MoboReader > Literature > Bones in London

   Chapter 3 BONES AND THE WHARFINGERS

Bones in London By Edgar Wallace Characters: 24476

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


I

The kite wheeling invisible in the blue heavens, the vulture appearing mysteriously from nowhere in the track of the staggering buck, possess qualities which are shared by certain favoured human beings. No newspaper announced the fact that there had arrived in the City of London a young man tremendously wealthy and as tremendously inexperienced.

There were no meetings of organized robber gangs, where masked men laid nefarious plans and plots, but the instinct which called the kite to his quarry and the carrion to the kill brought many strangers-who were equally strange to Bones and to one another-to the beautiful office which he had fitted for himself for the better furtherance of his business.

One day a respectable man brought to Mr. Tibbetts a plan of a warehouse. He came like a gale of wind, almost before Bones had digested the name on the card which announced his existence and identity.

His visitor was red-faced and big, and had need to use a handkerchief to mop his brow and neck at intervals of every few minutes. His geniality was overpowering.

Before the startled Bones could ask his business, he had put his hat upon one chair, hooked his umbrella on another, and was unrolling, with that professional tremblement of hand peculiar to all who unroll large stiff sheets of paper, a large coloured plan, a greater portion of which was taken up by the River Thames, as Bones saw at a glance.

He knew that blue stood for water, and, twisting his neck, he read "Thames." He therefore gathered that this was the plan of a property adjacent to the London river.

"You're a busy man; and I'm a busy man," said the stentorian man breathlessly. "I've just bought this property, and if it doesn't interest you I'll eat my hat! My motto is small profits and quick returns. Keep your money at work, and you won't have to. Do you see what I mean?"

"Dear old hurricane," said Bones feebly, "this is awfully interesting, and all that sort of thing, but would you be so kind as to explain why and where-why you came in in this perfectly informal manner? Against all the rules of my office, dear old thing, if you don't mind me snubbing you a bit. You are sure you aren't hurt?" he asked.

"Not a bit, not a bit!" bellowed the intruder. "Honest John, I am-John Staines. You have heard of me?"

"I have," said Bones, and the visitor was so surprised that he showed it.

"You have?" he said, not without a hint of incredulity.

"Yes," said Bones calmly. "Yes, I have just heard you say it, Honest

John Staines. Any relation to John o' Gaunt?"

This made the visitor look up sharply.

"Ha, ha!" he said, his laugh lacking sincerity. "You're a bit of a joker, Mr. Tibbetts. Now, what do you say to this? This is Stivvins' Wharf and Warehouse. Came into the market on Saturday, and I bought it on Saturday. The only river frontage which is vacant between Greenwich and Gravesend. Stivvins, precious metal refiner, went broke in the War, as you may have heard. Now, I am a man of few words and admittedly a speculator. I bought this property for fifteen thousand pounds. Show me a profit of five thousand pounds and it's yours."

Before Bones could speak, he stopped him with a gesture.

"Let me tell you this: if you like to sit on that property for a month, you'll make a sheer profit of twenty thousand pounds. You can afford to do it-I can't. I tell you there isn't a vacant wharfage between Greenwich and Gravesend, and here you have a warehouse with thirty thousand feet of floor-space, derricks-derrick, named after the hangman of that name: I'll bet you didn't know that?-cranes, everything in-- Well, it's not in apple-pie order," he admitted, "but it won't take much to make it so. What do you say?"

Bones started violently.

"Excuse me, old speaker, I was thinking of something else. Do you mind saying that all over again?"

Honest John Staines swallowed something and repeated his proposition.

Bones shook his head violently.

"Nothing doing!" he said. "Wharves and ships-no!"

But Honest John was not the kind that accepts refusal without protest.

"What I'll do," said he confidentially, "is this: I'll leave the matter for twenty-four hours in your hands."

"No, go, my reliable old wharf-seller," said Bones. "I never go up the river under any possible circumstances-- By Jove, I've got an idea!"

He brought his knuckly fist down upon the unoffending desk, and Honest

John watched hopefully.

"Now, if-yes, it's an idea!"

Bones seized paper, and his long-feathered quill squeaked violently.

"That's it-a thousand members at ten pounds a year, four hundred bedrooms at, say, ten shillings a night-- How many is four hundred times ten shillings multiplied by three hundred and sixty-five? Well, let's say twenty thousand pounds. That's it! A club!"

