers with a sort of private log in
them--not much like the one they showed 'em at Lloyd's--of the loss of
the _Florence_ years enough ago, when a man named Dan Webb was killed.
Papers with the names of most of the men aboard, an' hints as to where
to find some of 'em: Bill Stagg, for instance, A. B. They may not want
to talk, but they can be made."

Captain Nat's fixed look was oddly impassive. "Have you got it on the
papers," he said, in a curiously even voice, as though he recited a
lesson learned by rote; "have you got it on the papers that Dan Webb had
got at the rum, an' was lost through bein' drunk?"

"No, I haven't; an' much good it 'ud do ye if I had. Drunk or sober he
died in that wreck, an' not a man aboard but knew all about that. I've
told you, before, what it is by law: Murder. Murder an' the Rope."

"Ay," said Captain Nat in the same even voice, though the tones grew in
significance as he went on. "Ay, you have; an' you made me pay for the
information. Murder it is, an' the Rope, by the law of England."

"Well, I want none of your money now; I want my own. I'll go back an'
burn those papers--or give 'em to you, if you like--an' you'll never see
me again, if you'll do one thing--not with your money."

"What?"

"Give me my partner's leather pocket-book and my eight hundred and ten
pounds that was in it. That's first an' last of my business here
to-night, an' all I've got to say."

For a moment Captain Nat's impassibility was disturbed, and he looked
sharply at Viney. "Ha!" he said, "what's this? Partner's pocket-book?
Notes? What?"

"I've said it plain, an' you understand me. Time's passing, Cap'en Kemp,
an' you'd better not waste it arguing; one o'clock'll strike before
long. The money I came an' spoke about when they found Marr in the
river; you had it all the time, an' you knew it. That's what I want:
nothing o' yours, but my own money. Give me my own money, an' save your
neck."

Captain Nat compressed his lips, and folded his arms. "There was a woman
knew about this," he said slowly, after a pause, "a woman an' a man.
They each took a try at that money, in different ways. They must be
friends o' yours."

"Time's going, Cap'en Kemp, time's going! Listen to reason, an' give me
what's my own. I want nothing o' yours; nothing but my own. To save you;
and--and that boy. You've got a boy to remember: think o' the boy!"

Captain Nat stood for a little, silent and thoughtful, his eyes directed
absently on Viney, as though he saw him not; and as he stood so the
darkness cleared from his face. Not that moment's darkness only, but all
the hardness of years seemed to abate in the old skipper's features, so
that presently Captain Nat stood transfigured.

"Ay," he said at last, "the boy--I'll think o' the boy, God bless him!
You shall have your money, Viney: though whether it ought to be yours I
don't know. Viney, when you came in I was ready to break you in pieces
with my bare hands--which I could do easy, as you know well enough." He
stretched forth the great knotted hands, and Viney shrank before them.
"I was ready to kill you with my hands, an' would ha' done it, for a
reason I'll tell you of, afterwards. But I've done evil enough, an' I'll
do no more. You shall have your money. Wait here, an' I'll fetch it."

"Now, no--no tricks, you know!" said Viney, a little nervously, as the
old man turned toward the staircase door.

"Tricks?" came the answer. "No. An end of all tricks." And Captain Nat
tramped heavily up the stair.



CHAPTER XXVIII

STEPHEN'S TALE


My grandfather was uncommonly silent all that day, after his interview
with Conolly. He bade me good night when I went to bed, and kissed me;
but he said no more, though he sat by my bed till I fell asleep, while
Joe attended the bar.

I had a way, now and again, of waking when the bar was closed--perhaps
because of the noise; and commonly at these times I lay awake till
Grandfather Nat came to bed, to bid him good night once more. It was so
this night, the night of nights. I woke at the shouting and the
stumbling into the street, and lay while the bar was cleared, and the
doors banged and fastened.

My grandfather seemed to stay uncommonly long; and presently, as the
night grew stiller, I was aware of voices joined in conversation below.
I wondered greatly who could be talking with Grandfather Nat at this
hour, and I got out of bed to listen at the stair-head. It could not be
Bill Stagg, for the voices were in the bar-parlour, and not in the
store-place behind; and it was not Joe the potman, for I had heard him
go, and I knew his step well. I wondered if Grandfather Nat would mind
if I went down to see.

