"What's it worth?" asked Jake, who stood beside his master.
"The gold? Not a penny less than L3/17/-an ounce, my son."
"An' you give L3/15/-. Good business, boss."
"I drew him a cheque for three hundred pounds, and I haven't credit at the bank for three hundred shillings. So I must go and sell this gold before he has time to present my cheque. Pretty close sailing, Jake.
"But mark me, young shaver. There's better times to come. If the discovery of this galoot don't mean a gold boom in Timber Town, you may send the crier round and call me a flathead. Things is goin' to hum."
The Father of Timber Town.
"I never heard the like of it!" exclaimed Mr. Crewe. "You say, eighty-two ounces of gold? You say it came from within fifty miles of Timber Town? Why, sir, the matter must be looked into." The old gentleman's voice rose to a shrill treble. "Yes, indeed, it must."
They were sitting in the Timber Town Club: the ancient Mr. Crewe, Scarlett, and Cathro, a little man who rejoiced in the company of the rich octogenarian.
"I'm new at this sort of thing," said Scarlett: "I've just come off the sea. But when the digger took a big bit of gold from his pocket, I looked at it, open-eyed—I can tell you that. I called the landlord, and ordered drinks—I thought that the right thing to do. And, by George! it was. The ruffianly-looking digger drank his beer, insisted on calling for more, and then locked the door."
Mr. Crewe was watching the speaker closely, and hung on every word he uttered. Glancing at the lean and wizened Cathro, he said, "You hear that, Cathro? He locked the door, sir. Did you ever hear the like?"
"From inside his shirt," Scarlett continued, "he drew a fat bundle of bank notes, which he placed upon the table. Taking a crisp one-pound note from the pile, he folded it into a paper-light, and said, 'I could light my pipe with this an' never feel it.'
"'Don't think of such a thing,' I said, and placed a sovereign on the table, 'I'll toss you for it.'
"'Right!' said my hairy friend. 'Sudden death?'
"'Sudden death,' I said.
"'Heads,' said he."
"Think of that, now!" exclaimed Mr. Crewe. "The true digger, Cathro, the true digger, I know the genus—there's no mistaking it. Most interesting. Go on, sir."
"The coin came down tails, and I pocketed the bank-note.
"'Lookyer here, mate,' said my affluent friend. 'That don't matter. We'll see if I can't get it back,' and he put another note on the table. I won that, too. He doubled the stakes, and still I won.
"'You had luck on the gold-fields,' I said, 'but when you come to town things go dead against you.'
"'Luck!' he cried. 'Now watch me. If I lost the whole of thisyer bloomin' pile, I could start off to-morrer mornin' an, before nightfall, I'd be on ground where a week's work would give me back all I'd lost. An' never a soul in this blank, blank town knows where the claim is.'"
"Well, well," gasped old Mr. Crewe; his body bent forward, and his eyes peering into Scarlett's face. "I've lived here since the settlement was founded. I got here when the people lived in nothing better than Maori whares and tents, when the ground on which this very club stands was a flax-swamp. I have seen this town grow, sir, from a camp to the principal town of a province. I know every man and boy living in it, do I not, Cathro? I know every hill and creek within fifty miles of it; I've explored every part of the bush, and I tell you I never saw payable gold in any stream nearer than Maori Gully, to reach which you must go by sea."
"What about the man's mates?" asked Cathro.
"I asked him about them," replied Scarlett. "I said, 'You have partners in this thing, I suppose.' 'You mean pals,' he said. 'No, sir. I'm a hatter—no one knows the place but me. I'm sole possessor of hundreds of thousands of ounces of gold. There's my Miner's Right.' He threw a dirty parchment document on the table, drawn out in the name of William Wurcott."
"Wurcott? Wurcott?" repeated Mr. Crewe, contemplatively. "I don't know the name. The man doesn't belong to Timber Town."
"You speak as though you thought no one but a Timber Town man should get these good things." Cathro smiled as he spoke.
"No, sir," retorted the old gentleman, testily. "I said no such thing, sir. I simply said he did not belong to this town. But you must agree with me, it's a precious strange thing that we men of this place have for years been searching the country round here for gold, and, by Jupiter! a stranger, an outsider, a mere interloper, a miserable 'hatter' from God knows where, discovers gold two days' journey from the town, and brings in over eighty ounces?" The old man's voice ran up to a falsetto, he stroked his nose with his forefinger and thumb, he broke into the shrill laugh of an octogenarian. "And the rascal boasts he can get a hundred ounces more in a week or two! We must look into the matter—we must see what it means."
The three men smoked silently and solemnly.
"Scarlett, here, owns the man's personal acquaintance," said Cathro. "The game is to go mates with him—Scarlett, the 'hatter,' and myself."
