“Talk it over afterwards,” said Ezra shortly. “Burt and I have had no luncheon yet.”
“I am cursed near starved,” the other growled, throwing himself into a chair. Ezra had been careful to keep him from drink on the way down, and he was now sober, or as nearly sober as a brain saturated with liquor could ever be.
Girdlestone called for Mrs. Jorrocks, who laid the cloth and put a piece of cold corned beef and a jug of beer upon the table. Ezra appeared to have a poor appetite, but Burt ate voraciously, and filled his glass again and again from the jug. When the meal was finished and the ale all consumed, he rose with a grunt of repletion, and, pulling a roll of black tobacco from his pocket, proceeded to cut it into slices, and to cram it into his pipe. Ezra drew a chair up to the fire, and his father did the same, after ordering the old woman out of the room and carefully closing the door behind her.
“You have spoken to our friend here about the business?” Girdlestone asked, nodding his head in the direction of Burt.
“Yes. I have made it all clear.”
“Five hundred pounds down, and a free passage to Africa,” said Burt.
“An energetic man like you can do a great deal in the colonies with five hundred pounds,” Girdlestone remarked.
“What I do with it is nothin’ to you, guv’nor,” Burt remarked surlily. “I does the job, you pays the money, and there’s an end as far as you are concerned.”
“Quite so,” the merchant said in a conciliatory voice. “You are free to do what you like with the money.”
“Without axin’ your leave,” growled Burt. He was a man of such a turbulent and quarrelsome disposition that he was always ready to go out of his way to make himself disagreeable.
“The question is how it is to be done,” interposed Ezra. He was looking very nervous and uneasy. Hard as he was, he had neither the pseudo-religious monomania of his father, nor the callous brutality of Burt, and he shuddered at the thought of what was to come. His eyes were red and bleared, and he sat with one arm thrown over the back of his chair, while he drummed nervously with the fingers of his other hand upon his knee. “You’ve got some plan in your head, I suppose,” he said to his father. “It’s high time the thing was carried through, or we shall have to put up the shutters in Fenchurch Street.”
His father shivered at the very thought. “Anything rather than that,” he said.
“It will precious soon come to that. It was the devil of a fight to keep things straight last week.”
“What’s the matter with your lip? It seems to be swollen.”
“I had a turn with that fellow Dimsdale,” Ezra answered, putting his hand up to his mouth to hide the disfigurement. “He followed us to the station, and we had to beat him off; but I think I left my marks upon him.”
“He played some damned hokey-pokey business on me,” said Burt. “He tripped me in some new-fangled way, and nigh knocked the breath out of me. I don’t fall as light as I used.”
“He did not succeed in tracing you?” Girdlestone asked uneasily. “There is no chance of his turning up here and spoiling the whole business?”
“Not the least,” said Ezra confidently. “He was in the hands of a policeman when I saw him last.”