I was doubtful, and I temporised; I began to put on some clothes,
listening from time to time at the stair-head, in hope that I might
recognise the other voice. But indeed both voices were indistinct, and I
could not distinguish one from the other. And then of a sudden the
stairfoot door opened, and my grandfather came upstairs, heavy and slow.

I doubted what he might say when he saw my clothes on, but he seemed not
to notice it. He brought a candle in from the landing, and he looked
strangely grave--grave with a curious composure. He went to the little
wall-cupboard at his bed-head, and took out the cash-box, which had not
been downstairs since the pale man had ceased work. "Stevy, my boy," he
said, "have you said your prayers?"

"Yes, grandfather."

"An' didn't forget Gran'father Nat?"

"No, grandfather, I never forget you."

"Good boy, Stevy." He took the leather pocket-book from the box, and
knelt by my side, with his arm about me. "Stevy," he said, "here's this
money. It ain't ours, Stevy, neither yours nor mine, an' we've no right
to it. I kept it for you, but I did wrong; an' worse, I was leadin' you
wrong. Will you give it up, Stevy?"

"Why, yes, grandfather." Truly that was an easy enough thing to say; and
in fact I was in some way pleased to know that my mother had been right,
after all.

"Right, Stevy; be an honest boy always, and an honest man--better than
me. Since I was a boy like you, I've gone a long way wrong, an' I've
been a bad man, Stevy, a bad man some ways, at least. An' now, Stevy,
I'm goin' away--for a bit. Presently, when I'm gone, you can go to the
stairs an' call Bill Stagg--he'll come at once. Call Bill Stagg--he'll
stay with you to-night. You don't mind Bill Stagg, do you?"

Bill Stagg was an excellent friend of mine, and I liked his company; but
I could not understand Grandfather Nat's going away. Where was he going,
and why, so late at night?

"Never mind that just now, Stevy. I'm going away--for a bit; an'
whatever happens you'll always say prayers night an' mornin' for
Gran'father Nat, won't you? An' be a good boy."

There was something piteous now in my grandfather's hard, grave face.
"Don't go, grandfather," I pleaded, with my arm at his neck, "don't go!
Grandfather Nat! You're not--not going to die, are you?"

"That's as God wills, my boy. We must all die some day."

I think he was near breaking down here; but at the moment a voice called
up the stairs.

"Are you coming?" said the voice. "Time's nearly up!" And it frightened
me more than I can say to know this second voice at last for Viney's.

But my grandfather was firm again at once. "Yes," he cried, "I'm
coming!... No more to do, Stevy--snivelling's no good." And then
Grandfather Nat put his hands clumsily together, and shut his eyes like
a little child. "God bless an' save this boy, whatever happens. Amen,"
said Grandfather Nat.

Then he rose and took from the cash-box the watch that the broken-nosed
man had sold. "There's that, too," he said musingly. "I dunno why I kep'
it so long." And with that he shut the cash-box, and strode across to
the landing. He looked back at me for a moment, but said nothing; and
then descended the stairs.

Bewildered and miserably frightened, I followed him.

I could neither reason nor cry out, and I had an agonised hope that I
was not really awake, and that this was just such a nightmare as had
afflicted me on the night of the murder at our door. I crouched on the
lower stairs, and listened....

"Yes, I've got it," said my grandfather, answering an eager question.
"There it is. Look at that--count the notes."

I heard a hasty scrabbling of paper.

"Right?" asked my grandfather.

"Quite right," Viney answered; and there was exultation in his voice.

"Pack 'em up--put 'em safe in your pocket. Quite safe? There's the
watch, too; I paid for that."

"Oh, the watch? Well, all right, I don't mind having that too, since
you're pressing.... You might ha' saved a deal of trouble, yours an'
mine too, if you'd done all this before."

"Yes, you're right; but I clear up all now. You've got the notes all
quite safe, have you?"

"All safe." There was the sound of a slap on a breast-pocket.

"And the watch?"

"Ay; and the watch."

"Good!..." 

I heard a bounce and a gasp of terror; and then my grandfather's voice
again. "Come! Come, Viney! We'll be quits to the end. We're bad men
both, an' we'll go to the police together. Bring your papers, Viney!
Tell 'em about the _Florence_ an' Dan Webb, an' I'll tell 'em about the
_Juno_ an' my boy! I've got my witnesses--an' I'll find more--a dozen to
your one! Come, Viney! I'll have justice done now, on both of us!"

