The Hole in the Wall, by Arthur Morrison

Chapter 23

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.”

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