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Grif: A Story of Colonial Life

Chapter VII. Old Flick

page 76

Chapter VII. Old Flick.

Old Flick's dwelling-place was in a narrow thoroughfare—so narrow, that Old Flick might have shaken hands with his neighbor on the opposite side of the way without moving from his own side of the pavement. Not that he ever tried the experiment, for Old Flick was not given to the shaking of hands, and was as secret and close as the grave. The thoroughfare was a misnomer; for if you walked about twenty yards beyond old Flick's dwelling-place, you came, to your great discomfiture, plump upon the dead wall of a building, which checked all further progress. Many deluded pedestrians, who had strolled into the place, curious to know whither it led, had been compelled to retire in dudgeon. A clever speculator had purchased the land round about Old Flick's dwelling, and had cut it up, and mapped it out, and built upon it, with so much ingenuity, that when he came to Old Flick's Thoroughfare, which was the last built upon, he, to his exceeding surprise, found himself blocked in; and, rushing to his plans, discovered that he had given himself a few feet of land more upon paper than he actually possessed upon earth. But he derived consolation from the thought that he had accomplished his object, which was, to build as many tenements as he could crowd upon his land, and to allow as little walking and breathing space as possible to his tenantry. This result being successfully attained, he took a first-class page 77 passage home, and retired to Bermondsey, where he lives to the present day upon the results of his ingenuity, and talks continually, in grandiloquent strains, of his estates in Victoria.

Old Flick's Thoroughfare, as it had grown to be called, boasted of about two feet of pavement and six feet of road, and contained sixteen tenements—eight on each side. In the owner's plan of the estate, which decorated the walls of his parlor in Bermondsey, it was represented as a magnificent street, lined on each side with handsome edifices, four storeys high, and crowded with carriages and pedestrians of the most fashionable character; whereas, in truth, the tenements were each composed of but one storey, and there was scarcely room in the road to wheel a barrow. Over the portico of Old Flick's dwelling was the inscription:—

Old Flick's

All-Sorts Store.

Wholesale, Retail, and for Exportation.

For be it here remarked, it is the fashion of most small traders in the colonies to sell everything, down to oranges and gingerbread, “wholesale, retail, and for exportation.” It is an idosyncrasy peculiar to the class. In the windows of Old Flick's All-sorts Store was heaped the most worthless collection of worthless articles that could possibly be compressed within so small a space. Blunt saws, dirty pannikins, broken crockery, worn-out dog collars, no-bladed penknives, empty ink bottles, rusteaten picks and shovels, a few torn books, the broken works of two or three clocks and watches, with a multitude of other utterly incongruous things, were tumbled page 78 indiscriminately upon each other. One pane was occupied with an announcement that “Doctor Flick prescribed for, and cured every disorder incidental to the human frame, at the lowest possible rates;” and in another pane appeared the announcement that Old Flick was a land and estate agent, and collected rents and debts, and acted as the confidential adviser of all persons in trouble and difficulty, and that secrecy and dispatch might be relied upon. As a proof that he was ready for consultation or active business, Old Flick, with his palsied frame and blear eyes, might be seen, half the day, standing in ragged slippers, at his door, on the watch for customers. He might not inaptly have been likened to an ugly spider on the look-out for flies.

The origin of Old Flick was wrapped in mystery. Nothing further was known of him, than that he had sprung up suddenly in Canvas Town, and that, when that motley delectability was swept away, he had migrated to the blind alley to which he gave his name, and which had just then been formed by the operations of the Bermondsey speculator. Even in Canvas Town, where probably was assembled the most incongruous mass of human beings ever congregated together; where thief and gentleman slept with but the division of a strip of calico between them, and where ladies cooked their family meals, and washed their family clothes, in the open thoroughfare—even there, Old Flick was a mystery. He was a tall, thin, stooping man, with an unwholesome-looking face, always stubbled and dirty. He was sixty years of age, or thereabouts, and he was so shaky that he could scarcely hold a glass to his lips without page 79 spilling half its contents. He said it was ague; other said it was rum. At the time of his introduction to the reader, he was standing at his door, as usual, in his ragged slippers, with his blear eyes looking frequently over his shoulder to the room at the back of his store. While thus engaged, he was accosted by an untidy-looking girl, with her hair hanging over her shoulders, and bearing a look of decided dissipation in her face, yet with sufficient traces of beauty in it to attract attention.

“Hallo! Old Flick! Who is inside?”

“No one, Milly,” he answered.

“What a liar you are, Flick!” said Milly. “Jim's inside, and you know it.”

“Jim isn't inside,” he returned. “You're drunk.”

“That's another lie,” said Milly. “I say, Old Flick, I never saw you blush. Tell the truth for once, and set your face on fire.”

Old Flick looked venomously at the girl, but she only laughed at him in return.

“Go in, and tell Jim I want to speak to him,” she said.

“I have told you he isn't there,” responded Old Flick.

“All right. Then I'll sit here and wait for him;” and she sat down on the pavement in front of the store. Old Flick was in despair. He glared at her, and swore at her.

“Get up, you she-devil,” he quavered, in a voice shaking with passion.