All three of them sat silent, and thought hard.
"But what if your 'hatter' won't fraternize?" asked Mr. Crewe. "You young men are naturally sanguine, but I know these diggers. They may be communicative enough over a glass, but next day the rack and thumbscrews wouldn't extract a syllable from them."
"All the more reason why we should go, and see the digger what time Scarlett deems him to be happy in his cups." This was Cathro's suggestion, and he added, "If he won't take us as mates, we may at least learn the locality of his discovery. With your knowledge of the country, Mr. Crewe, the rest should be easy."
"It all sounds very simple," replied the venerable gentleman, "but experience has taught me that big stakes are not won quite so easily. However, we shall see. When our friend, Scarlett, is ready, we are ready; and when I say I take up a matter of this kind, you know I mean to go through with it, even if I have to visit the spot myself and prospect on my own account. For believe me, gentlemen, this may be the biggest event in the history of Timber Town." Mr. Crewe had risen to his feet, and was walking to and fro in front of the younger men. "If payable gold were found in these hills, this town would double its population in three months, business would flourish, and everybody would have his pockets lined with gold. I don't talk apocryphally. I have seen such things repeatedly, upon the Coast. I have seen small townships literally flooded with gold, and yet a pair of boots, a tweed coat, and the commonest necessaries of life, could not be procured there for love or money."
"Give the stranger time to sort his cards," said the thin American, with the close-cropped head.
"Why, certainly, certainly," replied the big and bloated Englishman, who sat opposite. "Well, my noble, what will you do?"
The Prospector, who was the third player, looked up from his "hand" and drummed the table with the ends of his dirty fingers.
"What do I make it? Why, I turn it down."
"Pass again," said the American.
"Ditto," said the Englishman.
"Then this time I make it 'Spades,'" said the digger, bearded to the eyes; his tangled thatch of black hair hiding his forehead, and his clothes such as would have hardly tempted a rag-picker.
"You make it 'next,' eh?" It was the Englishman who spoke.
"We'll put you through, siree," said the American, who was a small man, without an atom of superfluous flesh on his bones. His hair stood upright on his head, his dough-coloured face wore a perpetual smile, and he was the happy possessor of a gold eye-tooth with which he constantly bit his moustache. The player who had come to aid him in plucking the pigeon was a big man with a florid complexion and heavy, sensuous features, which, however, wore a good-natured expression.
The game was cut-throat euchre; one pound points. So that each of the three players contributed five pounds to the pool, which lay, gold, silver and bank-notes, in a tempting pile in the middle of the table.
"Left Bower, gen'lemen," said the digger, placing the Knave of Clubs on the table.
"The deuce!" exclaimed the florid man.
"Can't help you, partner," said the man with the gold tooth, playing a low card.
"One trick," said the digger, and he put down the Knave of Spades. "There's his mate."
"Right Bower, egad!" exclaimed the big man, who was evidently minus trumps.
The pasty-faced American played the Ace of Spades without saying a word.
"A blanky march!" cried the digger. "Look-a-here. How's that for high?" and he placed on the table his three remaining cards—the King, Queen, and ten of trumps.
The other players showed their hands, which were full of red cards.
"Up, and one to spare," exclaimed the digger, and took the pool.
About fifty pounds, divided into three unequal piles, lay on the table, and beside each player's money stood a glass.
The florid man was shuffling the pack, and the other two were arranging their marking cards, when the door opened slowly, and the Father of Timber Town, followed by Cathro and Scarlett, entered the room.
"Well, well. Hard at it, eh, Garsett?" said the genial old gentleman, addressing himself to the Englishman. "Cut-throat euchre, by Jupiter! A ruinous game, Mr. Lichfield,"—to the man with the gold tooth—"but your opponent"—pointing with his stick to the digger—"seems to have all the luck. Look at his pile, Cathro. Your digger friend, eh, Scarlett? Look at his pile—the man's winning."
"He's in luck again," said Mr. Crewe; "in luck again, by all that's mighty."
The pool was made up, the cards were dealt, and the game continued. The nine of Hearts was the "turn-up" card.
"Pass," said Lichfield.
"Then I order you up," said the digger.
The burly Garsett drew a card from his "hand," placed it under the pack, and said, "Go ahead. Hearts are trumps."
The gentleman with the gold tooth played the King of Hearts, the digger a small trump, and Garsett his turn-up card.
"Ace of Spades," said Lichfield, playing that card.
"Trump," said the digger, as he put down the Queen of Hearts.
"Ace of trumps!" exclaimed Garsett, and took the trick.
"'Strewth!" cried the man from the "bush." "But let's see your next."
"You haven't a hope," said the big gambler. "Two to one in notes we euchre you."
