When London Burned by G. A. Henty
Chapter III. A Thief Somewhere
Two days after the conclusion of the stock-taking, Cyril said, after breakfast was over,--
"Would it trouble you, Captain Dave, to give me an hour up here before you go downstairs to the counting-house. I am free for two hours now, and there is a matter upon which I should like to speak to you privately."
"Certainly, lad," the old sailor said, somewhat surprised. "We shall be quiet enough here, as soon as the table is cleared. My dame and Nellie will be helping the maid do up the cabins, and will then be sallying out marketing."
When the maid had cleared the table, Cyril went up to his room and returned with a large ledger and several smaller books.
"I have, for the last month, Captain Dave, been making up this stock-book for my own satisfaction."
"Bless me, lad, why have you taken all that trouble? This accounts, then, for your writing so long at night, for which my dame has been quarrelling with you!"
"It was interesting work," Cyril said quietly. "Now, you see, sir," he went on, opening the big ledger, "here are the separate accounts under each head. These pages, you see, are for heavy cables for hawsers; of these, at the date of the last stock-taking, there were, according to the book you handed to me, five hundred fathoms in stock. These are the amounts you have purchased since. Now, upon the other side are all the sales of this cable entered in the sales-book. Adding them together, and deducting them from the other side, you will see there should remain in stock four hundred and fifty fathoms. According to the new stock-taking there are four hundred and thirty-eight. That is, I take it, as near as you could expect to get, for, in the measuring out of so many thousand fathoms of cable during the fifteen months between the two stock-takings, there may well have been a loss of the twelve fathoms in giving good measurement."
"That is so," Captain Dave said. "I always say to John Wilkes, 'Give good measurement, John--better a little over than a little under.' Nothing can be clearer or more satisfactory."
Cyril closed the book.
"I am sorry to say, Captain Dave, all the items are not so satisfactory, and that I greatly fear that you have been robbed to a considerable amount."
"Robbed, lad!" the Captain said, starting up from his chair. "Who should rob me? Not John Wilkes, I can be sworn! Not the two apprentices for a surety, for they never go out during the day, and John keeps a sharp look-out upon them, and the entrance to the shop is always locked and barred after work is over, so that none can enter without getting the key, which, as you know, John always brings up and hands to me as soon as he has fastened the door! You are mistaken, lad, and although I know that your intentions are good, you should be careful how you make a charge that might bring ruin to innocent men. Carelessness there may be; but robbery! No; assuredly not."
"I have not brought the charge without warrant, Captain Dave," Cyril said gravely, "and if you will bear with me for a few minutes, I think you will see that there is at least something that wants looking into."
"Well, it is only fair after the trouble you have taken, lad, that I should hear what you have to say; but it will need strong evidence indeed to make me believe that there has been foul play."
"Well, sir," Cyril said, opening the ledger again, "in the first place, I would point out that in all the heavy articles, such as could not conveniently be carried away, the tally of the stock-takers corresponds closely with the figures in this book. In best bower anchors the figures are absolutely the same and, as you have seen, in heavy cables they closely correspond. In the large ship's compasses, the ship's boilers, and ship's galleys, the numbers tally exactly. So it is with all the heavy articles; the main blocks are correct, and all other heavy gear. This shows that John Wilkes's book is carefully kept, and it would be strange indeed if heavy goods had all been properly entered, and light ones omitted; but yet when we turn to small articles, we find that there is a great discrepancy between the figures. Here is the account, for instance, of the half-inch rope. According to my ledger, there should be eighteen hundred fathoms in stock, whereas the stock-takers found but three hundred and eighty. In two-inch rope there is a deficiency of two hundred and thirty fathoms, in one-inch rope of six hundred and twenty. These sizes, as you know, are always in requisition, and a thief would find ready purchasers for a coil of any of them. But, as might be expected, it is in copper that the deficiency is most serious. Of fourteen-inch bolts, eighty-two are short, of twelve-inch bolts a hundred and thirty, of eight-inch three hundred and nine; and so on throughout almost all the copper stores. According to your expenditure and receipt-book, Captain Dave, you have made, in the last fifteen months, twelve hundred and thirty pounds; but according to this book your stock is less in value, by two thousand and thirty-four pounds, than it should have been. You are, therefore, a poorer man than you were at the beginning of this fifteen months' trading, by eight hundred and four pounds."
