Chapter VI

Bob Locket Calls upon Mr. Grigsby

To say that honest Jack Grigsby, his even-tempered, kind-hearted, blind wife, and their granddaughter, bright-eyed, merry little Nellie, were distressed at the disappearance of Ned is to put the state of affairs at Gibraltar Cottage very mildly indeed. A blank seemed to have fallen on the house, and the absence of the boy was ever brought to their recollection by the sight of the great black mass of iron which had been so closely connected with his fortunes. Whenever they looked at it it seemed mutely to appeal to them to go and find him, yet what could they do? As we have said Mr. Grigsby had been to the police station, he had wandered up and down every street in Wapping, had gone into every court and alley, he had made inquiries at the low lodging-houses in the hopes that some of the lodgers​—​tramps and hawkers about the streets​—​might have known something of the boy; but all to no purpose.

“It’s the rummest thing as ever I heard of,” said the old pilot to his wife, after returning from one of these fruitless journeys. “I begin a’most to think as the boy’s been hankering after his old ways and gone back to the streets.”

“No,” returned the blind woman emphatically, “I’ll never believe that. He was too fond of us, and we were too fond of him. He’d never be so ungrateful. Depend upon it if we’re patient we shall find out the meaning of it all.”

Mr. Grigsby shook his head doubtfully, but he had a profound belief in the wisdom of his little woman, and tried to think as she did, that something had happened to Ned, and that he had not run away of his own accord.

“I’ve been to all the hospitals to-day,” said he, when he had taken off his coat and had sat down in his shirt sleeves to his pipe. “But there’s not one of ’em as knows anything about the lad. There was lads of course in some of the wards, and I saw ’em all to make sure, but I didn’t find our Ned among ’em. What to do next, little woman, I don’t know, blest if I do.”

And the pilot scratched his wrinkled brow with the sealing-wax end of his pipe stem in great perplexity.

“Do you know, John, I’ve been thinking a good deal about Ned, and I’ve almost come to the conclusion that​—​”

“Ah! out with it, old woman,” put in Jack encouragingly, taking advantage of a pause. “It’ll be something good, I’ll be bound, if you make up your mind.”

“Well, it’s just this. Nellie was talking of Ned the other day​—​poor child, she always is talking about him​—​and she told me that the boy said he should never forget the man who ill used him. He was called Bob, but what his other name was he couldn’t remember. There was a woman too​—​I suppose she was Bob’s wife​—​Ann was her name. Now what do you make of all this?”

“What do I make of it?” repeated Jack slowly.

“Yes. What did Mrs. Locket say her son’s name was? Wasn’t it Bob? And what did she say the name of her son’s wife was? Wasn’t it Ann?”

Jack Grigsby drew a deep breath and collected all his faculties.

“Jenny,” said he in admiration, “blest if you hadn’t ought to be a detective. I never did see any one like you for putting two and two together. If Ned said as he remembered a Bob and a Ann, and this Bob and this Ann turned him out​—​”

“The woman did not,” interposed Mrs. Grigsby. “He spoke well of her, but she seems to have been afraid of her husband.”

“Well, well, that may be. But if another Bob and another Ann likewise turned a boy out o’ doors, as that old woman at Lincoln said, why it stands to reason as this Bob might be that Bob and this Ann that Ann. And what’s the consekens of it all? Why, that our Ned is the t’other Ned, and wisher worser,” Mr. Grigsby’s pronunciation of vice versa. “Isn’t that what you make of it, old woman?”

“Indeed it is, Jack,” returned the blind woman earnestly. “It is like an act of Providence that the poor boy came to us​—​”

“Ah! but it ain’t like an act of Providence to send him away again just when he had a chance of coming into his own.”

“Do not be too sure. It may all turn out for the best. Who knows what may happen, though everything seems now so dark and hopeless!”

There was a patter of feet outside, and Nellie put her head inside the door.

“Grandfather,” said she, “there’s a man wants to see you​—​very particularly, he says.”

“Very pertikler, does he? What’s his name?”

“He wouldn’t tell me his name. All he said was he wanted to see you.”

Jack Grigsby laid down his pipe and rose from his chair.

“Stay here, Nell, my girl, and I’ll tackle this party.”