"Done," replied the digger, and he took a dirty one-pound bank-note from his heap of money.
"Most exciting," exclaimed Mr. Crewe. "Quite spirited. The trumps must all be out, Cathro. Let us see what all this betting means."
"Right Bower," said the Englishman.
"Ho-ho! stranger," the American cried. "I guess that pound belongs to Mr. Garsett."
The digger put the Knave of Diamonds on the table, and handed the money to his florid antagonist.
"Your friend is set back two points, Scarlett." It was Mr. Crewe that spoke. "England and America divide the pool."
The digger looked up at the Father of Timber Town.
"If you gen'l'men wish to bet on the game, well and good," he said, somewhat heatedly. "But if you're not game to back your opinion, then keep your blanky mouths shut!"
Old Mr. Crewe was as nettled at this unlooked-for attack as if a battery of artillery had suddenly opened upon him.
"Heh! What?" he exclaimed. "You hear that, Cathro? Scarlett, you hear what your friend says? He wants to bet on the game, and that after being euchred and losing his pound to Mr. Garsett. Why, certainly, sir. I'll back my opinion with the greatest pleasure. I'll stake a five-pound note on it. You'll lose this game, sir."
"Done," said the digger, and he counted out five sovereigns and placed them in a little heap by themselves.
Mr. Crewe had not come prepared for a "night out with the boys." He found some silver in his pocket and two pounds in his sovereign-case.
"Hah! no matter," he said. "Cathro, call the landlord. I take your bet, sir"—to the digger—"most certainly I take it, but one minute, give me one minute."
"If there's any difficulty in raising the cash," said the digger, fingering his pile of money, "I won't press the matter. I don't want your blanky coin. I can easy do without it."
The portly, rubicund landlord of the Lucky Digger entered the room.
"Ah, Townson," said old Mr. Crewe, "good evening. We have a little bet on, Townson, a little bet between this gentleman from away back and myself, and I find I'm without the necessary cash. I want five pounds. I'll give you my IOU."
"Not at all," replied the landlord, in a small high voice, totally surprising as issuing from such a portly person, "no IOU. I'll gladly let you have twenty."
"Five is all I want, Townson; and I expect to double it immediately, and then I shall be quite in funds."
The landlord disappeared and came back with a small tray, on which was a bundle of bank-notes, some dirty, some clean and crisp. The Father of Timber Town counted the money. "Twenty pounds, Townson. Very well. You shall have it in the morning. Remind me, Cathro, that I owe Mr. Townson twenty pounds."
The digger looked with surprise at the man who could conjure money from a publican.
"Who in Hades are you?" he asked, as Mr. Crewe placed his L5 beside the digger's. "D'you own the blanky pub?"
"No, he owns the town," interposed Garsett.
The digger was upon his feet in a moment.
"Proud to meet you, mister," he cried. "Glad to have this bet with you. I like to bet with a gen'l'man. Make it ten, sir, and I shall be happier still."
"No, no," replied the ancient Mr. Crewe. "You said five, and five it shall be. That's quite enough for you to lose on one game."
"You think so? That's your blanky opinion? See that?" The digger pointed to his heap of money. "Where that come from there's enough to buy your tin-pot town three times over."
"Indeed," said Mr. Crewe. "I'm glad to hear it. Bring your money, and you shall have the town."
"Order, gentlemen, order," cried the dough-faced man. "I guess we're here to play cards, and cards we're going to play. If you three gentlemen cann't watch the game peaceably, it'll be my disagreeable duty to fire you out—and that right smart."
And just at this interesting moment entered Gentle Annie. She walked with little steps; propelling her plenitude silently but for the rustle of her silk skirt. In her hand she held a scented handkerchief, like any lady in a drawing-room; her hair, black at the roots and auburn at the ends, was wreathed, coil on coil, upon the top of her head; her face, which gave away all her secrets, was saucy, expressive of self-satisfaction, petulance, and vanity. And yet it was a handsome face; but it lacked mobility, the chin was too strong, the grey eyes wanted expression, though they were ever on the watch for an admiring glance.
"The angel has come to pour oil upon the troubled waters," said the flabby, florid man, looking up from his cards at the splendid bar-maid.
Gentle Annie regarded the speaker boldly, smiled, and coloured with pleasure.
"To pour whisky down your throats," she said, laughing—"that would be nearer the mark."
"And produce a more pleasing effect," said Garsett.
"Attend to the game," said the American. "Spades are trumps."
"Pass," said the digger.
"Then down she goes," said the Englishman.
"Pass again," said the American.
"I make it Diamonds, and cross the blanky suit," said the digger.
Gentle Annie turned to the Father of Timber Town.
"There's a gentleman wants to see you, Mr. Crewe," she said.