Captain Dave sat down in his chair, breathing hard. He took out his handkerchief and wiped the drops of perspiration from his forehead.
"Are you sure of this, boy?" he said hoarsely. "Are you sure that you have made no mistake in your figures?"
"Quite sure," Cyril said firmly. "In all cases in which I have found deficiencies I have gone through the books three times and compared the figures, and I am sure that if you put the books into the hands of any city accountant, he will bear out my figures."
For a time Captain Dave sat silent.
"Hast any idea," he said at last, "how this has come about?"
"I have none," Cyril replied. "That John Wilkes is not concerned in it I am as sure as you are; and, thinking the matter over, I see not how the apprentices could have carried off so many articles, some heavy and some bulky, when they left the shop in the evening, without John Wilkes noticing them. So sure am I, that my advice would be that you should take John Wilkes into your confidence, and tell him how matters stand. My only objection to that is that he is a hasty man, and that I fear he would not be able to keep his countenance, so that the apprentices would remark that something was wrong. I am far from saying that they have any hand in it; it would be a grievous wrong to them to have suspicions when there is no shadow of evidence against them; but at any rate, if this matter is to be stopped and the thieves detected, it is most important that they should have, if they are guilty, no suspicion that they are in any way being watched, or that these deficiencies have been discovered. If they have had a hand in the matter they most assuredly had accomplices, for such goods could not be disposed of by an apprentice to any dealer without his being sure that they must have been stolen."
"You are right there, lad--quite right. Did John Wilkes know that I had been robbed in this way he would get into a fury, and no words could restrain him from falling upon the apprentices and beating them till he got some of the truth out of them."
"They may be quite innocent," Cyril said. "It may be that the thieves have discovered some mode of entry into the store either by opening the shutters at the back, or by loosening a board, or even by delving up under the ground. It is surely easier to believe this than that the boys can have contrived to carry off so large a quantity of goods under John Wilkes's eye."
"That is so, lad. I have never liked Robert Ashford, but God forbid that I should suspect him of such crime only because his forehead is as wrinkled as an ape's, and Providence has set his eyes crossways in his head. You cannot always judge a ship by her upper works; she may be ugly to the eye and yet have a clear run under water. Still, you can't help going by what you see. I agree with you that if we tell John Wilkes about this, those boys will know five minutes afterwards that the ship is on fire; but if we don't tell him, how are we to get to the bottom of what is going on?"
"That is a difficult question, but a few days will not make much difference, when we know that it has been going on for over a year, and may, for aught we know, have been going on much longer. The first thing, Captain Dave, is to send these books to an accountant, for him to go through them and check my figures."
"There is no need for that, lad. I know how careful you are, and you cannot have gone so far wrong as all this."
"No, sir, I am sure that there is no mistake; but, for your own sake as well as mine, it were well that you should have the signature of an accountant to the correctness of the books. If you have to lay the matter before the magistrates, they would not take my testimony as to your losses, and might even say that you were rash in acting upon the word of a boy like myself, and you might then be obliged to have the accounts made up anew, which would cost you more, and cause much delay in the process; whereas, if you put in your books and say that their correctness is vouched for by an accountant, no question would arise on it; nor would there be any delay now, for while the books are being gone into, we can be trying to get to the bottom of the matter here."
"Ay, ay, it shall be done, Master Cyril, as you say. But for the life of me I don't see how we are to get at the bottom of the ship to find out where she is leaking!"