"A club?" said Honest John blankly.

"A river club. You said Greenhithe-that's somewhere near Henley, isn't it?"

Honest John sighed.

"No, sir," he said gently, "it's in the other direction-toward the sea."

Bones dropped his pen and pinched his lip in an effort of memory.

"Is it? Now, where was I thinking about? I know-Maidenhead! Is it near Maidenhead?"

"It's in the opposite direction from London," said the perspiring Mr.

Staines.

"Oh!"

Bones's interest evaporated.

"No good to me, my old speculator. Wharves! Bah!"

He shook his head violently, and Mr. Staines aroused himself.

"I'll tell you what I'll do, Mr. Tibbetts," he said simply; "I'll leave the plans with you. I'm going down into the country for a night. Think it over. I'll call to-morrow afternoon."

Bones still shook his head.

"No go, nothin' doin'. Finish this palaver, dear old Honesty!"

"Anyway, no harm is done," urged Mr. Staines. "I ask you, is there any harm done? You have the option for twenty-four hours. I'll roll the plans up so that they won't be in the way. Good morning!"

He was out of the office door before Bones could as much as deliver the preamble to the stern refusal he was preparing.

At three o'clock that afternoon came two visitors. They sent in a card bearing the name of a very important Woking firm of land agents, and they themselves were not without dignity of bearing.

There was a stout gentleman and a thin gentleman, and they tiptoed into the presence of Bones with a hint of reverence which was not displeasing.

"We have come on a rather important matter," said the thin gentleman.

"We understand you have this day purchased Stivvins' Wharf--"

"Staines had no right to sell it?" burst in the stout man explosively. "A dirty mean trick, after all that he promised us! It is just his way of getting revenge, selling the property to a stranger!"

"Mr. Sole"-the thin gentleman's voice and attitude were eloquent of reproof-"please restrain yourself! My partner is annoyed," he explained "and not without reason. We offered fifty thousand pounds for Stivvins', and Staines, in sheer malice, has sold the property-which is virtually necessary to our client-literally behind our backs. Now, Mr. Tibbetts, are you prepared to make a little profit and transfer the property to us?"

"But--" began Bones.

"We will give you sixty thousand," said the explosive man. "Take it or leave it-sixty thousand."

"But, my dear old Boniface," protested Bones, "I haven't bought the property-really and truly I haven't. Jolly old Staines wanted me to buy it, but I assure you I didn't."

The stout man looked at him with glazed eyes, pulled himself together, and suggested huskily:

"Perhaps you will buy it-at his price-and transfer it to us?"

"But why? Nothing to do with me, my old estate agent and auctioneer.

Buy it yourself. Good afternoon. Good afternoon!"

He ushered them out in a cloud of genial commonplaces.

In the street they looked at one another, and then beckoned Mr.

Staines, who was waiting on the other side of the road.

"This fellow is either as wide as Broad Street or he's a babe in arms," said the explosive man huskily.

"Didn't he fall?" asked the anxious Staines.

"Not noticeably," said the thin man. "This is your scheme, Jack, and if I've dropped four thousand over that wharf, there's going to be trouble."

Mr. Staines looked very serious.

"Give him the day," he begged. "I'll try him to-morrow-I haven't lost faith in that lad."

As for Bones, he made an entry in his secret ledger.

"A person called Stains and two perrsons called Sole Bros. Brothers tryed me with the old Fiddle Trick. You take a Fiddel in a Pawn Brokers leave it with him along comes another Felow and pretends its a Stadivarious Stradivarious a valuable Fiddel. 2nd Felow offers to pay fablous sum pawnbroker says I'll see. When 1st felow comes for his fiddel pawnbroker buys it at fablous sum to sell it to the 2nd felow. But 2nd felow doesn't turn up.

"Note.-1st Felow called himself Honest John!! I dout if I dought it."

Bones finished his entries, locked away his ledger, and crossed the floor to the door of the outer office.

He knocked respectfully, and a voice bade him come in.

It is not usual for the principal of a business to knock respectfully or otherwise on the door of the outer office, but then it is not usual for an outer office to house a secretary of such transcendental qualities, virtue, and beauty as were contained in the person of Miss Marguerite Whitland.

