The Hole in the Wall, by Arthur Morrison

Chapter 17

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.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58