"Very good, very good; bring him in—he has as much right here as I."
"He said he'd wait for you in the bar-parlour."
"But, my girl, I must watch the game: I have a five-pound note on it. Yes, a five-pound note!"
"Think of that, now," said Gentle Annie, running her bejewelled hand over her face. "You'll be bankrupt before morning. But never mind, old gentleman,"—she deftly corrected the set of Mr. Crewe's coat, and fastened its top button—"you'll always find a friend and protector in me."
"My good girl, what a future! The tender mercies of bar-maids are cruel. 'The daughter of the horse-leech'—he! he!—where did you get all those rings from?—I don't often quote Scripture, but I find it knows all about women. Cathro, you must watch the game for me: I have to see a party in the bar. Watch the game, Cathro, watch the game."
The old gentleman, leaning heavily upon his stick, walked slowly to the door, and Gentle Annie, humming a tune, walked briskly before, in all the glory of exuberant health and youth.
When Mr. Crewe entered the bar-parlour he was confronted by the bulky figure of Benjamin Tresco, who was enjoying a glass of beer and the last issue of The Pioneer Bushman. Between the goldsmith's lips was the amber mouthpiece of a straight-stemmed briar pipe, a smile of contentment played over the breadth of his ruddy countenance, and his ejaculations were made under some deep and pleasurable excitement.
"By the living hokey! What times, eh?" He slapped his thigh with his heavy hand. "The town won't know itself! We'll all be bloomin' millionaires. Ah! good evening, Mr. Crewe. Auspicious occasion. Happy to meet you, sir." Benjamin had risen, and was motioning the Father of Timber Town to a seat upon the couch, where he himself had been sitting. "You will perceive that I am enjoying a light refresher. Have something yourself at my expense, I beg."
Mr. Crewe's manner was very stiff. He knew Tresco well. It was not so much that he resented the goldsmith's familiar manner, as that, with the instinct of his genus, he suspected the unfolding of some money-making scheme for which he was to find the capital. Therefore he fairly bristled with caution.
"Thank you, nothing." He spoke with great dignity. "You sent for me. What do you wish to say, sir?"
Benjamin looked at the rich man through his spectacles, without which he found it impossible to read the masterpieces of the editor of The Pioneer Bushman; pursed his lips, to indicate that he hardly relished the old gentleman's manner; scrutinised the columns of the newspaper for a desired paragraph, on which, when found, he placed a substantial forefinger; and then, glancing at Mr. Crewe, he said abruptly, "Read that, boss," and puffed furiously at his pipe, while he watched the old man's face through a thick cloud of tobacco smoke.
Mr. Crewe read the paragraph; folded up the paper, and placed it on the couch beside him; looked at the ceiling; glanced round the room; turned his keen eyes on Tresco, and said:—
"Well, what of that? I saw that an hour ago. It's very fine, if true; very fine, indeed."
"True, mister? I bought the gold myself! I gave the information to the 'buster'! Now, here is my plan. I know this gold is new gold—it's no relation to any gold I ever bought before. It comes from a virgin field. By the special knowledge I possess as a gold-buyer, I am able to say that; and you know when a virgin field yields readily as much as eighty-two ounces, the odds are in favour of it yielding thousands. Look at the Golden Bar. You remember that?—eight thousand ounces in two days, and the field's been worked ever since. Then there was Greenstone Gully—a man came into town with fifty ounces, and the party that tracked him made two thousand ounces within a month. Those finds were at a distance, but this one is a local affair. How do I know?—my special knowledge, mister; my intuitive reading of signs which prognosticate coming events; my knowledge of the characters and ways of diggers. All this I am willing to place at your disposal, on one condition, Mr. Crewe; and that condition is that we are partners in the speculation. I find the field—otherwise the partnership lapses—and you find me L200 and the little capital required. I engage to do my part within a week."
Mr. Crewe stroked his nose with his forefinger and thumb, as was his habit when in deep contemplation.
"But—ah—what if I were to tell you that I can find the field entirely by my own exertions? What do you say to that, Mr. Tresco? What do you say to that?"
"I say, sir, without the least hesitation, that you never will find it. I say that you will spend money and valuable time in a wild-goose chase, whereas I shall be entirely successful."
"We shall see," said Mr. Crewe, rising from his seat, "we shall see. Don't try to coerce me, sir; don't try to coerce me!"
"I haven't the least desire in that direction." Benjamin's face assumed the expression of a cherub. "Nothing is further from my thoughts. I know of a good thing—my special knowledge qualifies me to make the most of it; I offer you the refusal of 'chipping in' with me, and you, I understand, refuse. Very well, Mr. Crewe, I am satisfied; you are satisfied; all is amicably settled. I go to place my offer where it will be accepted. Good evening, sir."
