Chapter IX

Diamond Cut Diamond

Hosea Lampard was undoubtedly a man who had all his wits about him, and it may be supposed that he had not spent three months on shore for nothing. What his object was did not quite appear, but that it had something to do with Gibraltar Cottage was tolerably certain. He walked down Bromly Street and he walked up Bromly Street. He surveyed the house from the back as near as he could get to it​—​which, however, was not very near, for the gardens of several houses intervened between it and the nearest point of observation​—​and he examined it from either side. Indeed, had it been his intention to take a picture of it back to America he could not have looked at it more intently.

After paying the passage-money for Ah Ling Foo he walked from the city towards the East-end, and again gazed at the object which fascinated him, the occupants of the little cottage being all the while in blissful ignorance of the attention which was paid to them. Indeed, Mr. Lampard did not seem particularly anxious to be recognized, for though he came pretty near to the house he never absolutely passed it, turning back so soon as he reached a spot where he might be seen from any of the windows.

“I don’t see why it shouldn’t be done to-night,” he said to himself as he walked reflectively up the street. “The old man thinks I’m away at sea, so he won’t suspect me. Ah Ling Foo I’ve put nicely off the scent, and that tarnation rogue. Locket, as well. How they were took in! He, he, he!”

And Mr. Hosea Lampard burst into a snigger, which did not make his face handsomer.

“Yes, I’ll do the job straight off,” he repeated.

And full of this resolution he turned in the direction of Ratcliff Highway, in the neighbourhood of which he resided. As he walked along the streets he kept looking first at one side and then at the other, as though he were in search of some particular kind of shop. At last he found what he wanted; it was a dealer’s in second-hand tools, opposite to which he stopped and looked curiously at the odd collection of saws, files, hammers, chisels, and planes. After turning the stock over he bought a file, a chisel, and a piece of iron about a foot in length and sharpened at one end. This tool is known as a cold chisel, and is made of a tough iron and very strong.

With these purchases he hastened home. It was then about six o’clock, and saying to himself he had plenty of time, he sat down to his dinner, which he devoured very quickly, not because he was in a hurry, but because it was his fashion, as it is the fashion of many Americans, to devour his food rapidly.

Dinner over, he filled his pipe with the very strongest cake-tobacco, the cutting up of which formed a pleasant half-hour’s amusement, and blew a cloud which almost filled the little room. Indeed, when his landlady came in to ask him whether he would be at home for supper she could scarcely see him, so thick was the smoke.

“Sha’n’t be in to-night, ma’am,” said Lampard. “Got to be down to the London Docks at three o’clock to-morrow morning. An old shipmate of mine goes to New York, and I want to send a message particular. The tide’s sure at three, and I reckon I’ll go down as far as Gravesend with him, ma’am.”

“Then I’ll leave the door unbolted, Mr. Lampard.”

“Right you are, ma’am.”

“Good-night, sir.”

And away went Mrs. Raggett, thinking she should not like to turn out at two o’clock in the morning for the purpose of sending a message across the seas. But sailors are used to all sorts of uncomfortable things, and getting up at odd hours was not the same hardship to them as to other people.

After Mr. Lampard had finished his second, third, and fourth pipe, it was ten o’clock, and stretching his long legs and arms till they seemed nearly to reach from side to side, he yawned a fearful yawn, disclosing a huge cavern of a mouth, and then rising from his chair threw himself upon the couch, and in a very few minutes was fast asleep.

There are some men whose rest is not measured by the regularity which sends you to bed every evening, say at eleven, and bids you rise at seven. Hosea Lampard was one of these men. He could go to sleep whenever he chose to lie down, and he could also wake at whatever time he wished. This faculty, no doubt, he acquired from his long acquaintance with sea life, where short periods of rest are the rule and not the exception.

Accordingly, having determined in his own mind that he would wake at two o’clock in the morning, wake he did almost to the minute.