The girl half turned to the door and flashed a smile which was of welcome and reproof.

"Please, Mr. Tibbetts," she pleaded, "do not knock at my door. Don't you realize that it isn't done?"

"Dear old Marguerite," said Bones solemnly, "a new era has dawned in the City. As jolly old Confusicus says: 'The moving finger writes, and that's all about it.' Will you deign to honour me with your presence in my sanctorum, and may I again beg of you"-he leant his bony knuckles on the ornate desk which he had provided for her, and looked down upon her soberly-"may I again ask you, dear old miss, to let me change offices? It's a little thing, dear old miss. I'm never, never goin' to ask you to dinner again, but this is another matter. I am out of my element in such a place as--" He waved his hand disparagingly towards his sanctum. "I'm a rough old adventurer, used to sleeping in the snow-hardships-I can sleep anywhere."

"Anyway, you're not supposed to sleep in the office," smiled the girl, rising.

Bones pushed open the door for her, bowed as she passed, and followed her. He drew a chair up to the desk, and she sat down without further protest, because she had come to know that his attentions, his extravagant politeness and violent courtesies, signified no more than was apparent-namely, that he was a great cavalier at heart.

"I think you ought to know," he said gravely, "that an attempt was made this morning to rob me of umpteen pounds."

"To rob you?" said the startled girl.

"To rob me," said Bones, with relish. "A dastardly plot, happily frustrated by the ingenuity of the intended victim. I don't want to boast, dear old miss. Nothing is farther from my thoughts or wishes, but what's more natural when a fellow is offered a--"

He stopped and frowned.

"Yes?"

"A precious metal refiner's-- That's rum," said Bones.

"Rum?" repeated the girl hazily. "What is rum?"

"Of all the rummy old coincidences," said Bones, with restrained and hollow enthusiasm-"why, only this morning I was reading in Twiddly Bits, a ripping little paper, dear old miss-- There's a column called 'Things You Ought to Know,' which is honestly worth the twopence."

"I know it," said the girl curiously. "But what did you read?"

"It was an article called 'Fortunes Made in Old Iron,'" said Bones.

"Now, suppose this naughty old refiner-- By Jove, it's an idea!"

He paced the room energetically, changing the aspect of his face with great rapidity, as wandering thoughts crowded in upon him and vast possibilities shook their alluring banners upon the pleasant scene he conjured. Suddenly he pulled himself together, shot out his cuffs, opened and closed all the drawers of his desk as though seeking something-he found it where he had left it, hanging on a peg behind the door, and

put it on-and said with great determination and briskness:

"Stivvins' Wharf, Greenhithe. You will accompany me. Bring your note-book. It is not necessary to bring a typewriter. I will arrange for a taxicab. We can do the journey in two hours."

"But where are you going?" asked the startled girl.

"To Stivvins'. I am going to look at this place. There is a possibility that certain things have been overlooked. Never lose an opportunity, dear old miss. We magnates make our fortune by never ignoring the little things."

But still she demurred, being a very sane, intelligent girl, with an imagination which produced no more alluring mental picture than a cold and draughty drive, a colder and draughtier and even more depressing inspection of a ruined factory, and such small matters as a lost lunch.

But Bones was out of the room, in the street, had flung himself upon a hesitant taxi-driver, had bullied and cajoled him to take a monstrous and undreamt-of journey for a man who, by his own admission, had only sufficient petrol to get his taxi home, and when the girl came down she found Bones, with his arm entwined through the open window of the door, giving explicit instructions as to the point on the river where Stivvins' Wharf was to be found.

II

Bones returned to his office alone. The hour was six-thirty, and he was a very quiet and thoughtful young man. He almost tiptoed into his office, closed and locked the door behind him, and sat at his desk with his head in his hands for the greater part of half an hour.

Then he unrolled the plan of the wharf, hoping that his memory had not played him false. Happily it had not. On the bottom right-hand corner Mr. Staines had written his address! "Stamford Hotel, Blackfriars."

Bones pulled a telegraph form from his stationery rack and indited an urgent wire.

Mr. Staines, at the moment of receiving that telegram, was sitting at a small round table in the bar of The Stamford, listening in silence to certain opinions which were being expressed by his two companions in arms and partners in misfortune, the same opinions relating in a most disparaging manner to the genius, the foresight, and the constructive ability of one who in his exuberant moments described himself as Honest John.