Benjamin put his nondescript, weather-worn hat on his semi-bald head, and departed with as much dignity as his ponderous person could assume.
"And now," said Mr. Crewe to himself, as the departing figure of the goldsmith disappeared, "we will go and see the result of our little bet; we will see whether we have lost or gained the sum of five pounds."
The old man, taking his stick firmly in his hand, stumped down the passage to the door of the room where the gamblers played, and, as he turned the handle, he was greeted with a torrent of shouts, high words, and the noise of a falling table.
There, on the floor, lay gold and bank notes, scattered in every direction amid broken chairs, playing cards, and struggling men.
Mr. Crewe paused on the threshold. In the whirl and dust of the tumult he could discern the digger's wilderness of hair, the bulky form of Garsett, and the thin American, in a tangled, writhing mass. His friend Cathro was looking on with open mouth and trembling hands, ineffectual, inactive. But Scarlett, making a sudden rush into the melee, seized the lucky digger, and dragged him, infuriated, struggling, swearing, from the unwieldy Garsett, on whose throat his grimy fingers were tightly fixed.
"Well, well," exclaimed Mr. Crewe. "Landlord! landlord! Scarlett, be careful—you'll strangle that man!"
Scarlett pinioned the digger's arms from behind, and rendered him harmless; Garsett sat on the floor fingering his throat, and gasping; while Lichfield lay unconscious, with his head under the broken table.
"Fair play!" shouted the digger. "I've bin robbed. Le'me get at him. I'll break his blanky neck. Cheat a gen'leman at cards, will you? Le'me get at him. Le'go, I tell yer—who's quarrelling with you?" But he struggled in vain, for Scarlett's hold on him was tighter than a vice's.
"Stand quiet, man," he expostulated. "There was no cheating."
"The fat bloke fudged a card. I was pickin' up a quid from the floor—he fudged a card. Le'go o' me, an' I'll fight you fair."
"Stand quiet, I tell you, or you'll be handed over to the police."
The digger turned his hairy visage round, and glanced angrily into Jack's eyes.
"You'll call in the traps?—you long-legged swine!" With a mighty back-kick, the Prospector lodged the heel of his heavy boot fairly on Scarlett's shin. In a moment he had struggled free, and faced round.
"Put up your fists!" he cried. "I fight fair, I fight fair."
There was a whirlwind of blows, and then a figure fell to the floor with a thud like that of a felled tree. It was the lucky digger, and he lay still and quiet amid the wreckage of the fight.
"Here," said Cathro, handing Mr. Crewe ten pounds. "Take your money—our friend the digger lost the game."
"This is most unfortunate, Cathro." But as he spoke, the Father of Timber Town pocketed the gold. "Did I not see Scarlett knock that man down? This is extremely unfortunate. I have just refused the offer of a man who avers—who avers, mind you—that he can put us on this new gold-field in a week, but I trusted to Scarlett's diplomacy with the digger: I come back, and what do I see? I see my friend Scarlett knock the man down! There he lies as insensible as a log."
"It looks," said Cathro, "as if our little plan had fallen through."
"Fallen through? We have made the unhappy error of interfering in a game of cards. We should have stood off, sir, and when a quarrel arose—I know these diggers; I have been one of them myself, and I understand them, Cathro—when a quarrel arose we should have interposed on behalf of the digger, and he would have been our friend for ever. Now all the gold in the country wouldn't bribe him to have dealings with us."
The noise of the fight had brought upon the scene all the occupants of the bar. They stood in a group, silent and expectant, just inside the room. The landlord, who was with them, came forward, and bent over the inanimate form of the Prospector. "I think this is likely to be a case for the police," said he, as he rose, and stood erect. "The man may be alive, or he may be dead—I'm not a doctor: I can't tell—but there's likely to be trouble in store for the gentlemen in the room at the time of the fight."
Suddenly an energetic figure pushed its way through the group of spectators, and Benjamin Tresco, wearing an air of supreme wisdom, and with a manner which would not have disgraced a medico celebrated for his "good bedside manner," commenced to examine the prostrate man. First, he unbuttoned the insensible digger's waistcoat, and placed his hand over his heart; next, he felt his pulse. "This man," he said deliberately, like an oracle, "has been grossly manhandled; he is seriously injured, but with care we shall pull him round. My dear"—to Gentle Annie, who stood at his elbow, in her silks and jewels, the personification of Folly at a funeral—"a drop of your very best brandy—real cognac, mind you, and be as quick as you possibly can."