The fire had gone out, the candle had burnt down in the socket and was alternately flickering and flaring, and altogether the room looked the reverse of cheerful. Hosea Lampard, however, was not easily affected by outward appearances, and he jumped up briskly enough as soon as he was awake.

There was just light enough for him to see his way about in the room, and he took a large leather bag from a chair, opened it, and put his hand inside.

“All right,” he said softly to himself. “Lantern, one; chisel, two; file, three; and cold chisel, four. Good!”

And putting on his cap he seized the bag, opened the door, went gently down-stairs, and the next minute was in the street.

It was pretty evident that Mr. Hosea Lampard had either made a great mistake in informing his landlady he was going to the London Docks, or that he had no scruple about telling falsehoods. I am afraid, from what you have seen of Mr. Lampard’s character, that you will think it was the latter and graver fault he was guilty of, when I say that instead of walking towards the London Docks he went in a totally opposite direction.

His route lay towards Stepney, and it was not long before he was in the Commercial Road. One or two policemen as he passed them looked suspiciously at him, but it was nothing unusual to see in that neighbourhood a seafaring man with a leather bag in his hand hastening along in the small hours of the morning. The time at which ships go out of dock depends upon the tide, and as time and tide wait for no man, much less for any ship, advantage is always taken, no matter at what inconvenient hour the tide turns, to save the three or four hours’ difference which going with or against the tide makes in sailing down the river Thames.

And so when a policeman turned his bull’s-eye upon him and said, “Good morning,” Lampard answered cheerily enough, “Good morning.”

Burford Street was the American’s destination, that much was certain, for he turned down that, to us by this time, well-known street and slackened his pace. At half-past two in the morning in the month of March it is quite dark, and so it was on this occasion. Nor was it a pleasant morning either. There was a cold wind blowing, and a mixture of rain, snow, and sleet falling; and Hosea Lampard, in spite of his being accustomed to all kinds of weather, did not feel altogether comfortable, though the wet made little impression on his rough pea-jacket.

“The rain’s all in my favour, I guess. A policeman’s a fool if he walks about in this beastly morning when he can get under cover,” he muttered.

And this really seemed to be the case, for as far as he had yet gone down Burford Street he had not met a soul.

“Now for this empty house I spotted yesterday.”

This was a house to let three doors from Gibraltar Cottage. Just casting a glance up and down the street, and listening for a few moments for the measured tread of the policeman’s step. Lampard, finding all was safe, went up to the window of the empty house, which he had previously noted was without shutters. The insertion of the long thin blade of his knife between the two sashes enabled him to push back the catch. He gently opened the window, stepped into the room, shut the window again, and fastened it.

Of course, once in the house it was the easiest thing in the world to shoot back the bolts of the door leading into the garden. This he did, and once more stood in the pelting rain. He was now but three gardens away from Gibraltar Cottage, and once there he knew he could work undisturbed at the shutters of the back windows or the door, whichever proved to be the least protected.

The walls of most London gardens are low, and a tall, active man like Lampard found no difficulty in scaling the three which separated him from Jack Grigsby’s garden. In less than five minutes he was standing by the old boat summer-house, staring up at the figure of the admiral, which loomed through the darkness like some huge spectre.

Hosea Lampard was by no means a timid man, but the appearance of the admiral whose very decided profile showed sufficiently distinct, dark though it was, to allow him to tell that it was the features of a man he was staring at​—​was ghostly enough to deter him from advancing further.

While he was deciding who or what the admiral might be, and when he had nearly come to the conclusion that it was an inanimate figure he caught sight of something which seemed to be nothing more or less than a moving shadow, so noiseless was it.

“If that ain’t a tarnation policeman, bu’st him!” was his uncomplimentary exclamation.

