Fine Mr. Grigsby—fine man, indeed! Why, he carried himself with such hauteur, his eyes slanted ever upward, his hat tipped just so to counter the intrusion of the sun, and his hands always grafted to the inner lining of his pockets. The bulge in his stomach was less grotesque than well-appointed, assuring every onlooker that he was well-to-do and, of necessity, well fed. It was with just such surety of person that he set about founding and maintaining his relationships, though they were often few and always turbulent. It was said that he made a point never to greet initially, and rarely answered questions forwardly, as though to create an aura of mystery about himself. But, if such was his intent, it proved unfortunately ineffectual, for the vast majority of persons who dealt with the man found him utterly rude and occasionally truculent—most especially when his personal business was not seen to with diligence and outpours of concern. He was known, on that rarest of occasion, to bellow with untempered ire. Let it be said, unequivocally, that the mostly mild-mannered, well-dressed gentleman known as Mr. Grigsby was, in all transparency, and in fine fact, a permanent accident of manners.
Oh how I adored him! He was a great boon to me in my younger years, a person of seclusion whose own diverse secrets and clandestine affairs fired an intense curiosity in all who knew him. Brazenly intrepid as I was, I took every possible occasion to interrogate him on the business of his life, which, in fact, was business. I desired to know why he had come to London, and by what ways he secured such affluence, and so forth until I had nearly run aground with unanswered questions. For, as was evident in his demeanor and confirmed in his terse rhetoric, there was no capacity for trust in the man. It was therefore the difficulty of his acquaintances to wrest from him any truth for fear that he might betray his situation with emotion, and upset the singular end to which he was forever committed—the acquisition of personal wealth and the dissolution of others’.
My personal encounters with the man were rare, often contrived by my own workings, and in no way fruitful. Yet, there was on each occasion an indescribable satisfaction, a contentment in the challenge of gleaning from the man’s minor gesticulations and infrequent expressions a definitive personality. It was, no doubt, his resoluteness which afforded him such success, and yet, he was positively inhuman. Odd, at the least, to be endowed as he was with such abundance and have such a fear of spending it should it end up in the hands of other human beings—may the Lord forbid it!
No, he spoke certainly with a reasoned plateau and unaffected resonance, notwithstanding those enemies which he had made—those who, for the largest part, were determined souls who desired a friendship with him. I believe they called themselves Christians. Concerned penurists themselves, they likened Christianity to a world of commensurately paid believers. And that, Mr. Grigsby could not countenance, let alone affect. His coffers were the better for their hefty weight, and locks were invented precisely to keep money out of the hands of designers and usurpers. Riches were powerful, if inanimate friends of unfailing loyalty.
On the eve of a blustery winter’s day, the snow falling in jagged patterns from a black sky, I came upon the shadowy figure of the man in London Square. He was, at half past eleven, on no entrepreneurial mission, least not that common businesses conduct in the light of day, or, at the very least, in the haze of an English winter morning. True, business is hardly halted by the diurnal rituals of the sun, and Mr. Grigsby might have done away with nighttime altogether, but the basic fact was that the man could not change the day, nor the seasons with his assets, nor could he hope to manipulate them to his own ends. And so he stood, quite empty of purpose, in the faint hint of lamp light which shone upon his waistcoat. He wore not scarf, nor outer coat, nor any manner of suitable cold weather attire, though he seemed impervious to the season. His shadow betrayed no shiver, and the straining light did not reflect the steam of breath which marks us men in winter months. For the wind was gentle and the ambiance endurable, if, at the very same time, the snow was relentless and the darkness impenetrable. Mr. Grigsby was a cold character, monumental in the heart of London Square, and the very force of apathy.
Feeling a bit of compassion, I approached him, hesitating at the first to sound his name, then ignoring my inner prohibitions. I clasped at the hem of my coat with wiry fingers, and trudged through the lopsided banks of fresh snow.
“Mr. Grigsby, sir?” He made no reply, nor did he move. Was it the man I thought, or was I, perhaps, mistaken? The figure was certain—the bulge in his stomach was prominent in the shadow cast on the pale white snow, the dressings were identical (so far as the light could confirm), and his head was fitted with the very same top hat I had remembered at each encounter prior. I paused, my own stark figure bared by the meek lamplight. I avowed that I would not move further until I heard his voice, or, at the very least a gruff utterance or guttural sound that would confirm he was the man who stood strangely before me.
As the wind whistled in its bend around the corner, racing into darkness, I said again, “Mr. Grigsby, is that you, sir?” Again, he did not waver, did not rustle. The glow of the high lamp began to fade; the oil was shallow there and no one would return to fill it until dawn. I was certain, in a matter of minutes, the misanthrope who bore a third the wealth of London would be enrobed in darkness. Was I willing to stand and wait for it?
Then, at the perfunctory knell of the church tower—three slow gongs reverberating in the hollows of the streets—the head of the statued man shifted. Angled as I was, I could not see his features any better than before; I could not confirm his identity, nor his purpose. And though he moved, he did not answer me.
I was swiftly resolved, in those few minutes following, to leave that place and its eerie emptiness for the comfort of my own bed, and the solvency which tea at times provides. Staring at the every-mounting spread of snow, I nodded to myself in confidence—Mr. Grigsby was a competent enough man, and would have his own reasons figured, even if I did not. It would be best, before the lights were altogether snuffed, that I should turn about and head toward home.
And so I proceeded, pausing in my gait but once before the lamps fell dark, to glance over my shoulder at the mysterious creature in the square. What sort of man lives in the empty cold of a deserted nighttime? Ah! It is his own business, and I returned to my course.
Just as I was setting about the bend which often took the wind, I heard the feverish pace of clodden footsteps in the snow behind me. They clacked against the stone, cutting through the carpet of the snow, and bristled with uneven pace. I turned as the final drops of oil left the lamps, and saw the billowing figure thrusting through the constant storm directly for me—