With the help of Scarlett, Tresco placed the digger upon the couch. In the midst of this operation the big card-player and his attenuated accomplice, whose unconsciousness had been more feigned than actual, were about to slip from the room, when Mr. Crewe's voice was heard loudly above the chatter, "Stop! stop those men, there!" The old gentleman's stick was pointed dramatically towards the retreating figures. "They know more about this affair than is good for them."
Four or five men immediately seized Garsett and Lichfield, led them back to the centre of the room, and stood guard over them.
At this moment, Gentle Annie re-entered with the eau de vie; and Tresco, who was bustling importantly about his patient, administrated the restorative dexterously to the unconscious digger, and then awaited results. He stood, with one hand on the man's forehead and the other he held free to gesticulate with, in emphasis of his speech:—
"This gentleman is going to recover—with proper care, and in skilled hands. He has received a severe contusion on the cranium, but apart from that he is not much the worse for his 'scrap.' See, he opens his eyes. Ah! they are closed again. There!—they open again. He is coming round. In a few minutes he will be his old, breathing, pulsating self. The least that can be expected in the circumstances, is that the gentlemen implicated, who have thus been saved most disagreeable consequences by the timely interference of skilled hands, the least they can do is to shout drinks for the crowd."
He paused, and a seraphic smile lighted his broad face.
"Hear, hear!" cried a voice from behind the spectators by the door.
"Just what the doctor ordered," said another.
"There's enough money on the floor," remarked a third, "for the whole lot of us to swim in champagne."
"My eye's on it," said Tresco. "It's what gave me my inspiration. The lady will pick it up while you name your drinks to the landlord. Mine's this liqueur brandy, neat. Let the lady pick up those notes there: a lady has a soul above suspicion—let her collect the money, and we'll hold a court of enquiry when this gentleman here is able to give his evidence."
The digger was now gazing in a befogged manner at the faces around him; and Gentle Annie, having collected all the money of the gamblers in a tray, placed it on the small table which stood against the wall.
"Now, doctor," said a tall man with a tawny beard, "take your fee; it's you restored the gent. Take your fee: is it two guineas, or do you make it five?"
"'Doctor,' did you say? No, Moonlight, my respected friend, I scorn the title. Doctors are a brood that batten on the ills of others. First day: 'A pain internally, madam? Very serious. I will send you some medicine. Two guineas. Yes, the sum of two guineas.' Next day: 'Ah, the pain is no better, madam? Go on taking the medicine. Fee? Two guineas, if you please.' And so on till the pain cures itself. If not, the patient grows worse, dies, is buried, and the doctor's fees accrue proportionately. But we will suppose that the patient has some incurable tumour. The doctor comes, examines, looks wise, shakes his head, says the only chance is to operate; but it will be touch and go, just a toss up. He gets his knives, opens up the patient, and by good luck touches no vital part. Then the patient is saved, and it's 'My work, gentlemen, entirely my work. That's what skill will do. My fee is forty-five guineas.' That's how he makes up for the folks that don't pay. Doctor, me? No, Moonlight, my friend, I am a practitioner who treats for love. No fee; no fee at all. But, Annie, my dear, I'll trouble you for that glass of brandy."
The digger was contemplating Tresco's face with a look of bewildered astonishment. "An' who the blanky blank are you?" he exclaimed, with all his native uncouthness. "What the blank do you want to take my clo'es off of me for? Who the blue infernal——" All eyes were fixed on his contused countenance and the enormous bump on his temple. "Ah! there's the gent that shook me of five quid. I'll remember you, old party. An' as for you two spielers—you thought to fleece me. I'll give you what for! An' there's the other toff, 'im that biffed me. Fancy bein' flattened out by a toney remittance man! Wonderful. I call it British pluck, real bull-dog courage—three to one, an' me the littlest of the lot, bar one. Oh, it's grand. It pays a man to keep his mouth shut, when he comes to Timber Town with money in his pocket."
The eyes of the spectators began to turn angrily upon Lichfield and Garsett, who, looking guilty as thieves, stood uneasy and apart; but Scarlett stepped forward, and was about to speak in self-defence, when Mr. Crewe offered to explain the situation.
"I ask you to listen to me for one moment," he said; "I ask you to take my explanation as that of a disinterested party, a mere looker on. These three gentlemen"—he pointed to the three euchre players—"were having a game of cards, quite a friendly game of cards, in which a considerable sum of money was changing hands. My friend Scarlett, here, was looking on with me, when for some cause a quarrel arose. Next thing, the gentleman here on the sofa was attacking his opponents in the game with an empty bottle—you can see the pieces of broken glass amongst the cards upon the floor. Now, a bottle is a very dangerous weapon, a very dangerous weapon indeed; I might say a deadly weapon. Then it was that Mr. Scarlett interfered. He pulled off our friend, and was attacked—I saw this with my own eyes—attacked violently, and in self-defence he struck this gentleman, and inadvertently stunned him. That, I assure you, is exactly how the case stands. No great damage is done. The difference is settled, and, of course, the game is over."