The explosive gentleman had just concluded a fanciful picture of what would happen to Honest John if he came into competition with the average Bermondsey child of tender years.

Honest John took the telegram and opened it. He read it and gasped. He stood up and walked to the light, and read it again, then returned, his eyes shining, his face slightly flushed.

"You're clever, ain't you?" he asked. "You're wise-I don't think!

Look at this!"

He handed the telegram to the nearest of his companions, who was the tall, thin, and non-explosive partner, and he in turn passed it without a word to his more choleric companion.

"You don't mean to say he's going to buy it?"

"That's what it says, doesn't it?" said the triumphant Mr. Staines.

"It's a catch," said the explosive man suspiciously.

"Not on your life," replied the scornful Staines. "Where does the catch come in? We've done nothing he could catch us for?"

"Let's have a look at that telegram again," said the thin man, and, having read it in a dazed way, remarked: "He'll wait for you at the office until nine. Well, Jack, nip up and fix that deal. Take the transfers with you. Close it and take his cheque. Take anything he'll give you, and get a special clearance in the morning, and, anyway, the business is straight."

Honest John breathed heavily through his nose and staggered from the bar, and the suspicious glances of the barman were, for once, unjustified, for Mr. Staines was labouring under acute emotions.

He found Bones sitting at his desk, a very silent, taciturn Bones, who greeted him with a nod.

"Sit down," said Bones. "I'll take that property. Here's my cheque."

With trembling fingers Mr. Staines prepared the transfers. It was he who scoured the office corridors to discover two agitated char-ladies who were prepared to witness his signature for a consideration.

He folded the cheque for twenty thousand pounds reverently and put it into his pocket, and was back again at the Stamford Hotel so quickly that his companions could not believe their eyes.

"Well, this is the rummiest go I have ever known," said the explosive man profoundly. "You don't think he expects us to call in the morning and buy it back, do you?"

Staines shook his head.

"I know he doesn't," he said grimly. "In fact, he as good as told me that that business of buying a property back was a fake."

The thin man whistled.

"The devil he did! Then what made him buy it?"

"He's been there. He mentioned he had seen the property," said Staines. And then, as an idea occurred to them all simultaneously, they looked at one another.

The stout Mr. Sole pulled a big watch from his pocket.

"There's a caretaker at Stivvins', isn't there?" he said. "Let's go down and see what has happened."

Stivvins' Wharf was difficult of approach by night. It lay off the main Woolwich Road, at the back of another block of factories, and to reach its dilapidated entrance gates involved an adventurous march through a number of miniature shell craters. Night, however, was merciful in that it hid the desolation which is called Stivvins' from the fastidious eye of man. Mr. Sole, who was not aesthetic and by no means poetical, admitted that Stivvins' gave him the hump.

It was ten o'clock by the time they had reached the wharf, and half-past ten before their hammering on the gate aroused the attention of the night-watchman-who was also the day-watchman-who occupied what had been in former days the weigh-house, which he had converted into a weatherproof lodging.

"Hullo!" he said huskily. "I was asleep."

He recognized Mr. Sole, and led the way to his little bunk-house.

"Look here, Tester," said Sole, who had appointed the man, "did a young swell come down here to-day?"

"He did," said Mr. Tester, "and a young lady. They gave Mr. Staines's name, and asked to be showed round, and," he added, "I showed 'em round."

"Well, what happened?" asked Staines.

"Well," said the man, "I took 'em in the factory, in the big building, and then this young fellow asked to see the place where the metal was kept."

"What metal?" asked three voices at one and the same time.

"That's what I asked," said Mr. Tester, with satisfaction. "I told 'em Stivvins dealt with all kinds of metal, so the gent says: 'What about gold?'"

"What about gold?" repeated Mr. Staines thoughtfully. "And what did you say?"

"Well, as a matter of fact," explained Tester, "I happen to know this place, living in the neighbourhood, and I used to work here about eight years ago, so I took 'em down to the vault."

"To the vault?" said Mr. Staines. "I didn't know there was a vault."

"It's under the main office. You must have seen the place," said Tester. "There's a big steel door with a key in it-at least, there was a key in it, but this young fellow took it away with him."

Staines gripped his nearest companion in sin, and demanded huskily:

"Did they find anything in-in the vault?"

