Chapter XVI

Jack Grigsby’s Clever Trick

Jack Grigsby was having a pipe after supper, as was his custom Sunday or weekdays. To-night was Monday night; some friends had called in during the evening, and the consequence was that the whole household was up later than usual.

“Nine o’clock and you not in bed, Nellie!” said Mrs. Grigsby. “I don’t know where your roses will be to-morrow.”

“Only five minutes more,” pleaded Nellie, “and then you’ll see how quick I can be.”

“Very well; but, mind, you must keep your word.”

Which Nellie having promised to do buried her head in the picture-book she was looking at, and began to make the most of the time.

Meanwhile Mr. Grigsby, laying down his pipe, rose from his chair, and began walking about the room, an exercise he had that evening several times indulged in.

“My dear John,” said his wife, “how restless you are to-night!”

“It’s a rum thing, Jennie,” remarked the pilot reflectively, “that I feel just as I did afore the Sea Foam struck the John Fletcher. I had a sort of presenteriment all that day as something was going to happen, and so it did, as you remember, don’t you?”

Yes, Mrs. Grigsby well remembered the day, twenty years since, when the intelligence was brought her that her husband’s ship was run into during a fog and sank, her captain and crew saving nothing but their lives.

“I can’t get that boy out of my head,” said he.

And the pilot looked at the sideboard where the cannon-ball used to stand, and sighed.

Mrs. Grigsby seemed almost to know in what direction her husband’s eyes were turned, for she made a significant gesture with her hand towards Nellie, as if to warn him not to say anything about the cannon-ball, lest it should revive unpleasant recollections of the thieves.

Jack Grigsby understood her, and nodding his head slightly said he would have one more pipe and then go to bed.

“The five minutes must be up, Nell, I think,” said Mrs. Grigsby.

“It wants another half minute, grannie,” replied the young lady, who had divided her attention between her book and the clock on the mantel-shelf, and had no notion of being defrauded of her rights.

The second-hand of the timepiece had not made thirty steps forward when a loud double knock was heard at the street door.

“What did I say, my dear?” asked the pilot. “Wasn’t I right when I said something was going to happen. We’ve no friends as would call upon us this time o’ Sunday night. I’ll go myself and open the door.” And away the old man trudged.

As no one was expected so late, the door had been locked, bolted, and chained, and it took some little time to undo all the fastenings. When the door was opened Jack saw standing before him a tall man in a long great-coat of blue cloth, buttoned up to the chin in military fashion.

Mr. Grigsby?” said the tall man.

“That’s my name, skipper,” responded Jack.

Upon which the visitor turned round to some one who was standing behind him.

“Perhaps you know​—​” he began.

But he didn’t finish the sentence, for Jack, catching sight of the man’s companion, exclaimed in a voice loud enough to be heard half-way down the street: “Bless my stars if it isn’t young Ned!”

And dashing at the boy he dragged him into the passage to look at him under the lamp, and make sure he had not deceived himself.

But when he saw Ned’s face beaming all over with smiles he knew he had not made a mistake, and such a pulling and hauling into the parlour was never seen, for Nellie, hearing her grandfather’s exclamation, had run out and assisted in the triumphant entry. For the next five minutes everybody was talking together, and in the excess of joy not one of the party could speak fast enough.

In the meantime the tall man had stepped into the passage, carefully closing the door behind him. He waited until something like order was restored, and then said quietly: “Mr. Grigsby, I’ve come all the way from Lincoln this afternoon to speak with you on very important business. I am Inspector Brown of the Lincolnshire constabulary.”

A policeman! Mr. Grigsby’s face fell. Had Ned got into trouble? was his first thought.

“Well, Mr. Inspector,” he replied, “I’m a man of few words, and I like everything plain and straightfor’rard. Whatever you’ve got to say, out with it.”

“I learn, on the information of the boy here, that there’s been a robbery on your premises.”

“Yes, you’re right, so far.”

“What was the article stolen?”

“Why, a cannon-ball.”

Upon which Ned shot a glance of triumph at the inspector. The latter expected he had been brought to London on a fool’s errand, and his face showed he was agreeably disappointed.

“You don’t seem to be much upset by the loss,” he replied.

“Of course I ain’t, because the rascals didn’t get the cannon-ball they expected. Look here, Mr. Inspector, if ever there’s been an artful plot, it’s been this plot to get hold of this cannon-ball. But whoever the scoundrels were I’ve been even with ’em. Ha, ha! The cannon-ball as they took away was only iron, the cannon-ball as they thought they’d got, and which was safe at the bank all the time, was of solid gold!

Gold​—​a cannon ball of gold! Never was heard such a curious thing. No wonder the inspector was staggered and Ned and Nellie stared open mouth. Jack Grigsby and his wife were the only persons who were at all unmoved.

“But I tell you this, Mr. Inspector,” continued Jack Grigsby emphatically, “that though this cannon-ball as these fellows have stolen isn’t worth more than twopence, I’m going to punish the thieves just as if it was worth a thousand pounds. Now, then, what’s the names of the gang?”

Mr. Inspector referred to his note-book.

“Number one is a Chinaman, named Ah Ling Foo; number two an American, Hosea Lampard; number three an Englishman, Robert Locket.”

“I knew it. I was certain of it,” cried Mr. Grigsby, snapping his fingers with delight. “And do you say you’ve got ’em in custody?”

“They’re safe in Lincoln jail, Mr. Grigsby.”