"An' 'e," said the digger, raising himself to a sitting posture, "'e shook me for five quid. The wily ol'e serpint. 'E never done nothin'—'e only shook me for five quid."
"Count the money into three equal parts, landlord," said the Father of Timber Town. "It's perfectly true, I did relieve the gentleman of five pounds; but it was the result of a bet, of a bet he himself insisted on. He would have made it even heavier, had I allowed him. But here is the money—he can have it back. I return it. I bet with no man who begrudges to pay money he fairly loses; but I have no further dealings with such a man."
"Oh, you think I want the blanky money, do you?" cried the digger. "You're the ol'e gen'leman as is said to own the crimson town, ain't you? Well, keep that five quid, an' 'elp to paint it crimsoner. I don't want the money. I can get plenty more where it came from, just for the pickin' of it up. You keep it, ol'e feller, an' by an' by I'll come and buy the town clean over your head."
"Give the patient some more brandy, my dear." Tresco's voice sounded as sonorous as a parson's. "Now he's talkin'. And what will you do with the town when you've bought it, my enterprising friend?"
"I'll turn the present crowd out—they're too mean to live. I'll sell it to a set of Chinamen, or niggers. I'd prefer 'em."
"These are the ravings of delirium," said Tresco. "I ask you to pay no attention to such expressions. We frequently hear things of this sort in the profession, but we let them pass. He'll be better in the morning."
"Is the money divided?" asked Mr. Crewe.
"Yes," said the landlord. "One hundred and twenty-five pounds and sixpence in each lot."
"Mr. Garsett," said the Father of Timber Town, the tone of command in his voice, "come and take your money. Mr. Lichfield, take yours, sir."
Still agitated and confused, the two gamblers came forward, took their shares, and pocketed notes and gold with trembling hands.
"Give your friend his, Tresco," said the venerable arbitrator.
"Here's your winnings, or your losings," said the goldsmith to the digger. "It don't matter what name you call 'em by, but tuck it safely away agin your brisket. And when next you strike it rich, take my advice: put it in the bank, an' keep it there."
The digger took the money in his open hands, placed scoopwise together, and said, "All this mine, is it? You're too kind. What do I want the blanky money for, eh? Didn't I tell you I could get money for the pickin' of it up? Well, you're all a pretty measly crowd, all as poor as church rats, by the manners of yer. Well, you pick it up." And he flung the money among the crowd, lay back on the couch, and closed his eyes.
There was a scurry, and a scrambling on the floor, in the doorway, and in the passage outside.
Amid the tumult, Garsett and the American slunk off unperceived, while Tresco and Mr. Crewe, the landlord, Gentle Annie and Scarlett remained spectators of the scene.
Soon all was hushed and still, and they were left alone with the eccentric digger; but presently the tall figure of Moonlight, the man with the tawny beard, reappeared.
"Here's fifty pound, anyway," he said, placing a quantity of notes and gold in the landlord's hands. "Some I picked up myself, some I took off a blackguard I knocked over in the passage. Take the lot, and give it back to this semi-lunatic when he suffers his recovery in the morning. Good-night, gentlemen; I wish you the pleasures of the evening." So saying, the man with the tawny beard disappeared, and it was not long before Tresco was left alone with his patient.
The Yellow Flag.
The harbour of Timber Town was formed by a low-lying island shaped like a long lizard, which stretched itself across an indentation in the coast-line, and the tail of which joined the mainland at low tide, while the channel between its head and the opposing cliffs was deep, practicable, and safe.
Immediately opposite this end of the island the wharves and quays of Timber Town stretched along the shore, backed by hills which were dotted with painted wooden houses, nestling amid bowers of trees. Beyond these hills lay Timber Town itself, invisible, sheltered, at the bottom of its basin.
The day was hot, clear and still; the water lapped the shore lazily, and the refracted atmosphere shimmered with heat, wherever the sea touched the land.
A little dingey put off from the shore. It contained two men, one of whom sat in the stern while the other pulled. Silently over the surface of the calm, blue water the little craft skimmed. It passed through a small fleet of yachts and pleasure-boats moored under the lee of the protecting island, and presently touched the pebbles of a miniature beach.
Out stepped the Pilot of Timber Town and Captain Sartoris.
"An' you call this blazin' climate o' yours temperate," exclaimed the shipwrecked mariner.
