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.”
“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.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53