I could stay no longer. Viney was struggling desperately, reasoning,
entreating. I pushed open the staircase door, but neither seemed to note
me. My grandfather had Viney by arm and collar, and was shaking him,
face downward.

"I'll go halves, Kemp--I'll go halves," Viney gasped hoarsely. "Divide
how you like--but don't, don't be a fool! Take five hundred! Think o'
the boy!"

"I've thought of the boy, an' I've thought of his father! God'll mind
the boy you've made an orphan! Come!"

My grandfather flung wide the door, and tumbled Viney up the steps into
the court. The little table with the lamp on it rocked from a kick, and
I saved it by sheer instinct, for I was sick with terror.

I followed into the court, and saw my grandfather now nearly at the
street corner, hustling and dragging his prisoner. "Dan! Dan!" Viney was
crying, struggling wildly. "Dan! I've got it! Draw him off me, Dan! Go
for the kid an' draw him off! Go for the kid on the stairs!"

And I could see a man come groping between the wall and the posts, a
hand feeling from one post to the next, and the stick in the other hand
scraping the wall. I ran out to the farther side of the alley.

Viney's shout distracted my grandfather's attention, and I saw him
looking anxiously back. With that Viney took his chance, and flung
himself desperately round the end post. His collar went with a rip, and
he ran. For a moment my grandfather stood irresolute, and I ran toward
him. "I am safe here," I cried. "Come away, grandfather!"

But when he saw me clear of the groping man, he turned and dashed after
Viney; while from the bar-parlour I heard a curse and a crash of broken
glass. I vaguely wondered if Viney's confederate were smashing windows
in the partition; and then I ran my hardest after Grandfather Nat.

Viney had made up the street toward the bridge and Ratcliff Highway, and
Captain Nat pursued with shouts of "Stop him!" Breathless and unsteady,
I made slow progress with my smaller legs over the rough cobble-stones,
which twisted my feet all ways as I ran. But I was conscious of a
gathering of other cries ahead, and I struggled on, with throbbing head
and bursting heart. Plainly there were more shouts as I neared the
corner, and a running of more men than two. And when the corner was
turned, and the bridge and the lock before me, I saw that the chase was
over.

Three bull's-eye lanterns were flashing to and fro, pointing their long
rays down on the black dock-water, and the policemen who directed them
were calling to dockmen on the dark quay, who cried back, and ran, and
called again.

"Man in!" cried one and another, hurrying in from the Highway. "Fell off
the lock." "No, he cut his lucky, an' headered in!" "He didn't, I tell
ye!" "Yes, he did! Why, I see 'im!"

I could not see my grandfather; and for a moment my thumping heart stood
still and sick with the fear that it was he who was drowning in the
dock. Then a policeman swung his lantern across to the opposite side,
and in the passing flash Grandfather Nat's figure stood hard and clear
for an instant and no more. He was standing midway on the lock, staring
and panting, and leaning on a stanchion.

With a dozen risks of being knocked into the dock by excited onlookers,
I scrambled down to the lock and seized the first stanchion. It creaked
and tottered in my hand, but I went forward, gripping at the swaying
chain and keeping foothold on the slippery, uneven timbers I knew not
how. Sometimes the sagging chain would give till I felt myself pitching
headlong, only to be saved by the check of the stanchion against the
side of the socket; and once the chain hung so low, where it had slipped
through the next stanchion-eye, that I had no choice but to let go, and
plunged in the dark for the next upright--it might have been to plunge
into space. "Grandfather Nat! Grandfather Nat!"

I reached him somehow at last, and caught tight at his wrist. He was
leaning on the stanchion still, and staring at the dark water. "Here I
am, grandfather," I said, "but I am frightened. Stay with me, please!"

For a little while he still peered into the gloom. Then he turned and
said quietly: "I've lost him, Stevy. He went over--here."