"It seems to me that the first thing, Captain Dave, is to see to the warehouse. As we agreed that the apprentices cannot have carried out all these goods under John Wilkes's eye, and cannot have come down night after night through the house, the warehouse must have been entered from without. As I never go in there, it would be best that you should see to this matter yourself. There are the fastenings of the shutters in the first place, then the boardings all round. As for me, I will look round outside. The window of my room looks into the street, but if you will take me to one of the rooms at the back we can look at the surroundings of the yard, and may gather some idea whether the goods can have been passed over into any of the houses abutting on it, or, as is more likely, into the lane that runs up by its side."
The Captain led the way into one of the rooms at the back of the house, and opening the casement, he and Cyril leaned out. The store occupied fully half the yard, the rest being occupied by anchors, piles of iron, ballast, etc. There were two or three score of guns of various sizes piled on each other. A large store of cannon-ball was ranged in a great pyramid close by. A wall some ten feet high separated the yard from the lane Cyril had spoken of. On the left, adjoining the warehouse, was the yard of the next shop, which belonged to a wool-stapler. Behind were the backs of a number of small houses crowded in between Tower Street and Leadenhall Street.
"I suppose you do not know who lives in those houses, Captain Dave?"
"No, indeed. The land is not like the sea. Afloat, when one sees a sail, one wonders what is her nationality, and whither she is bound, and still more whether she is an honest trader or a rascally pirate; but here on land, one scarcely gives a thought as to who may dwell in the houses round."
"I will walk round presently," Cyril said, "and gather, as far as I can, who they are that live there; but, as I have said, I fancy it is over that wall and into the alley that your goods have departed. The apprentices' room is this side of the house, is it not?"
"Yes; John Wilkes sleeps in the room next to yours, and the door opposite to his is that of the lads' room."
"Do the windows of any of the rooms look into that lane?"
"No; it is a blank wall on that side."
"There is the clock striking nine," Cyril said, starting. "It is time for me to be off. Then you will take the books to-day, Captain Dave?"
"I will carry them off at once, and when I return will look narrowly into the fastenings of the two windows and door from the warehouse into the yard; and will take care to do so when the boys are engaged in the front shop."
When his work was done, Cyril went round to the houses behind the yard, and he found that they stood in a small court, with three or four trees growing in the centre, and were evidently inhabited by respectable citizens. Over the door of one was painted, "Joshua Heddings, Attorney"; next to him was Gilbert Gushing, who dealt in jewels, silks, and other precious commodities from the East; next to him was a doctor, and beyond a dealer in spices. This was enough to assure him that it was not through such houses as these that the goods had been carried.
Cyril had not been back at the mid-day meal, for his work that day lay up by Holborn Bar, where he had two customers whom he attended with but half an hour's interval between the visits, and on the days on which he went there he was accustomed to get something to eat at a tavern hard by.
Supper was an unusually quiet meal. Captain Dave now and then asked John Wilkes a question as to the business matters of the day, but evidently spoke with an effort. Nellie rattled on as usual; but the burden of keeping up the conversation lay entirely on her shoulders and those of Cyril. After the apprentices had left, and John Wilkes had started for his usual resort, the Captain lit his pipe. Nellie signed to Cyril to come and seat himself by her in the window that projected out over the street, and enabled the occupants of the seats at either side to have a view up and down it.
"What have you been doing to father, Cyril?" she asked, in low tones; "he has been quite unlike himself all day. Generally when he is out of temper he rates everyone heartily, as if we were a mutinous crew, but to-day he has gone about scarcely speaking; he hasn't said a cross word to any of us, but several times when I spoke to him I got no answer, and it is easy to see that he is terribly put out about something. He was in his usual spirits at breakfast; then, you know, he was talking with you for an hour, and it does not take much guessing to see that it must have been something that passed between you that has put him out. Now what was it?"
"I don't see why you should say that, Mistress Nellie. It is true we did have a talk together, and he examined some fresh books I have been making out and said that he was mightily pleased with my work. I went away at nine o'clock, and something may have occurred to upset him between that and dinner."
"All which means that you don't mean to tell me anything about it, Master Cyril. Well, then, you may consider yourself in my black books altogether," she said petulantly.