Discretion seemed to him the better part of valour, and so he slipped into the summer-house, there to wait until the policeman should have completed his inspection and taken his departure. But this, so far as he could make out, the policeman appeared to be in no hurry to do. He was still in the garden, of that the American was sure, and intently hiding himself in the garden. But why? That was the puzzle. Lampard was certain no one had seen him get over the walls, and if he had been noticed since reaching Grigsby’s garden why did not the policeman try to take him into custody? One thing certainly was clear, he could not make any attempt to break into the pilot s house (for, I suppose, there is no use in concealing the fact that this was the American’s object) while that hateful figure was lurking about in the corner by the admiral.

While he was chafing and muttering all kinds of evil things, he caught sight of a second figure in the opposite corner to that in which the first had stationed himself. Could it be that the police had surrounded him? He really began to feel very uncomfortable.

Half an hour passed away, and Lampard began to feel chilled to the bone, for standing still is very different from walking fast, when it is not so difficult to keep warm. He was afraid to move the least bit in the world lest he should attract attention, and was quite cramped with standing in one position.

And then half-past three sounded from a neighbouring church, and it occurred to him that before long daylight would appear, and how should he make his escape? As for attempting to get into the house, that was totally out of the question; he was positively in a very awkward predicament. Once or twice he made a movement to see if there was a chance of escaping, but the policemen were evidently on the alert, for they moved too.

Four o’clock, and the sky had passed from an inky blackness to a bluish gray. The summer-house was in full view of the corners where the two who were watching him had ensconced themselves, and the lighter it became the more difficulty he would have in concealing himself. Indeed in broad daylight he knew it would be impossible.

He grew desperate.

“I must make a bolt for it, I guess,” he muttered. “I was a fool not to have done it when it was darker.”

And setting his teeth, and nerving himself for a rapid scramble over the wall, he made a sudden dart from his hiding-place. Now, it so happened that just as he began to run one of the figures began to do so too. They met at the wall unexpectedly, and the collision nearly threw both on the ground.

The worst had come to the worst. Lampard recovered himself first, and made a lunge forward with the amiable intention of knocking the policeman down; but before he could do so he heard his name pronounced, and by a voice too that he knew.

“Bob Locket, as I’m alive!” he ejaculated, the discovery taking the strength completely out of his arms, which dropped down helplessly by his sides.

“Cap’en Lampard!”

The discovery was so startling that the two stood and looked at each other open-mouthed. Their confusion was absolutely comical.

“Is that you, Mr. Bob Locket, who has been over in that corner for the last hour and a ha’af?” asked Lampard slowly.

“I should think it was,” returned Locket slowly. “And I suppose as it’s you I’ve seen dodging me in that summer-house.”

“You ain’t far out. And who’s the other coon?”

Mr. Locket put his finger to his lips in token of silence.

“He’s a policeman. I’m afraid he’s got his mates somewhere, as he don’t follow us. This is a bad business. We shall be collared as sure as fate.”

And Mr. Bob Locket’s miserable face looked as if he did not regard his prospects with anything like satisfaction.

Meanwhile Lampard’s sharp rat-like eyes were peering about towards the corner occupied by the third man, and the next moment, to Locket’s astonishment, bounded forward and dragged out, wet through to the skin, shivering with cold, and more dead than alive​—​Ah Ling Foo!

What a scene it was! No need for explanation. It was too evident that each, believing his companions were thrown off the scent, had come with the intention of carrying off the much-coveted cannon-ball, and had all three in turn mistaken the other two for policemen!

Hosea Lampard was thus a little too cute, and nicely overreached himself.

The morning broke fine after the rainy and bitter night, and with a change of wind.

The effect of this improvement was that Nellie was able to go in the garden. Now March, as every gardener knows, is a capital month for sowing seeds, and as the little girl had got sundry packets, each bearing a dreadfully long Latin name upon it, filled with seeds, it occurred to her that the morning being fine she could not do better than put them into the ground.