“Well, if this isn’t the best thing as ever I heard. Jennie, my dear, mix some grog​—​Nellie, you puss, help your grandmother to get the glasses​—​sit down, Mr. Inspector, sit down, sir, there’s a long yarn to spin, I can see​—​Ned, you young rascal​—​bless me, how tall and strong the fellow looks!” and away went Mr. Grigsby bustling into the kitchen, to return with a kettle of water, which he stuck on the fire, talking all the while, and looking the picture of happiness.

In spite of the lateness of the hour he would make Ned spin his “yarn,” which Ned did in a much shorter time than it has taken me to tell it.

The only thing he had to add to what we already know, was how he ran to the police station and told Inspector Brown what he had seen inside the booth. Perhaps the policeman would not have taken so much trouble as he had if it had not been that Locket had kidnapped the boy. This in his eyes was a much more serious offence than the stealing of a valueless iron ball. So putting everything together he resolved to take the three men into custody at once, and coming to London to inquire into the truth of Ned’s story.

“Well, now, that’s a wonderful story, Ned, my lad; but I’ve got one that’ll beat it, haven’t I, Jennie? Ah! and it’s through my wife, Mr. Inspector, that we haven’t got to charge these fellows with stealing gold instead of iron. This is how it all happened. Mrs. Grigsby was a dusting that ball one day when she feels a something sticking up like a ring. She thinks to herself, ‘That’s rum. I’ve never felt nothing like that afore.’ Well, sir, when I comes home she shows it me, and I feels it, and I says to her that looks uncommonly like a plug, I says. Well, I just puts in a gimlet, and sure enough it was a plug made of wood, fitting as near as maybe, and painted over like the rest of the ball. By looking at it you couldn’t have told it was there, and it was only through my wife’s clever fingers that we found it out.” And the look of admiration which Jack Grigsby gave his wife just here would have done anybody’s heart good.

“Well, sir, you may be sure it wasn’t long afore I had the plug out, and then if I didn’t open my eyes at what I found. Here it is all written on this piece of paper, which I’ve carried in my pocket-book ever since. I wouldn’t trust it to nobody else’s keeping. Not I.”

Taking an old brown leather pocket-book from his breast pocket, Mr. Grigsby produced from an envelope a scrap of paper, which he read out as follows:​—​

San Francisco, August 3rd.

This day John Harbledon & Co., goldsmiths of this city, have delivered to me the golden cannon-ball which I instructed them to make out of the nuggets I got at White Stone Camp. My reason for having the nuggets hammered into this shape is this: I recognize among the crew two men who know I have been lucky at the diggings. I know Ah Ling Foo and Hosea Lampard to be unscrupulous fellows, and I adopt this mode of deceiving them.

Samuel Somerset,
(Master) Ship Good Fortune.

“And we found, Mr. Inspector, as what Captain Somerset said was gospel truth. That cannon-ball, weighing somewhere about twenty pounds or so, was solid gold painted black. No sooner did we find it out than we knowed why those three rascals wanted it. But I was even with ’em. I wouldn’t have the gold in the place at all. I rushed off with it to the bank, and the next day I was down at Woolwich and got a friend to give me a cannon-ball as near as possible the same size. And it was that one as the thieves took.”

The recollection of his own cleverness was too much for Jack Grigsby, and he had to stop to chuckle for at least a minute and a half.

“I should like to have seen their faces when they thought they was going to break up the gold and divide it. Ha, ha! ho, ho! Didn’t they look foolish, Ned?”

“They were all in a great passion, I know that,” said Ned. “Each one, I expect, thought the other had got the real cannon-ball.”

“Well, Mr. Grigsby,” said the inspector, “I must compliment you on your sharpness. But where is Captain Somerset?”

“Captain Somerset, my old shipmate, is dead,” replied the old pilot in reverent tones.

The reply was so unexpected the inspector started.

Jack Grigsby was silent for a few seconds, and then rousing himself said in his usual voice, “Now you, Nell, be off to bed. Ned, you’re tired out, I can see. You’d better go too.”

Ned protested that he was not a bit tired, but his eyes told a different tale, and he at last confessed that he would like to sleep.

“I didn’t tell you before the boy,” said Mr. Grigsby to the inspector, “but it’s my belief as he’s Captain Somerset’s son. This fellow Locket was the captain’s nephew, and took care of the boy. Now what I want to find out is whether that boy and Ned are the same.”

“My dear John, surely you haven’t been listening to the boy’s story?” suddenly put in Mrs. Grigsby in her quiet manner. “Hasn’t he repeatedly mentioned his cousin Bob Locket and his wife Ann. Why, you’ve actually forgotten all about his going to his aunt​—​Bob’s mother​—​and her giving him a sovereign. There’s no more doubt about it. Our Ned is Ned Somerset.”

Jack Grigsby took a long breath, and then gave his leg a vigorous slap.

“Right again, old lady. Blest if you don’t find out everything. What a lubber I must ha’ been not to have seen it all along.”

Jack Grigsby persisted in prosecuting the three plotters, and right well did they deserve their punishment. Only once did Bob Locket appear on the scene again, and that was when he came out of prison, and went to Jack Grigsby begging him to help him to get to Australia. Ned, who had long ceased to think about revenging himself on his cousin for his cruelty, interceded in his behalf, and at last Jack consented and lent him the passage-money. As for Ann, she lived but a very short time after the conviction of her husband, and the sister of Captain Somerset survived her many years.

And what about the golden cannon-ball? Well, it, or to speak more correctly, its equivalent value in crisp bank-notes came into Ned’s possession when he was twenty-one, which important event happened not so very long ago. He has become a sailor like his father, greatly to the delight of Jack Grigsby, now a grizzled old salt, and I am told that when he obtains a captain’s certificate there is to be a wedding, in which Nellie, prettier if possible as a woman than as a girl, will be the bride.