Somehow he had a suspicion that the visitor had come to tell him some news of Ned, and fearing the news might be bad he did not want his granddaughter to hear it.

He strode out into the passage, but not without some misgiving of ill tidings. He found standing on the door-step a hard-featured man, respectably dressed and having the appearance of a workman in his Sunday clothes.

“Who are you?” thought the pilot; “I don’t know your ugly face, and yet I fancy I’ve seen it afore somehow.”

Mr. Grigsby?” inquired the stranger.

“That’s my name and I ain’t ashamed of it. What may be your business?”

“Well, I should like five minutes’ talk with you, if you don’t mind. My name’s Locket.”

“Locket!” repeated Jack to himself; “Sam’s sister’s son, or I’m a Dutchman. I’ll never contradict the old woman again. She was right and I was wrong: Providence is a working for us after all. Come in here, Mr. Locket,” said he aloud.

And he led the way into the little parlour.

“Jennie,” said he in a whisper to his wife, “just leave us a bit, will you. I think as how we’re on Ned’s track. Who d’ye think’s just come? Only that son of a sea-cook, Bob Locket. Hush! don’t you say nothing.”

Mrs. Grigsby accordingly left the room with Nellie; and the pilot, pointing to a seat, bade Mr. Locket sit down.

“Well, mister, I suppose as how you’ve come to see me about Ned?”

“Ah! poor little Ned, we shall never see him any more,” replied Mr. Bob Locket, with a noise which he intended for a sigh.

“Never see him no more! What d’ye mean?” demanded the pilot. “You haven’t come to tell me as he’s dead?”

“What! Mr. Grigsby, didn’t my mother explain to you? I heard that you’d been to see her at Lincoln, and that’s brought me round here.”

“Oh, has it?” retorted Mr. Grigsby. “Then it’ll suit us both, for I wanted to have a talk with you, Mr. Bob Locket, only you were so precious hard to find.”

“My mother could have told you where I was to be found if she had liked,” said Mr. Locket with great dignity.

“Oh, could she? Then I suppose she didn’t like. Well, anyhow, you’re here, so we’d better come to business. Now, then, where’s Ned Somerset, my old shipmate’s son?”

“You’ll never see him in this world. The poor little fellow has been dead these five years. Drowned, Mr. Grigsby, drowned, I’m sorry to say. Ah! it was a heavy blow for us.”

The pilot listened to this in utter amazement. To his honest, frank, open nature the idea of such deception as he felt Bob Locket was guilty of seemed incredible. The man’s coolness fairly took away his breath, and he could only stare and gasp.

But at last his indignation allowed him to find speech. Sticking his broad, fat thumbs in the arm-holes of his waistcoat, and stretching his legs a little way apart, he looked Mr. Bob Locket in the face.

“Why​—​you​—​rascally​—​scampish​—​loblolly​—​landlubber!” he burst out.

Mr. Grigsby, I didn’t come here to be insulted,” growled Mr. Locket. “And look here, if you’re not civil I’ll have the law of you. You’ve got property that belongs to my mother, and if you don’t give it up I’ll pretty soon make you.”

“Oh, you’ll make me, will you, Bob Lockup!” exclaimed Jack, in his anger getting into some confusion over his visitor’s name. “We’ll see about that. First of all, you told me a falsehood just now.”

“Every word as I said was gospel truth,” said the man doggedly. “And I’ll bring witnesses to prove it.”

“I don’t care that for your witnesses,” cried Mr. Grigsby, snapping his fingers. “The boy was placed in your charge, wasn’t he?”

“Of course he was. I never said he wasn’t, did I?”

“And now you tell me he’s drowned.”

“Aye, that I do. Went down to the river side, and was a paddling about at low water, and got into a hole out of his depth and was carried away, and we never see him any more from that day to this.”

Mr. Grigsby’s answer to this was a snort of incredulity.

“It’s all very well for you to stand there and pitch me that long yarn. I don’t believe a word of it. That’s plain, ain’t it? I know that boy’s alive, and may be, for anything as I can tell, you know it too.”

Mr. Locket’s eyes blinked and twinkled, and again he tried to sigh.