"Blessed if I know!" said the cheerful Tester, never dreaming that he was falling very short of the faith which at that moment, and only at that moment, had been reposed in him. "They just went in. I've never been inside the place myself."

"And you stood outside, like a-a--"

"Blinking image!" said the explosive companion.

"You stood outside like a blinking image, and didn't attempt to go in, and see what they were looking at?" said Mr. Staines heatedly. "How long were they there?"

"About ten minutes."

"And then they came out?"

Tester nodded.

"Did they bring anything out with them?"

"Nothing," said Mr. Tester emphatically.

"Did this fellow-what's his name?-look surprised or upset?" persisted the cross-examining Honest John.

"He was a bit upset, now you come to mention it, agitated like, yes," said Tester, reviewing the circumstances in a new light. "His 'and was, so to speak, shaking."

"Merciful Moses!" This pious ejaculation was from Mr. Staines. "He took away the key, you say. And what are you supposed to be here for?" asked Mr. Staines violently. "You allow this fellow to come and take our property away. Where is the place?"

Tester led the way across the littered yard, explaining en route that he was fed up, and why he was fed up, and what they could do to fill the vacancy which would undoubtedly occur the next day, and where they could go to, so far as he was concerned, and so, unlocking one rusty lock after another, passed through dark and desolate offices, full of squeaks and scampers, down a short flight of stone steps to a most uncompromising steel door at which they could only gaze.

III

Bones was at his office early the following rooming, but he was not earlier than Mr. Staines, who literally followed him into his office and slammed down a slip of paper under his astonished and gloomy eye.

"Hey, hey, what's this?" said Bones irritably. "What the dooce is this, my wicked old fiddle fellow?"

"Your cheque," said Mr. Staines firmly. "And I'll trouble you for the key of our strong-room."

"The key of your strong-room?" repeated Bones. "Didn't I buy this property?"

"You did and you didn't. To cut a long story short, Mr. Tibbetts, I have decided not to sell-in fact, I find that I have done an illegal thing in selling at all."

Bones shrugged his shoulders. Remember that he had slept, or half-slept, for some nine hours, and possibly his views had undergone a change. What he would have done is problematical, because at that moment the radiant Miss Whitland passed into her office, and Bones's acute ear heard the snap of her door.

"One moment," he said gruffly, "one moment, old Honesty."

He strode through the door which separated the private from the public portion of his suite, and Mr. Staines listened. He listened at varying distances from the door, and in his last position it would have required the most delicate of scientific instruments to measure the distance between his ear and the keyhole. He heard nothing save the wail of a Bones distraught, and the firm "No's" of a self-possessed female.

Then, after a heart-breaking silence Bones strode out, and Mr. Staines did a rapid sprint, so that he might be found standing in an attitude of indifference and thought near the desk. The lips of Bones were tight and compressed. He opened the drawer, pulled out the transfers, tossed them across to Mr. Staines.

"Key," said Bones, chucking it down after the document.

He picked up his cheque and tore it into twenty pieces.

"That's all," said Bones, and Mr. Staines beat a tremulous retreat.

When the man had gone, Bones returned to the girl who was sitting at her table before her typewriter. It was observable that her lips were compressed too.

"Young Miss Whitland," said Bones, and his voice was hoarser than ever, "never, never in my life will I ever forgive myself!"

"Oh, please, Mr. Tibbetts," said the girl a little wearily, "haven't I told you that I have forgiven you? And I am sure you had no horrid thought in your mind, and that you just acted impulsively."

Bones bowed his head, at once a sign of agreement and a crushed spirit.

"The fact remains, dear old miss," he said brokenly, "that I did kiss you in that beastly old private vault. I don't know what made me do it," he gulped, "but I did it. Believe me, young miss, that spot was sacred. I wanted to buy the building to preserve it for all time, so that no naughty old foot should tread upon that hallowed ground. You think that's nonsense!"

"Mr. Tibbetts."

"Nonsense, I say, romantic and all that sort of rot." Bones threw out his arms. "I must agree with you. But, believe me, Stivvins' Wharf is hallowed ground, and I deeply regret that you would not let me buy it and turn it over to the jolly old Public Trustee or one of those johnnies…. You do forgive me?"

She laughed up in his face, and then Bones laughed, and they laughed together.

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares