The Hole in the Wall, by Arthur Morrison

Chapter 21

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!”

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 17:11