“I wish I did, Mr. Grigsby; I wish I did. I don’t know who’s been telling you tales about me, but you’re not acting fairly by me​—​you ain’t, indeed. Why, my uncle, Sam Somerset, was the best friend as ever I had, and do you think I’d harm a hair belonging to a son of his. ’Tain’t likely.”

“Won’t do, Bob Lockup,” retorted the pilot. “I’ve heard differently.”

“And who’s told you, sir? I think as you ought to tell me that.”

“Do you?” said Mr. Grigsby, with his head on one side and a knowing look on his weather-beaten face. “I don’t; and what’s more, I sha’n’t tell you.”

It seemed to be Mr. Bob Locket’s desire to be on good terms with Mr. Grigsby, for he was in no way offended with this plain speaking.

“Of course you know best, sir, but you’ll find as I’m right. I don’t benefit by the boy’s death, don’t think that. It was only on my mother’s account as I came here to-day. Not but what I shouldn’t like a trifle to remember poor Captain Sam by. Ah! he was a fine fellow.”

“Humph!” said Mr. Grigsby shortly. “I wonder what your little game is with all that soft sawder,” he added to himself.

“My mother was saying as you mentioned something as wasn’t worth nothing, which my uncle had brought home. If you could see your way to give me a trifle​—​I don’t care how worthless it is​—​for the captain’s sake, I’d take it kindly.”

“Oh! And what might your mother have said as I mentioned?”

“Well, I couldn’t exactly make out, but she told me it was a bit of old iron. But it doesn’t much matter.”

And the man’s eyes, after roaming about the room, at last fell upon the memorable cannon-ball.

“That’s a funny bit o’ metal you’ve got there; iron too. I shouldn’t wonder now if that wasn’t what you meant when you talked to my mother.”

“Shouldn’t you?” replied Mr. Grigsby, who all the while was taking stock of his visitor.

“Is it​—​don’t think as I’m a bit curious, it’s only that all that belonged to Captain Somerset has a kind of interest about it​—​the piece of old iron that the captain brought home?”

“May be it is and may be it isn’t. I’m not going to tell you. Look you here, Mr. Locket, we’d better understand what we’re about before we go any further. Now I told you just now I don’t believe your story about Ned Somerset’s death, and I may as well say it again so as there sha’n’t be any mistake. I don’t believe it. There, is that plain enough? If you want to show me as the boy’s dead you’ll have to prove it. Prove it, I say, none of your hearsay business. Very well, that’s number one. Number two is, as it’s all rubbish your saying as you come on account of your mother. It’s yourself you’ve got an eye to, Mr. Bob Locket; but you’re not going to take me in, because I know you better than you think I do.”

“Oh! well, Mr. Grigsby, if you’re a going to talk like that it’s no use my staying any longer​—​”

“Not a bit,” put in the pilot.

“I shall have to get a lawyer to take up this business, and he’ll pretty soon show you what a mistake you’ve made.”

“Very well, let him; the sooner the better. I’m not afraid of no lawyer,” replied Jack stoutly.

Mr. Locket appeared to be of opinion that he would have no chance against the old pilot’s obstinacy, and so he rose from his seat, buttoned up his coat, and put on his hat.

Mr. Grigsby followed him out into the passage and opened the street door, as a broad hint that he wished him to go.

“You’ll hear from me again before long, Mr. Grigsby,” said the man with a scowl.

“As soon as you like. I’m not afraid of you.”

And out went Mr. Bob Locket, looking very much smaller than when he came in.

“Now where have I seen your ugly face?” mused Jack Grigsby as he watched the man’s departing figure. “It isn’t the first time I’ve met you, I’m certain.”

He was so absorbed in looking at his visitor that he never heard his little granddaughter come stealing up, and he almost started when she exclaimed, “Why, grandfather, he walks just like that beggar you gave the bread and meat to. Don’t you remember? Before Ned went away it was, you know.”

The beggar he gave the bread and meat to! Why, of course; how stupid of him to forget. Bob Locket had the identical limp of the beggar, and allowing for the difference in the face, for the latter’s was thickly incrusted with dirt and Locket’s was clean, and the difference between the rags of the one and the good clothes of the other, the men certainly were the same.