"I am sorry that you should say so," he said. "If it were true that anything that I had said to him had ruffled him, it would be for him to tell you, and not for me."
"Methinks I have treated Robert Ashford scurvily, and I shall take him for my escort to see His Majesty attend service at St. Paul's to-morrow."
"I think it would be fair to give him a turn, Mistress, and I am glad to see that you have such a kind thought."
Nellie rose indignantly, and taking her work sat down by the side of her mother.
"It is a fine evening," Cyril said to Captain Dave, "and I think I shall take a walk round. I shall return in an hour."
The Captain understood, by a glance Cyril gave him, that he was going out for some purpose connected with the matter they had in hand.
"Ay, ay, lad," he said. "It is not good for you to be sitting moping at home every evening. I have often wondered before that you did not take a walk on deck before you turned in. I always used to do so myself."
"I don't think there is any moping in it, Captain Dave," Cyril said, with a laugh. "If you knew how pleasant the evenings have been to me after the life I lived before, you would not say so."
Cyril's only object in going out, however, was to avoid the necessity of having to talk with Dame Dowsett and Nellie. His thoughts were running on nothing but the robbery, and he had found it very difficult to talk in his usual manner, and to answer Nellie's sprightly sallies. It was dark already. A few oil lamps gave a feeble light here and there. At present he had formed no plan whatever of detecting the thieves; he was as much puzzled as the Captain himself as to how the goods could have been removed. It would be necessary, of course, to watch the apprentices, but he did not think that anything was likely to come out of this. It was the warehouse itself that must be watched, in order to discover how the thieves made an entry. His own idea was that they got over the wall by means of a rope, and in some way managed to effect an entry into the warehouse. The apprentices could hardly aid them unless they came down through the house.
If they had managed to get a duplicate key of the door leading from the bottom of the stairs to the shop, they could, of course, unbar the windows, and pass things out--that part of the business would be easy; but he could not believe that they would venture frequently to pass down through the house. It was an old one, and the stairs creaked. He himself was a light sleeper; he had got into the way of waking at the slightest sound, from the long watches he had had for his father's return, and felt sure that he should have heard them open their door and steal along the passage past his room, however quietly they might do it. He walked up the Exchange, then along Cheapside as far as St. Paul's, and back. Quiet as it was in Thames Street there was no lack of animation elsewhere. Apprentices were generally allowed to go out for an hour after supper, the regulation being that they returned to their homes by eight o'clock. Numbers of these were about. A good many citizens were on their way home after supping with friends. The city watch, with lanterns, patrolled the streets, and not infrequently interfered in quarrels which broke out among the apprentices. Cyril felt more solitary among the knots of laughing, noisy lads than in the quiet streets, and was glad to be home again. Captain Dave himself came down to open the door.
"I have just sent the women to bed," he said. "The two boys came in five minutes ago. I thought you would not be long."
"I did not go out for anything particular," Cyril said; "but Mistress Nellie insisted that there was something wrong with you, and that I must know what it was about, so, feeling indeed indisposed to talk, I thought it best to go out for a short time."
"Yes, yes. Women always want to know, lad. I have been long enough at sea, you may be sure, to know that when anything is wrong, it is the best thing to keep it from the passengers as long as you can."
"You took the books away this morning, Captain Dave?" Cyril asked as they sat down.
"Ay, lad, I took them to Master Skinner, who bears as good a reputation as any accountant in the city, and he promised to take them in hand without loss of time; but I have been able to do nothing here. John, or one or other of the boys, was always in the warehouse, and I have had no opportunity of examining the door and shutters closely. When the house is sound asleep we will take a lantern and go down to look at them. I have been thinking that we must let John Wilkes into this matter; it is too much to bear on my mind by myself. He is my first mate, you see, and in time of danger, the first mate, if he is worth anything, is the man the captain relies on for help."
"By all means tell him, then," Cyril said. "I can keep books, but I have no experience in matters like this, and shall be very glad to have his opinion and advice."
"There he is--half-past eight. He is as punctual as clockwork."
Cyril ran down and let John in.