Accordingly, armed with rake and spade, she sallied forth to a little bed in the neighbourhood of the admiral, which bed she had selected, indeed, on account of its nearness to the wooden gentleman in question.

Everyone who has read Robinson Crusoe​—​and who hasn’t?​—​will remember the fright into which Robinson was thrown when he first beheld Friday’s footprint in the sand. Now, astonished and terrified as the famous Crusoe was, I doubt whether his astonishment and terror equalled Nellie’s when she found on her flower-bed, not one footprint, but half a dozen, and so firmly impressed in the soft ground that almost the hob-nails were visible.

Like a wild thing she flew into the house and dashed into the parlour, where Jack Grigsby was spelling out the newspaper.

“Oh grandfather​—​grandfather!” she half-screamed.

“Eh, eh, what​—​what? Bless me, child, what’s the matter? You haven’t gone mad, have you?”

“Come and look​—​in the garden,” was all Nellie could say.

Mr. Grigsby first laid down the newspaper and then took off his spectacles, for like most brave men he was cool and deliberate in the hour of danger, and from the appearance of his granddaughter’s face he could not but think that something had happened.

“You’re not hurt, my dear, are you?”

“No, no​—​but it’s in the garden. A man​—​I saw his foot.”

“Saw a man’s foot!” slowly replied the pilot, rising from his chair. “And didn’t you see anything else but his foot?”

“No​—​that is, I didn’t quite see his foot, you know. But it’s as plain as​—​as anything,” rejoined Nell, at a loss for a simile.

“You didn’t quite see his foot, and yet it’s as plain as anything. That’s rum,” was Mr. Grigsby’s comment.

But they had by this time reached the garden, Nellie in her impatience almost pulling her grandfather forward.

“There, there, don’t you see?” she exclaimed.

“I don’t see no foot nowhere,” replied the old man, who had some notion he should see a man’s boot or shoe.

“It isn’t a foot, grandfather,” rejoined Nellie, with an impatient stamp of her own little foot. “I told you it wasn’t. It’s a foot-step.”

“Oh, a footstep! That’s a different thing altogether. I must look into this, my dear.”

And Mr. Grigsby undoubtedly suited the action to the word when he saw that his granddaughter had told no more than the truth.

A further search revealed the fact that Nellie’s flower-bed was not the only place which had been profaned by the footsteps of the intruders.

On the right-hand bed there was a long line leading from the wall to the summer-house, and on the left was another line leading from the summer-house to the other wall, terminating here in a number of confused marks and dents in the ground, as if somebody had been tramping about very much.

“Well this is a rum go and no mistake,” exclaimed Jack Grigsby when he had made these discoveries.

Of course he could see but one solution of the mystery, and that was​—​thieves. But he did not like to tell Nellie so for fear of frightening her.

“Who do you think has done it?” she asked, holding the old man’s hand very tight.

“Well,” returned Mr. Grigsby, scratching his head as if the process assisted his invention, “pr’aps it’s workmen.”

“Workmen, grandfather! Workmen don’t clamber over walls and trample gardens about, do they?”

“Some do,” said Mr. Grigsby, speaking in such a tone of firm conviction that you would have thought he really believed there was a species of workman who habitually turned himself into a stag and leaped over back garden walls and clawed up the ground, instead of going to work peaceably and rationally along the queen’s highway. “You know if they’ve been a painting up that empty house at the back, they’d have to get over the walls, don’t you see, because there’d be nobody in the house to let ’em in.”

This was a most ingenious theory, and Jack flattered himself that he had furnished a reasonable explanation, and had got out of the dilemma beautifully. Whether Nellie believed it or not he never stopped to inquire, but went on hurriedly to say that they’d better go in and tell the news to Mrs. Grigsby.

The result of the consultation was​—​for of course it was of no use bringing the blind woman out into the garden to see the footprints​—​that the police were sent for, with the result that Miss Nellie soon discovered that the workman theory was all moonshine, and that thieves really had made their way into the garden.