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.”
“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 ——”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58