"The Captain wants to speak to you," he said, "before you go up to bed."
John, after carefully bolting the door, followed him upstairs.
"I have got some bad news for you, John. There, light your pipe again, and sit down. My good dame has gone off to bed, and we have got the cabin to ourselves."
John touched an imaginary hat and obeyed orders.
"The ship has sprung a bad leak, John. This lad here has found it out, and it is well he did, for unless he had done so we should have had her foundering under our feet without so much as suspecting anything was going wrong."
The sailor took his newly-lighted pipe from between his lips and stared at the Captain in astonishment.
"Yes, it is hard to believe, mate, but, by the Lord Harry, it is as I say. There is a pirate about somewhere, and the books show that, since the stock-taking fifteen months ago, he has eased the craft of her goods to the tune of two thousand pounds and odd."
John Wilkes flung his pipe on to the table with such force that it shivered into fragments.
"Dash my timbers!" he exclaimed. "Who is the man? You only give me the orders, sir, and I am ready to range alongside and board him."
"That is what we have got to find out, John. That the goods have gone is certain, but how they can have gone beats us altogether."
"Do you mean to say, Captain, that they have stolen them out of the place under my eyes and me know nothing about it? It can't be, sir. There must be some mistake. I know naught about figures, save enough to put down the things I sell, but I don't believe as a thing has gone out of the shop unbeknown to me. That yarn won't do for me, sir," and he looked angrily at Cyril.
"It is true enough, John, for all that. The books have been balanced up. We knew what was in stock fifteen months ago, and we knew from your sale-book what has passed out of the shop, and from your entry-book what has come in. We know now what there is remaining. We find that in bulky goods, such as cables and anchors and ships' boilers and suchlike, the accounts tally exactly, but in the small rope, and above all in the copper, there is a big shrinkage. I will read you the figures of some of them."
John's face grew longer and longer as he heard the totals read.
"Well, I'm jiggered!" he said, when the list was concluded. "I could have sworn that the cargo was right according to the manifest. Well, Captain, all I can say is, if that 'ere list be correct, the best thing you can do is to send me adrift as a blind fool. I have kept my tallies as correct as I could, and I thought I had marked down every package that has left the ship, and here they must have been passing out pretty nigh in cart-loads under my very eyes, and I knew nothing about it."
"I don't blame you, John, more than I blame myself. I am generally about on deck, and had no more idea that the cargo was being meddled with than you had. I have been wrong in letting matters go on so long without taking stock of them and seeing that it was all right; but I never saw the need for it. This is what comes of taking to a trade you know nothing about; we have just been like two children, thinking that it was all plain and above board, and that we had nothing to do but to sell our goods and to fill up again when the hold got empty. Well, it is of no use talking over that part of the business. What we have got to do is to find out this leak and stop it. We are pretty well agreed, Cyril and me, that the things don't go out of the shop by daylight. The question is, how do they go out at night?"
"I always lock up the hatches according to orders, Captain."
"Yes, I have no doubt you do, John; but maybe the fastenings have been tampered with. The only way in which we see it can have been managed is that someone has been in the habit of getting over the wall between the yard and the lane, and then getting into the warehouse somehow. It must have been done very often, for if the things had been taken in considerable quantities you would have noticed that the stock was short directly the next order came in. Now I propose we light these two lanterns I have got here, and that we go down and have a look round the hold."
Lighting the candles, they went downstairs. The Captain took out the key and turned the lock. It grated loudly as he did so.
"That is a noisy lock," Cyril said.
"It wants oiling," John replied. "I have been thinking of doing it for the last month, but it has always slipped out of my mind."
"At any rate," Cyril said, "it is certain that thieves could not have got into the shop this way, for the noise would have been heard all over the house."
The door between the shop and the warehouse was next unlocked. The fastenings of the shutters and doors were first examined; there was no sign of their having been tampered with. Each bolt and hasp was tried, and the screws examined. Then they went round trying every one of the stout planks that formed the side; all were firm and in good condition.
