Arthur Morrison.

The Dorrington Deed-Box



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Greer made preparations for cooking the beef, and as he did so he encountered another phenomenon. "Well, he have bin a goin' of it!" said Greer. "Blow me if he ain't bin readin' the Bible now!"

A large, ancient, worn old Bible, in a rough calf-skin cover, lay on a chair by old Cater's hand. It had probably been the family Bible of the Caters for generations back, for certainly old Jerry Cater would never have bought such a thing. For many years it had accumulated dust on a distant shelf among certain out-of-date account-books, but Greer had never heard of its being noticed before. "Feels he goin', that's about it," Greer mused as he pitched the Bible back on the shelf to make room for his utensils. "But I shouldn't ha' thought 'e'd take it sentimental like that – readin' the Bible an' lettin' in the free air of 'eaven to make 'im cough 'isself blind."

The beef-tea was set simmering, and still old Cater lay impotent. The fit of prostration was longer than any that had preceded it, and presently Greer thought it might be well to call the doctor. Call him he did accordingly (the surgery was hard by), and the doctor came. Jerry Cater revived a little, sufficiently to recognise the doctor, but it was his last effort. He lived another hour and a half. Greer kept the change and had the beef-tea as well. The doctor gave his opinion that the old man had risen in delirium and had expended his last strength in moving about the room and opening the window.

II

Samuel Greer found somewhere near two pounds in silver in the small canvas bag under the dead man's pillow. No more money, however, rewarded his hasty search about the bedroom, and when Sinclair returned Greer set off to carry the news to Paul Cater, the dead man's nephew.

The respectable Greer had considered well the matter of the will, and saw his way, he fancied, at least to a few pounds by way of compensation for his loss of employment and the ungrateful forgetfulness of his late employer. The two sheets comprised, in fact, not a simple will merely, but a will and a codicil, each on one of the sheets, the codicil being a year or two more recent than the will. Nobody apparently knew anything of these papers, and it struck Greer that it was now in his power to prevent anybody learning, unless an interested party were disposed to pay for the disclosure. That was why he now took his way toward the establishment of Paul Cater, for the will made Paul Cater not only sole executor, but practically sole legatee. Wherefore Greer carefully separated the will from the codicil, intending the will alone for sale to Paul Cater. Because, indeed, the codicil very considerably modified it, and might form the subject of independent commerce.

Paul Cater made a less miserly show than had been the wont of his uncle. His house was in a street in Pimlico, the ground-floor front room of which was made into an office, with a wire blind carrying his name in gilt letters.

Perhaps it was that Paul Cater carried his covetousness to a greater refinement than his uncle had done, seeing that a decent appearance is a commercial advantage by itself, bringing a greater profit than miserly habits could save.

The man of general dealings was balancing his books when Greer arrived, but at the announcement of his uncle's death he dropped everything. He was not noticeably stricken with grief, unless a sudden seizure of his hat and a roaring aloud for a cab might be considered as indications of affliction; for in truth Paul Cater knew well that it was a case in which much might depend on being first at Bermondsey Wall. The worthy Greer had scarce got the news out before he found himself standing in the street while Cater was giving directions to a cabman. "Here – you come in too," said Cater, and Greer was bustled into the cab.

It was plainly a situation in which half-crowns should not be too reluctantly parted with. So Paul Cater produced one and presented it. Cater was a strong-faced man of fifty odd, with a tight-drawn mouth that proclaimed everywhere a tight fist; so that the unaccustomed passing over of a tip was a noticeably awkward and unspontaneous performance, and Greer pocketed the money with little more acknowledgment than a growl.

"Do you know where he put the will?" asked Paul Cater with a keen glance.

"Will?" answered Greer, looking him blankly in the face – the gaze of one eye passing over Cater's shoulder and that of the other seeming to seek his boots. "Will? P'raps 'e never made one."

"Didn't he?"

"That 'ud mean, lawfully, as the property would come to you an' Mr. Flint – 'arves. Bein' all personal property. So I'd think." And Greer's composite gaze blankly persisted.

"But how do you know whether he made a will or not?"

"'Ow do I know? Ah, well, p'raps I dunno. It's only fancy like. I jist put it to you – that's all. It 'ud be divided atween the two of you." Then, after a long pause, he added: "But lor! it 'ud be a pretty fine thing for you if he did leave a will, and willed it all to you, wouldn't it? Mighty fine thing! An' it 'ud be a mighty fine thing for Mr. Flint if there was a will leaving it all to him, wouldn't it? Pretty fine thing!"

Cater said nothing, but watched Greer's face sharply. Greer's face, with its greasy features and its irresponsible squint, was as expressive as a brick. They travelled some distance in silence. Then Greer said musingly, "Ah, a will like that 'ud be a mighty fine thing! What 'ud you be disposed to give for it now?"

"Give for it? What do you mean? If there's a will there's an end to it. Why should I give anything for it?"

"Jist so – jist so," replied Greer, with a complacent wave of the hand. "Why should you? No reason at all, unless you couldn't find it without givin' something."

"See here, now," said Cater sharply, "let us understand this. Do you mean that there is a will, and you know that it is hidden, and where it is?"

Greer's squint remained impenetrable. "Hidden? Lor! – 'ow should I know if it was hidden? I was a-puttin' of a case to you."

"Because," Cater went on, disregarding the reply, "if that's the case, the sooner you out with the information the better it'll be for you. Because there are ways of making people give up information of that sort for nothing."

"Yes – o' course," replied the imperturbable Greer. "O' course there is. An' quite right too. Ah, it's a fine thing is the lawr – a mighty fine thing!"

The cab rattled over the stones of Bermondsey Wall, and the two alighted at the door through which old Jerry Cater was soon to come feet first. Sinclair was back, much disturbed and anxious. At sight of Paul Cater the poor fellow, weak and broken-spirited, left the house as quietly as he might. For years of grinding habit had inured him to the belief that in reality old Cater had treated him rather well, and now he feared the probable action of the heirs.

"Who was that?" asked Paul Cater of Greer. "Wasn't it the clerk that owed my uncle the money?"

Greer nodded.

"Then he's not to come here again – do you hear? I'll take charge of the books and things. As to the debt – well, I'll see about that after. And now look here." Paul Cater stood before Greer and spoke with decision. "About that will, now. Bring it."

Greer was not to be bluffed. "Where from?" he asked innocently.

"Will you stand there and tell me you don't know where it is?"

"Maybe I'd best stand here and tell you what pays me best."

"Pay you? How much more do you want? Bring me that will, or I'll have you in gaol for stealing it!"

"Lor!" answered Greer composedly, conscious of holding another trump as well as the will. "Why, if there was anybody as knowed where the will was, and you talked to him as violent as that 'ere, why, you'd frighten him so much he'd as likely as not go out and get a price from your cousin, Mr. Flint. Whatever was in the will it might pay him to get hold of it."

At this moment there came a furious knocking at the front door. "Why," Greer continued, "I bet that's him. It can't be nobody else – I bet the doctor's told him, or summat."

They were on the first-floor landing, and Greer peeped from a broken-shuttered window that looked on the street. "Yes," he said, "that's Mr. Flint sure enough. Now, Mr. Paul Cater, business. Do you want to see that will before I let Mr. Flint in?"

"Yes!" exclaimed Cater furiously, catching at his arm. "Quick – where is it?"

"I want twenty pound."

"Twenty pound! You're mad! What for?"

"All right, if I'm mad, I'll go an' let Mr. Flint in."

The knocking was repeated, louder and longer.

"No," cried Cater, getting in his way. "You know you mustn't conceal a will – that's law. Give it up."

"What's the law that says I must give it up to you,'stead of yer cousin? If there's a will it may say anythin' – in yer favour or out of it. If there ain't, you'll git 'alf. The will might give you more, or it might give you less, or it might give you nothink. Twenty pound for first look at it 'fore Flint comes in, and do what you like with it 'fore he knows anythink about it."

Again the knocking came at the door, this time supplemented by kicks.

"But I don't carry twenty pound about with me!" protested Cater, waving his fists. "Give me the will and come to my office for the money to-morrow!"

"No tick for this sort of job," answered Greer decisively. "Sorry I can't oblige you – I'm goin' down to the front door." And he made as though to go.

"Well, look here!" said Cater desperately, pulling out his pocket-book. "I've got a note or two, I think – "

"'Ow much?" asked Greer, calmly laying hold of the pocket-book. "Two at least. Two fivers. Well, I'll let it go at that. Give us hold." He took the notes, and pulled out the will from his pocket. Flint, outside, battered the door once more.

"Why," exclaimed Cater as he glanced over the sheet, "I'm sole executor and I get the lot! Who are these witnesses?"

"Oh, they're all right. Longshore hands just hereabout. You'll get 'em any day at the 'Ship and Anchor.'"

Cater put the will in his breast-pocket. "You'd best get out o' this, my man," he said. "You've had me for ten pound, and the further you get from me the safer you'll be."

"What?" said Greer with a chuckle. "Not even grateful! Shockin'!" He took his way downstairs, and Cater followed. At the door Flint, a counterpart of Cater, except that his dress was more slovenly, stood ragefully.

"Ah, cousin," said Cater, standing on the threshold and preventing his entrance, "this is a very sad loss!"