By the sweep of his hand I saw what had happened, though I could scarce
realise the whole matter then and there. As I presently learnt, however,
Viney was running full for the bridge, with Captain Nat shouting behind
him, when he saw the lanterns of the three policemen barring the bridge
as they came on their beat from the Highway. To avoid them he swung
aside and made for the lock, with his pursuer hard at his heels. Now a
lock of that sort joins in an angle or mitre at the middle, where the
two sides meet like a valve, pointing to resist the tide; so that the
hazardous path along the top turns off sharply midway. Flying headlong,
with thought of nothing but the avenger behind him, Viney overran the
angle, meeting the low chain full under his knees; and so was gone, with
a yell and a splash.

Grandfather Nat took me by the collar, and turned me round. "We'll get
back, Stevy," he said. "Go on, I'll hold you tight."

And so in the pitchy dark I went back along the way I had come, walking
before my grandfather as I had done when first I saw that lock. The
dockmen had flung random life-buoys, and now were groping with drags and
hooks. Some judged that the man must have gone under like a stone;
others thought it quite likely that a good swimmer might have got away
quietly. And everybody wished to know who the man was, and why he was
running.

To all such questions my grandfather made the same answer. "It was a man
I wanted, wanted bad, for the police. You find him, dead or alive, an'
I'll identify him, an' say the rest in the proper place; that's all."
Only once he amplified this answer, and then he said: "You can judge he
was as much afraid o' the police as he was o' me, or more. Look where he
went, when he saw 'em on the bridge!" And again he repeated: "I'll say
the rest when he's found, not before; an' nobody can make me."

He was calm and cool enough now, as I could feel as well as hear, for my
hand was buried in his, while he pushed his way stolidly through the
little crowd. As for myself, I could neither think, nor speak, nor
laugh, nor cry, though dizzily conscious of an impulse to do all four at
once. I had Grandfather Nat again, and now he would not go away; that I
could realise; and I clung with all my might to as much of his hand as I
could grip.



CHAPTER XXIX

STEPHEN'S TALE


But I was to have neither time to gather my wits nor quiet to assort my
emotions: for the full issue of that night was not yet. Even as we were
pushing through the little crowd, and even as my grandfather parried
question with answer, a new cry rose, and at the sound the crowd began
to melt: for it was the cry of "Fire."

A single shout at first, and then another, and then a clamour of three
together, and a beat of running feet. Men about us started off, and as
we rounded the corner, one came running back on his tracks. "Cap'en
Kemp, it's your house!" he cried. "Your house, Cap'en Kemp! The Hole in
the Wall! The Hole in the Wall!"

Then was dire confusion. I was caught in a whir of running men, and I
galloped and stumbled along as I might, dragging dependent from my
grandfather's hand. Somewhere ahead a wavering light danced before my
eyes, and there was a sudden outburst of loud cracks, as of a hundred
carters' whips; and then--screams; screams without a doubt. Confusedly
my mind went back to Viney's confederate, groping in at the bar-parlour
door. What had he done? Smashed glass? Glass? It must have been the
lamp: the lamp on the little table by the door, the lamp I had myself
saved but ten minutes earlier!

Now we were opposite the Hole in the Wall, and the loud cracks were
joined with a roar of flame. Out it came gushing at the crevices of
doors and shutters, and the corners of doors and shutters shrivelled and
curled to let out more, as though that bulging old wooden house were a
bursting reservoir of long-pent fire that could be held in no more. And
still there were the screams, hoarser and hoarser, from what part within
was not to be guessed.

My grandfather stood me in a doorway, up two steps, and ran toward the
court, but that was impassable. With such fearful swiftness had the fire
sprung up and over the dry old timber on this side, where it had made
its beginning, that already a painted board on the brick wall opposite
was black and smoking and glowering red at the edges; and where I stood,
across the road, the air was hot and painful to the eyes. Grandfather
Nat ran along the front of the house to the main door, but it was
blazing and bursting, and he turned and ran into the road, with his arm
across his eyes. Then, with a suddenly increased roar, flames burst
tenfold in volume and number from all the ground floor, and, where a
shutter fell, all within glowed a sheer red furnace. The spirit was
caught at last.

And now I saw a sight that would come again in sleep months afterwards,
and set me screaming in my bed. The cries, which had lately died down,
sprang out anew amid the roar, nearer and clearer, with a keener agony;
and up in the club-room, the room of the inquests--there at a window
appeared the Groping Man, a dreadful figure. In no darkness now, but
ringed about with bright flame I saw him: the man whose empty, sightless
eye-pits I had seen scarce twelve hours before through a hole in a
canvas screen. The shade was gone from over the place of the eyes, and
down the seared face and among the rags of blistered skin rolled streams
of horrible great tears, forced from the raw lids by scorching smoke.
His clothes smoked about him as he stood--groping, groping still, he
knew not whither; and his mouth opened and closed with sounds scarce
human.