"It beats me altogether," the Captain said, when they had finished their examination. "The things cannot walk out of themselves; they have got to be carried. But how the fellows who carry them get in is more than I can say. There is nowhere else to look, is there, John?"
"Not that I can see, Captain."
They went to the door into the shop, and were about to close it, when Cyril said,--
"Some of the things that are gone are generally kept in here, Captain--the rope up to two inch, for example, and a good deal of canvas, and most of the smaller copper fittings; so that, whoever the thief is, he must have been in the habit of coming in here as well as into the warehouse."
"That is so, lad. Perhaps they entered from this side."
"Will you hold the lantern here, John?" Cyril said.
The sailor held the lantern to the lock.
"There are no scratches nor signs of tools having been used here," Cyril said, examining both the lock and the door-post. "Whether the thief came into the warehouse first, or not, he must have had a key."
The Captain nodded.
"Thieves generally carry a lot of keys with them, Cyril; and if one does not quite fit they can file it until it does."
The shutters of the shop window and its fastenings, and those of the door, were as secure as those of the warehouse, and, completely puzzled, the party went upstairs again.
"There must be some way of getting in and out, although we can't find it," Captain Dave said. "Things can't have gone off by themselves."
"It may be, Captain," John Wilkes said, "that some of the planks may be loose."
"But we tried them all, John."
"Ay, they seem firm enough, but it may be that one of them is wedged in, and that when the wedges are taken out it could be pulled off."
"I think you would have noticed it, John. If there was anything of that sort it must be outside. However, we will take a good look round the yard to-morrow. The warehouse is strongly built, and I don't believe that any plank could be taken off and put back again, time after time, without making a noise that would be heard in the house. What do you think, Cyril?"
"I agree with you, Captain Dave. How the thieves make an entry I can't imagine, but I don't believe that it is through the wall of the warehouse. I am convinced that the robberies must have been very frequent. Had a large amount been taken at a time, John Wilkes would have been sure to notice it. Then, again, the thieves would not come so often, and each time for a comparatively small amount of booty, unless it could be managed without any serious risk or trouble. However, now that we do know that they come, we shall have, I should think, very little difficulty in finding out how it is done."
"You may warrant we will keep a sharp look-out," John Wilkes said savagely. "If the Captain will give me the use of a room at the back of the house, you may be sure I shan't close an eye till I have got to the bottom of the matter. I am responsible for the cargo below, and if I had kept as sharp an eye on the stores as I ought to have done, this would not have happened. Only let me catch them trying to board, and I will give them such a reception that I warrant me they will sheer off with a bullet or two in them. I have got that pair of boarding pistols, and a cutlass, hung up over my bed."
"You must not do that, John," the Captain said. "It isn't a matter of beating off the pirates by pouring a broadside into them. Maybe you might cripple them, more likely they would make off, and we want to capture them. Therefore, I say, let us watch, and find out how they do it. When we once know that, we can lay our plans for capturing them the next time they come. I will take watch and watch with you."
"Well, if it goes on long, Captain, I won't say no to that; but for to-night anyhow I will sit up alone."
"Very well, let it be so, John. But mind, whatever you see, you keep as still as a mouse. Just steal to my room in your stockinged feet directly you see anything moving. Open the door and say, 'Strange sail in sight!' and I will be over at your window in no time. And now, Cyril, you and I may as well turn in."
The night passed quietly.
"You saw nothing, I suppose, John?" the Captain said next morning, after the apprentices had gone down from breakfast.
"Not a thing, Captain."
"Now we will go and have a look in the yard. Will you come, Cyril?"
"I should like to come," Cyril replied, "but, as I have never been out there before, had you not better make some pretext for me to do so. You might say, in the hearing of the apprentices, 'We may as well take the measurements for that new shed we were talking about, and see how much boarding it will require.' Then you can call to me out from the office to come and help you to measure."
"Then you still think the apprentices are in it?" John Wilkes asked sharply.