"Sad loss!" Flint replied with disgust. "A lot you think of the loss – as much as I do, I reckon. I want to come in."

"Then you sha'n't!" Cater replied, with a prompt change of manner. "You shan't! I'm sole executor, and I've got the will in my pocket." He pulled it out sufficiently far to show the end of the paper, and then returned it. "As executor I'm in charge of the property, and responsible. It's vested in me till the will's put into effect. That's law. And it's a bad thing for anybody to interfere with an executor. That's law too."

Flint was angry, but cautious. "Well," he said, "you're uncommon high, with your will and your executor's law and your 'sad loss,' I must say. What's your game?"

For answer Cater began to shut the door.

"Just you look out!" cried Flint. "You haven't heard the last of this! You may be executor or it may be a lie. You may have the will or you may not; anyway I know better than to run the risk of putting myself in the wrong now. But I'll watch you, and I'll watch this house, and I'll be about when the will comes to be proved! And if that ain't done quick, I'll apply for administration myself, and see the thing through!"

III

Samuel Greer sheered off as the cousinly interview ended, well satisfied with himself. Ten pounds was a fortune to him, and he meant having a good deal more. He did nothing further till the following morning, when he presented himself at the shop of Jarvis Flint.

"Good mornin', Mr. Flint," said Samuel Greer, grinning and squinting affably. "I couldn't help noticin' as you had a few words yesterday with Mr. Cater after the sad loss."

"Well?"

"It 'appens as I've seen the will as Mr. Cater was talkin' of, an' I thought p'raps it 'ud save you makin' mistakes if I told you of it."

"What about it?" Jarvis Flint was not disposed to accept Greer altogether on trust.

"Well it do seem a scandalous thing, certainly, but what Mr. Cater said was right. He do take the personal property, subjick to debts, an' he do take the freehold prim'ses. An' he is the 'xecutor."

"Was the will witnessed?"

"Yes – two waterside chaps well know'd there-abouts."

"Was it made by a lawyer?"

"No – all in the lamented corpse's 'andwritin'."

"Umph!" Flint maintained his hard stare in Greer's face. "Anything else?"

"Well, no, Mr. Flint, sir, p'raps not. But I wonder if there might be sich a thing as a codicil?"

"Is there?"

"Oh, I was a-wonderin', that's all. It might make a deal o' difference in the will, mightn't it? And p'raps Mr. Cater mightn't know anythink about the codicil."

"What do you mean? Is there a codicil?"

"Well, reely, Mr. Flint," answered Greer with a deprecatory grin – "reely it ain't business to give information for nothink, is it?"

"Business or not, if you know anything you'll find you'll have to tell it. I'm not going to let Cater have it all his own way, if he is executor. My lawyer'll be on the job before you're a day older, my man, and you won't find it pay to keep things too quiet."

"But it can't pay worse than to give information for nothink," persisted Greer. "Come, now, Mr. Flint, s'pose (I don't say there is, mind – I only say s'pose) – s'pose there was a codicil, and s'pose that codicil meant a matter of a few thousand pound in your pocket. And s'pose some person could tell you where to put your hand on that codicil, what might you be disposed to pay that person?"

"Bring me the codicil," answered Flint, "and if it's all right I'll give you – well, say five shillings."

Greer grinned again and shook his head. "No, reely, Mr. Flint," he said, "we can't do business on terms like them. Fifty pound down in my hand now, and it's done. Fifty 'ud be dirt cheap. And the longer you are a-considerin' – well, you know, Mr. Cater might get hold of it, and then, why, s'pose it got burnt and never 'eard of agen?"

Flint glared with round eyes. "You get out!" he said. "Go on! Fifty pound, indeed! Fifty pound, without my knowing whether you're telling lies or not! Out you go! I know what to do now, my man!"

Greer grinned once more, and slouched out. He had not expected to bring Flint to terms at once. Of course the man would drive him away at first, and, having got scent of the existence of the codicil, and supposing it to be somewhere concealed about the old house at Bermondsey Wall, he would set his lawyer to warn his cousin that the thing was known, and that he, as executor, would be held responsible for it. But the trump card, the codicil itself, was carefully stowed in the lining of Greer's hat, and Cater knew nothing about it. Presently Flint, finding Cater obdurate, would approach the wily Greer again, and then he could be squeezed. Meanwhile the hat-lining was as safe a place as any in which to keep the paper. Perhaps Flint might take a fancy to have him waylaid at night and searched, in which case a pocket would be an unsafe repository.