Grandfather Nat roared distractedly for a ladder, called to the man to
jump, ran forward twice to the face of the house as though to catch him,
and twice came staggering back with his hands over his face, and flying
embers singeing his hair and his coat.

The blind man's blackened hands came down on the blazing sill, and leapt
from the touch. Then came a great crash, with a single second's dulling
of the whole blaze. For an instant the screaming, sightless, weeping
face remained, and then was gone for ever. The floor had fallen.

The flames went up with a redoubled roar, and now I could hold my place
no longer for the heat. People were flinging water over the shutters and
doors of the houses facing the fire, and from the houses adjoining
furniture was being dragged in hot haste. My grandfather came and
carried me a few doors farther along the street, and left me with a
chandler's wife, who was out in a shawl and a man's overcoat over a
huddle of flannel petticoats.

Now the fire engines came, dashing through the narrow lanes with a
clamour of hoarse cries, and scattering the crowd this way and that. The
Hole in the Wall was past aid, and all the work was given to save its
neighbours. For some while I could distinguish my grandfather among the
firemen, heaving and hauling, and doing the work of three. The police
were grown in numbers now, and they had cleared the street to beyond
where I stood, so that I could see well enough; and in every break in
the flames, in every changing shadow, I saw again the face of the
Groping Man, even as I can see it now as I write.

Floor went upon floor, till at last the poor old shell fell in a heap
amid a roar of shouts and a last leap of fire, leaving the brick wall of
the next house cracking and black and smoking, and tagged with specks of
dying flame. And then at last my grandfather, black and scorched, came
and sat by me on a step, and put the breast of his coat about me.

And that was the end of the Hole in the Wall: the end of its landlord's
doubts and embarrassments and dangers, and the beginning of another
chapter in his history--his history and mine.



CHAPTER XXX

STEPHEN'S TALE


Little remains to say; for with the smoking sticks of the Hole in the
Wall the tale of my early days burns itself out.

Viney's body was either never found or never identified. Whether it was
discovered by some person who flung it adrift after possessing himself
of the notes and watch: whether it was held unto dissolution by mud, or
chains, or waterside gear: or whether indeed, as was scarce possible, it
escaped with the life in it, to walk the world in some place that knew
it not, I, at any rate, cannot tell. The fate of his confederate, at
least, was no matter of doubt. He must have been driven to the bar by
the fire he had raised, and there, bewildered and helpless, and cut off
from the way he had come, even if he could find it, he must have
scrambled desperately till he found the one open exit--the club-room
stairs.

But of these enough. Faint by contrast with the vivid scenes of the
night, divers disconnected impressions of the next morning remain with
me: all the fainter for the sleep that clutched at my eyelids, spite of
my anxious resolution to see all to the very end. Of a coarse, draggled
woman of streaming face and exceeding bitter cry, who sat inconsolable
while men raked the ruins for a thing unrecognisable when it was found.
Of the pale man, who came staring and choking, and paler than ever,
gasping piteously of his long and honest service, and sitting down on
the curb at last, to meditate on my grandfather's promise that he should
not want, if he would work. And of Mr. Cripps, at first blank and
speechless, and then mighty loquacious in the matter of insurance. For
works of art would be included, of course, up to twenty pounds apiece;
at which amount of proceeds--with a discount to Captain Kemp--he would
cheerfully undertake to replace the lot, and throw the signboard in.

Mrs. Grimes was heard of, though not seen; but this was later. She was
long understood to have some bitter grievance against the police, whom
she charged with plots and conspiracies to defeat the ends of justice;
and I think she ended with a savage assault on a plain-clothes
constable's very large whiskers, and twenty-one days' imprisonment.

The Hole in the Wall was rebuilt in brick, with another name, as I think
you may see it still; or could, till lately. There was also another
landlord. For Captain Nat Kemp turned to enlarging and improving his
wharf, and he bought lighters, and Wapping saw him no more. As for me, I
went to school at last.





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