"I don't say I think so, John. I have nothing against them. I don't believe they could come down at night without being heard; I feel sure they could not get into the shop without that stiff bolt making a noise. Still, as it is possible they may be concerned in the matter, I think that, now we have it in good train for getting to the bottom of it, it would be well to keep the matter altogether to ourselves."
"Quite right," Captain Dave said approvingly. "When you suspect treachery, don't let a soul think that you have got such a matter in your mind, until you are in a position to take the traitor by the collar and put a pistol to his ear. That idea of yours is a very good one; I will say something about the shed to John this morning, and then when you go down to the counting-house after dinner I will call to you to come out to the yard with us."
After dinner, Captain Dave went with Cyril into the counting-house.
"We had an order in this morning for a set of ship's anchors, and John and I have been in the yard looking them out; we looked over the place pretty sharply, as you may be sure, but as far as we could see the place is as solid as when it was built, fifty years ago, by my father."
The Captain went out into the store, and ten minutes afterwards re-entered the shop and shouted,--
"Come out here, Cyril, and lend a hand. We are going to take those measurements. Bring out your ink-horn, and a bit of paper to put them down as we take them."
The yard was some sixty feet long by twenty-five broad, exclusive of the space occupied by the warehouse. This, as Cyril had observed from the window above, did not extend as far as the back wall; but on walking round there with the two men, he found that the distance was greater than he had expected, and that there was a space of some twenty feet clear.
"This is where we are thinking of putting the shed," the Captain said in a loud voice.
"But I see that you have a crane and door into the loft over the warehouse there," Cyril said, looking up.
"We never use that now. When my father first began business, he used to buy up old junk and such-like stores, and store them up there, but it didn't pay for the trouble; and, besides, as you see, he wanted every foot of the yard room, and of course at that time they had to leave a space clear for the carts to come up from the gate round here, so it was given up, and the loft is empty now."
Cyril looked up at the crane. It was swung round so as to lie flat against the wooden shutters. The rope was still through the block, and passed into the loft through a hole cut at the junction of the shutters.
They now measured the space between the warehouse and the wall, the Captain repeating the figures, still in a loud voice; then they discussed the height of the walls, and after some argument between the Captain and John Wilkes agreed that this should be the same as the rest of the building. Still talking on the subject, they returned through the warehouse, Cyril on the way taking a look at the massive gate that opened into the lane. In addition to a heavy bar it had a strong hasp, fastened by a great padlock. The apprentices were busy at work coiling up some rope when they passed by.
"When we have knocked a door through the end there, John," Captain Dave said, "it will give you a deal more room, and you will be able to get rid of all these cables and heavy dunnage, and to have matters more ship-shape here."
While they had been taking the measurements, all three had carefully examined the wall of the warehouse.
"There is nothing wrong there, Cyril," his employer said, as, leaving John Wilkes in the warehouse, they went through the shop into the little office.
"Certainly nothing that I could see, Captain Dave. I did not before know the loft had any opening to the outside. Of course I have seen the ladder going up from the warehouse to that trap-door; but as it was closed I thought no more of it."
"I don't suppose anyone has been up there for years, lad. What, are you thinking that someone might get in through those shutters? Why, they are twenty feet from the ground, so that you would want a long ladder, and when you got up there you would find that you could not open the shutters. I said nobody had been up there, but I did go up myself to have a look round when I first settled down here, and there is a big bar with a padlock."
Cyril thought no more about it, and after supper it was arranged that he and Captain Dave should keep watch by turns at the window of the room that had been now given to John Wilkes, and that the latter should have a night in his berth, as the Captain expressed it. John Wilkes had made some opposition, saying that he would be quite willing to take his watch.
"You will just obey orders, John," the Captain said. "You have had thirty-six hours off the reel on duty, and you have got to be at work all day to-morrow again. You shall take the middle watch to-morrow night if you like, but one can see with half an eye that you are not fit to be on the lookout to-night. I doubt if any of us could see as far as the length of the bowsprit. It is pretty nearly pitch dark; there is not a star to be seen, and it looked to me, when I turned out before supper, as if we were going to have a storm."