“I don’t like this business,” was Mr. Grigsby’s comment, made to himself and not to Nellie. “I must see what the old woman says to it.”

And accordingly he held a council of war with his wife at the first opportunity.

“My dear John,” said the blind woman, “if it is as we suppose, that our Ned is Ned Somerset, isn’t it likely that this Bob Locket would be anxious to get him out of the way? He seems to be able to do anything with his mother, and I daresay if this money, which belongs to Ned, was to go to his aunt, Bob Locket would soon wheedle it out of her?”

“That’s just as it strikes me, old lady,” said Jack Grigsby; “but you don’t catch me giving it up to any Bob Locket or his mother either.”

“Well, but it isn’t in your charge.”

“No, but I can go to the owners of the Good Fortune and tell them all about it, can’t I? And they won’t pay it to anybody but the proper persons, will they? But I tell you what, Jennie, there’s one thing as I’ve got and I mean to stick to it; and that’s over yonder.”

And Mr. Grigsby nodded in the direction of the cannon-ball.

“It seems curious that for so small a sum as £100​—​that’s what the owners have to pay, isn’t it?​—​this man would​—​”

“Would what, little woman?” asked Jack Grigsby anxiously.

“I don’t like to say what is in my mind, John; it seems so horrible. And I might be wrong after all;” and Mrs. Grigsby looked puzzled and worried.

“I know what you’re steering for,” returned her husband slowly. “It’s crossed my mind too, but I’m half afeard to speak it out. It’s my belief, Jennie, that this rascal has taken our poor Ned and made away with him to get hold of the money.”

Mrs. Grigsby did not reply, but the look on her face told her husband that she had thought so too.

“He was throwing out all sorts of hints about that there cannon-ball, but that was only a blind. He don’t want that.”

“I think I should go to the police again, John. If he has taken Ned away he might have him in hiding​—​who can tell?”

“That’s true, Jennie; that’s true. I’ll go at once. I wish I’d asked the fellow where he lived. It would have saved some trouble. Never mind, we’ve got something like a clue, and it will go hard if it don’t lead us somewhere.”

And the energetic old man lost no time in struggling into his coat and rushing away to the police station, where he confided his suspicions to the inspector.

“If what you say is true,” said that functionary, “it looks rather black against this Mr. Locket. But we cannot do anything unless you charge him with taking the boy away. Will you go as far as that?”

“Of course I will,” said the old pilot boldly.

“If you don’t prove it he’ll have a nice pull against you. I suppose you know that?”

“How do you mean?”

“Why, he’ll proceed against you for putting him in prison on a false charge.”

“I’ll take the risk of that. My little woman has made up her mind as he’s the man, and when she makes up her mind about anything it’s as good as settled.”

The inspector did not appear to be so convinced of this as Mr. Grigsby expected. However, he took down all the particulars, and promised he would do his best to find Mr. Bob Locket.

And with this assurance Jack Grigsby was forced to be content.

But very little came of it. It was true that in three or four days the police discovered Mr. Bob Locket in the person of the landlord of the “Jolly Waterman,” but though he was taken before the magistrate, Jack Grigsby couldn’t prove in the least that he had had any hand in taking Ned away.

The old pilot, in fact, came off rather badly, for the magistrate wouldn’t listen to the long statements he wanted to make about the death of Captain Somerset, the property, and his adoption of Ned. Indeed, when he began to drag in allusions to the cannon-ball his worship half thought the prosecutor was not quite right in his head, and hinted as much, greatly to Jack’s indignation.

The result of the business consequently was, that Bob Locket was discharged, the magistrate declaring that there was not the least ground for the charge which had been brought against him.

“Much obliged to you, Grigsby,” said Mr. Bob Locket with a malignant grin, as he stepped out of the dock. “Perhaps you’ll accuse me of something else.”

“You may be sure I shall if I have reason for it,” returned Mr. Grigsby, struggling against his indignation. “I’ve been beaten this time by the law; when you and me come together again perhaps you won’t have the law on your side.”

This was all he said. Locket was so elated by his victory that he tried all he could to aggravate the old man, but without success. Mr. Grigsby was not to be tempted into a quarrel, and made the best of his way home to communicate his bad tidings to his wife.