Chapter XII

The Plot Succeeds

It was a long time before the inmates of Gibraltar Cottage recovered from the fright into which they were thrown by the discovery of the mysterious footsteps. It would be wrong to say that Jack Grigsby was frightened, because the old sailor did not know what fright was, but he was at his wits’ end to know why his home should be selected for robbery.

“If it had been only one lubber” he ruminated, “I shouldn’t ha’ thought so much of it. But three​—​well, it’s quite beyond me.”

For a careful measurement of the footsteps showed that three men had certainly been in the garden. The police hadn’t a doubt about it, nor indeed had Jack.

“Blest if I don’t believe as that there cannon-ball is at the bottom of it all,” he soliloquized one morning, as, after studying his newspaper and smoking his pipe, he laid the latter down and surveyed the solid globe, which still occupied a prominent position on the sideboard.

“What did you say, John?” asked his wife, putting her head inside the door, for she heard Jack’s voice, and knowing no one was in the room with him, imagined he was calling to her.

“Why, I was thinking as it was that cannon-ball as them scoundrels came after the other night.”

“My dear John, what could they do with it if they did steal it? It’s worth nothing.”

“That’s true; but somehow it’s always stuck in my mind as the cause of everything that’s happened the last six months. Didn’t that Yankee fellow try to rob me of it the very first time I had it in my hand? Wasn’t it through that ball as we got hold of young Ned (I’d give something to know where the boy is)? Didn’t that rascal Locket want me to give it him? Don’t tell me as it hasn’t got nothing to do with these circumstarnces, because I say it has.”

And Jack brought his brown freckled hand down on the table with a tremendous thump that made his pipe and his tobacco-jar fairly dance again.

“Well, John, if it does you any good to think so, I’ve no objection,” said the blind woman softly; “only if it is so these men, whoever they are, that are so anxious to get hold of it, won’t be contented until they have another try.”

“I should just like to see them, that’s all,” roared Mr. Grigsby. “I’d shoot ’em, that’s what I’d do.”

“No, no, you wouldn’t.”

“I shouldn’t, Jennie? And why not? why not, I say?”

“Because, my dear John, you’ve no firearms in the house.”

“But I can buy a pistol, can’t I? I tell you what, my lass; I think it’s time I did. It sha’n’t be said that Jack Grigsby allowed his property to be taken from him under his very nose. As for them police they’re worse than useless. They came here and talked very big about what they were going to do; I gave them a sovereign just to start ’em on a bit, and what’s it all come to? Nothing.”

And for once in his life Jack Grigsby really seemed very angry.

“Things are going all wrong,” he continued with a sort of desperation, “and I don’t see how to set ’em right.”

“Well, well, my dear, you must have patience,” said Mrs. Grigsby in her soothing voice. “Now, if I were you, I’d go out for a stroll. It’s a fine morning and the walk will do you good.”

“I don’t know but what you’re right, old lady. I’ve half a mind to steer Limehouse-way and have a look at that ‘Jolly Waterman’ where that fellow Locket lives.”

“Yes, but pray don’t lose your temper if you do come across Mr. Locket.”

“Lose my temper, indeed!” returned Jack with indignation. “You don’t often see me lose my temper?”

“No, I don’t, but I think other people sometimes do,” replied the old lady with a smile.

“Ah! but not without cause, Jennie.”

“Of course not, Jack. I know you too well for that.”

Whereupon Mr. Grigsby expressed himself satisfied, and promised, if he did come across the objectionable Mr. Locket, to speak fair; that was, of course, if he received no provocation.

“Do you know what I have been thinking, John?” said Mrs. Grigsby, while the pilot was struggling into his great-coat.

“No; how should I?”

“Well, it occurs to me that as you’re going to the ‘Jolly Waterman’ you might see Mrs. Locket if you did not happen to see her husband. Now if you could do that, and just questioned her a little, cautiously you know, you might find out what she has to say about the boy’s supposed death. If their stories didn’t agree, why either one or the other must be telling a falsehood, and if so I should think Bob Locket would be far more likely to be untruthful than his wife.”

“That’s a good idea, Jennie, and no mistake!” exclaimed Jack in admiration. “I’ll do that if I have to wait half the day. Bob Locket will find I’m his match in artfulness before long.”

Which was very consoling to Mr. Grigsby, who quite forgot that it was his wife’s suggestion and not his.

When he had gone Mrs. Grigsby set about her household duties, part of which was the dusting of the thousand and one curiosities in the little parlour. In Mr. Grigsby’s seafaring days he never went a voyage without bringing back some rarity. Ivory fans from China, curious carvings from India, bows and arrows from New Zealand, stuffed birds from South America, and pipes from every quarter of the globe, were only a few of the curiosities which were orderly ranged in that wonderful parlour. But the most wonderful thing was that the blind woman never allowed any one to dust any of them but herself. She knew the place of every individual treasure, and could tell when the smallest had been shifted from its accustomed position. Her light fingers moved harmlessly over them, and her touch was so sensitive that she could almost tell by the feel when an article had dust upon it.