Flint, on his part, was in good spirits. Plainly there was a codicil, favourable to himself. Certainly he meant neither to pay Greer for discovering it – at any rate no such sum as fifty pounds – nor to abate a jot of his rights. Flint had a running contract with a shady solicitor, named Lugg, in accordance with which Lugg received a yearly payment and transacted all his legal business – consisting chiefly of writing threatening letters to unfortunate debtors. Also, as I think I have mentioned, Dorrington was working for him at the time, and working at very cheap rates. Flint resolved, to begin with, to set Dorrington and Lugg to work. But first Dorrington – who, as a matter of fact, was in Flint's back office during the interview with Greer. Thus it was that in an hour or two Dorrington found himself in active pursuit of Samuel Greer, with instructions to watch him closely, to make him drunk if possible, and to get at his knowledge of the codicil by any means conceivable.

IV

On the morning of the day after his talk with Flint, Samuel Greer ruminated doubtfully on the advisability of calling on the ship-store dealer again, or waiting in dignified silence till Flint should approach him. As he ruminated he rubbed his chin, and so rubbing it found it very stubbly. He resolved on the luxury of a penny shave, and, as he walked the street, kept his eyes open for a shop where the operation was performed at that price. Mr. Flint, at any rate, could wait till his chin was smooth. Presently, in a turning by Abbey Street, Bermondsey, he came on just such a barber's shop as he wanted. Within, two men were being shaved already, and another waiting; and Greer felt himself especially fortunate in that three more followed at his heels. He was ahead of their turns, anyhow. So he waited patiently.

The man whose turn was immediately before his own did not appear to be altogether sober. A hiccough shook him from time to time; he grinned with a dull glance at a comic paper held upside down in his hand, and when he went to take his turn at a chair his walk was unsteady. The barber had to use his skill to avoid cutting him, and he opened his mouth to make remarks at awkward times. Then Greer's turn came at the other chair, and when his shave was half completed he saw the unsteady customer rise, pay his penny, and go out.

"Beginnin' early in the mornin'!" observed one customer.

The barber laughed. "Yes," he said. "He wants to get a proper bust on before he goes to bed, I s'pose."

Samuel Greer's chin being smooth at last, he rose and turned to where he had hung his hat. His jaw dropped, and his eyes almost sprang out to meet each other as he saw – a bare peg! The unsteady customer had walked off with the wrong hat – his hat, and – the paper concealed inside!

"Lor!" cried the dismayed Greer, "he's took my hat!"

All the shopful of men set up a guffaw at this. "Take 'is then," said one. "It's a blame sight better one than yourn!"

But Greer, without a hat, rushed into the street, and the barber, without his penny, rushed after him. "Stop 'im!" shouted Greer distractedly. "Stop thief!"

Thus it was that Dorrington, at this time of a far less well-groomed appearance than was his later wont, watching outside the barber's, observed the mad bursting forth of Greer, followed by the barber. After the barber came the customers, one grinning furiously beneath a coating of lather.

"Stop 'im!" cried Greer. "'E's got my 'at! Stop 'im!"

"You pay me my money," said the barber, catching his arm. "Never mind yer 'at – you can 'ave 'is. But just you pay me first."

"Leave go! You're responsible for lettin' 'im take it, I tell you! It's a special 'at – valuable; leave go!"

Dorrington stayed to hear no more. Three minutes before he had observed a slightly elevated navvy emerge from the shop and walk solemnly across the street under a hat manifestly a size or two too small for him. Now Dorrington darted down the turning which the man had taken. The hat was a wretched thing, and there must be some special reason for Greer's wild anxiety to recover it, especially as the navvy must have left another, probably better, behind him. Already Dorrington had conjectured that Greer was carrying the codicil about with him, for he had no place else to hide it, and he would scarcely have offered so confidently to negotiate over it if it had been in the Bermondsey Wall house, well in reach of Paul Cater. So he followed the elevated navvy with all haste. He might never have seen him again were it not that the unconscious bearer of the fortunes of Flint (and, indeed, Dorrington) hesitated for a little while whether or not to enter the door of a public-house near St. Saviour's Dock. In the end he decided to go on, and it was just as he had started that Dorrington sighted him again.

The navvy walked slowly and gravely on, now and again with a swerve to the wall or the curb, but generally with a careful and laboured directness. Presently he arrived at a dock-bridge, with a low iron rail. An incoming barge attracted his eye, and he stopped and solemnly inspected it. He leaned on the low rail for this purpose, and as he did so the hat, all too small, fell off. Had he been standing two yards nearer the centre of the bridge it would have dropped into the water. As it was it fell on the quay, a few feet from the edge, and a dockman, coming toward the steps by the bridge-side, picked it up and brought it with him.

"Here y'are, mate," said the dockman, offering the hat.

The navvy took it in lofty silence, and inspected it narrowly. Then he said, "'Ere – wot's this? This ain't my 'at!" And he glared suspiciously at the dockman.

"Ain't it?" answered the dockman carelessly.



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