“I shan't. If you call me names, I'll pull your whiskers out.” And then she sang a verse of a song, page 80 declaring that she was good-tempered and free, and ending with, “and I don't care a single pin what the world thinks of me.”

“Go away, Milly,” said Old Flick coaxingly; “go away, there's a dear! You'll have the peelers on you, and if Jim hears you”——

“Oh, he is in there, is he!” exclaimed Milly, rising to her feet.

“Yes, but it's more than my life's worth to disturb him. Go away, quietly, there's a dear!”

“All right,” she said; “just you tell him, when you go in, to come home soon. I did'nt want to see him, you old fool. I only wanted to know where he was. Oh, what a liar you are, Flick!”

And giving him a playful pinch on his withered cheek, she walked away, singing.

In the back room of old Flick's dwelling was assembled a quartette, each member of which bore upon his face a certificate for the gallows. It was composed of Jim Pizey, Black Sam, Ned Rutt, and the Tenderhearted Oysterman. Spirits and glasses were on the table, and the room was filled with smoke.

“That's arranged then,” said Jim Pizey; “we meet at Gisborne this day fortnight. And mind, if any of us comes across that young skunk, Dick Handfield, he's not to be let go.”

“Where's that milk-faced woman of his got to, I wonder,” said Ned Rutt; “I'd work it out of her if I knew where she was.”

“Strike me blind!” exclaimed the Tenderhearted Oysterman. “You don't mean to say you'd hit a woman!”

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“I'd wring her neck for her,” said Ned Rutt, sneering.

“You wouldn't hurt a woman, of course, Oysterman.”

“Strike me dizzy!” exclaimed the Oysterman.

“Hurt a woman! I wouldn't hurt a fly.”

“Come here, Old Flick,” shouted Jim Pizey, striking the table violently, and putting an end to the discussion, “Come here, you shaking old villain, and let's settle up with you.”

Which settling-up caused a great deal of whining on the part of Old Flick, and a great deal of cursing on the part of the quartette.

“Milly's been here, Jim,” said Old Flick, when the settling was arranged, and Ned Rutt and Black Sam had departed. “She kicked up a nice row. I had as much as I could do to prevent her coming in.”

“I'd have split her head open if she had,” said Pizey, savagely. “She'll be whimpering nicely, when she knows I'm going away. But never mind her. Just listen to what I say, Flick, and don't miss a word.”

With their heads close together, Jim Pizey and the Tenderhearted Oysterman laid bare their scheme. It was complete in its villainousness. Stickng-up, burglary, murder—they would stop short at nothing.

“It sounds very well, Jim,” said Old Flick. “But I've heard such lots of these schemes, and they've all ended in smoke.”

“And why?” asked Jim Pizey, with passion. “Why have they all ended in smoke? Because, when everything has been cut and dried, some white-livered thief grew squeamish, and backed out of it! or because the infernal cowards have turned dainty at the sight of a page 82 drop of blood, and didn't have heart enough among the lot of 'em to kill a man! But this sha'n't end so—if any man turns tail when I am leading, I'll give him six barrels, one after another; he shall never turn tail again. We've got the right lot this time; there are four of us down here, and I can reckon upon four up the country. When we've got them altogether, we'll stick up the escort perhaps. I'll take care we won't bungle over it. We'll kill every damned trooper among 'em.”

“But we won't hurt 'em, Flick,” said the Tenderhearted Oysterman. “If I thought we should hurt the poor coves, I wouldn't have anything to do with it.”

“There sha'n't be many left to blab about it,” said Jim. “How would you like to have your hands in the gold-boxes, Flick, and run the dust through your fingers, eh?” Old Flick's eyes glistened, and his fingers twitched, as if they were already playing with the precious dust. “How would you like to buy it at so much a pannikinful, eh, Flick? That's the way lots of it was sold after the Nelson was stuck up in Hobson's Bay.”

“Ah,” said Old Flick, pensively, “that was a smart trick, that was. But then men had pluck in them.”

“It's all very well to say that,” grumbled Jim; “I could find men with lots of pluck, but there are no opportunities, worse luck!”

“Only think,” said Old Flick, gloating upon the subject; “the dark night; the ship ready for sea, and going to sail the next day; all the gold on board; the captain and officers on shore, boozing. I can see it all. The ship lies snugly at anchor; a boat, with muffled page 83 oars, comes quietly to the side; half a dozen plucky men glide up like snakes on to the deck. Down goes the watch, gagged and bound in no time. The iron boxes, filled with gold—a hundred thousand ounces—are lowered into the boat, and in a few minutes the brave fellows are pulling back to the shore, made for life.” And Old Flick's villainous face brightened, and his eyes glistened.

“Made for life!” sneered Jim. “Not they. They were robbed right and left by such villains as yourself. I could lay my hands on a man in this town who would only put down a hundred sovereigns for every pannikin of gold-dust he bought. Full measure, too!”

“That's the way they do us poor hard-working coves,” grumbled the Oysterman, “Why, every one of them pannikins was worth a thousand pounds. He ought to be had up for embezzlement.”

And thus conversing, they sat together until late in the night, hatching their villainous schemes; and when they departed, Old Flick chuckled, and rubbed his hands, and with one leg, and nearly the whole of the other, in the grave, he indulged in anticipations of a glowing future, as he drank his rum and water.