This morning, as we have said, she proceeded to dust as usual, and in due time came to the memorable cannon-ball. As she passed her hands over the surface​—​for touch to some extent filled the place of sight, and it was a pleasure every morning to feel the outline of the various objects in the room, objects she knew the shape of quite well, though she had never seen them​—​she was conscious of an unevenness in the metal she had never noticed before. This unevenness took the form of a circular ridge, as if a portion of the metal was higher than the rest.

Whatever Mrs. Grigsby may have thought about this discovery, which after all was a trifling one, she said nothing about it to Nellie, but waited until her husband came home, which he did much sooner than she expected.

“You have not seen Mrs. Locket, then,” said she before he had time to say a word, for with the marvellous perception which most blind people have, she detected something of disappointment in his very footstep.

“Not seen her? No, that I havn’t, nor him neither. The house is shut up, my dear.”

“Shut up!” echoed Mrs. Grigsby.

“Aye. I found out after a bit as there’d been a lot of complaints about Locket. Bad characters used to go to the house, and the police began to suspect Locket himself, so the magistrates took away his licence. Well, after that he couldn’t keep the place open, and so he’s gone no one knows where. And that’s all I’ve got to tell you.”

With which Mr. Grigsby sat down with quite a blank look on his honest face.

His wife said nothing of the subject which had filled her thoughts all the morning until dinner was over and Nellie had gone to school. Then she told him about the discovery she had made on the surface of the cannon-ball.

The result of her communication was the bringing of the cannon-ball on the table, and a minute examination on the part of Mr. Grigsby, in which examination a gimlet and a small chisel were brought into great request. As the pilot had taken the precaution to lock the door while the examination was going on, I am not able to say what he found, but I know this that in about an hour’s time Mr. Grigsby ran hastily out of the house, returned with a cab, rushed into the house, came out again with his well-known travelling bag heavily laden, got into the vehicle and dashed off.

He was absent another hour, and when he returned there was every sign of satisfaction on his weather-beaten countenance.

“Well, that’s safe, my dear,” he whispered, rubbing his hands.

And for two whole days the cannon-ball was absent from its accustomed place, but on the third it reappeared, and Mrs. Grigsby dusted it reverently every morning as before.

One thing, however, was noticeable, and this was that Jack Grigsby seemed day by day to grow more convinced that the thieves would try a second time to break into his house. He did not, of course, say a word to his granddaughter about his fears, but he often talked over the matter with his wife. Indeed he at last became so certain that the attempt would be made that he sent Nellie away into the country to stay with some friends, bought a pistol as he declared he would, and very often sat up in the bedroom at night, and kept watch in the dark.

But the days went by and so did the nights, and nothing happened. Jack had made so certain of their coming that he was positively disappointed, and he actually began to grumble at what he called his bad luck.

“Why trouble any more about it?” asked his wife.

“Because I should like to catch the scoundrels. Havn’t I laid out fifteen shillings in a revolver? It’s too bad after spending the money to find as it isn’t wanted.”

“Which I sincerely hope it won’t be. If they do come let them take what they like so long as they don’t harm us.”

“That’s all very well, but I want to trap ’em besides, d’ye see, Jennie.”

And so Jack continued his watch, which he was able to do uninterruptedly, for he had retired from the profession of piloting ships, his old comrade’s ship the Good Fortune being almost his last commission.

But he gradually grew lax, and began to think of having Nellie home, for it certainly appeared as if the robbers he expected were not coming.

And so from watching every night he took to watching just when the fit seized him, which perhaps was two or three times a week.

“I think I’ll turn in to-night,” said he one evening, when after supper he had fallen asleep in his arm-chair. “I feel quite done up.”

Accordingly he went to bed a little earlier than usual, and slept so soundly that the screaming of Hannah, the rosy-cheeked serving-maid about seven o’clock the next morning, and the entreaties of Mrs. Grigsby that he would get up, failed for a long time to wake him.

When he did he jumped out of bed with much more activity than one would imagine he could have shown; struggled with his trousers, which of course, as he was in a hurry, would get twisted and tangled, and finally half dressed rushed down-stairs.

He wasn’t away more than a minute before Mrs. Grigsby heard him racing upstairs.

“Old lady,” he cried bursting into the room, “they’ve done it this time. The cannon-ball’s gone!”

Yes, it was stolen, and the loss must certainly have turned poor Jack Grigsby’s brain; for, instead of groanings and lamentations coming from his mouth, he sat down in a chair and laughed till his sides ached again!