"Heat?" said the Pilot, making the painter of the boat fast to some rusty bits of iron that lay on the shore; "you call this heat, with the sea-breeze risin', and the island cooling like a bottle of champagne in an ice-chest. It's plain to see, Sartoris, you're a packet-rat that never sailed nowhere except across the Western Ocean, in an' out o' Liverpool and New York." They had approached the end of the island, and overlooked the harbour entrance. "Now, this is where I intend to place the beacon. What do you think of it?" Sartoris assumed the manner and expression of supreme interest, but said nothing. "Them two leading lights are all very well in their way, but this beacon, with the near one, will give a line that will take you outside o' that sunken reef which stretches a'most into the fairway; and a vessel 'll be able to come in, scientific and safe, just like a lady into a drawing-room."
With a seaman's eye Sartoris took in the situation at a glance. "Very pretty," he said, "very neat. A lovely little toy port, such as you see at the theayter. It only wants the chorus o' fisher girls warbling on that there beach road, and the pirate brig bringing-to just opposite, an' the thing would be complete."
"Eh! What?" ejaculated the Pilot. "What's this play-goin' gammon? You talk like a schoolboy that's fed on jam tarts and novelettes, Sartoris. Let's talk sense. Have you ever heard of an occulting light?"
"No, certainly not; not by that name, anyhow."
"D'you know what an apparent light is?"
"No, but I know plenty of apparent fools."
"An apparent light is a most ingenious contraption."
"I've no doubt."
"It's a optical delusion, and makes two lights o' one—one on shore, which is the real one, and one here, which is the deception." But while the Pilot went on to talk of base plates, lewis bats, and all the paraphernalia of his craft, the skipper's eye was fixed on a string of little islands which stood off the end of the western arm of the great bay outside.
"Now, I never saw those when I was coming in," said he. "Where did you get them islands from, Summerhayes? Are they occulting, real, or apparent? Changing your landmarks, like this, is deceiving."
The Pilot, forgetting the technicalities of his profession, looked at the phenomenon which puzzled the skipper, and said, as gruffly as a bear, "That's no islands: it's but a bit of a mirage. Sometimes there's only one island, sometimes three, sometimes more—it's accordin' to circumstances. But what's this craft coming down the bay? Barque or ship, Sartoris?—I've forgot me glass."
Both men stood on the seaward edge of the island, and looked long and hard at the approaching vessel.
"Barque," said Sartoris, whose eyes were keener than the older man's.
"There's no barque due at this port for a month," said the Pilot. "The consignees keep me posted up, for to encourage a sharp lookout. The Ida Bell should arrive from London towards the middle of next month, but she is a ship. This must be a stranger, putting in for water or stores; or maybe she's short-handed."
For a long time they watched the big craft, sailing before the breeze.
"Sartoris, she's clewing up her courses and pulling down her head-sails."
"Isn't she a trifle far out, Pilot?"
"It's good holding-ground out there—stiff clay that would hold anything. What did I tell you?—there you are—coming-to. She's got starn-board. There goes the anchor!"
The skipper had hitherto displayed but little interest in the strange vessel, but now he was shouting and gesticulating, as a flag was run up to her fore-truck.
"Look at that, Summerhayes!" he exclaimed. "If you ain't blind, tell me what that flag is. Sure as I'm a master without a ship, it's the currantine flag."
"So it is, so it is. That means the Health Officer, Sartoris." And the gruff old Pilot hastened down to the dingey.
As the two seamen put off from the island, the skipper, who was in the stern of the little boat, could see Summerhayes's crew standing about on the slip of the pilot-shed; and by the time the dingey had reached the shore, the Pilot's big whale-boat lay by the landing-stage.
"Where's the doctor?" roared Summerhayes. "Is he goin' to make us hunt for him when he's required for the first time this six weeks?"
"All right, all right," called a clear voice from inside the great shed. "I'm ready before you are this time, Pilot."
"An' well you are," growled the gruff old barnacle. "That furrin'-lookin' barque outside has hoisted the yellow flag. Get aboard, lads, get aboard."
"Your men discovered the fact half an hour ago, by the aid of your telescope." The doctor came slowly down the slip, carrying a leather hand-bag.
"If you've any mercy," said the Pilot, "you'll spare 'em the use o' that. Men die fast enough without physic."
"Next time you get the sciatica, Summerhayes, I'll give you a double dose."
"An' charge me a double fee. I know you. Shove her off, Johnson."
The grim old Pilot stood with the steering-oar in his hand; the skipper and the doctor sitting on either hand of him, and the crew pulling as only a trained crew can.
"Steady, men," said the Pilot: "it's only half tide, and there's plenty of water coming in at the entrance. Keep your wind for that, Hendricson."
With one hand he unbuttoned the flap of his capacious trouser-pocket, and took out a small bunch of keys, which he handed to Sartoris.
"Examine the locker," he said. "It's the middle-sized key." The captain, in a moment, had opened the padlock which fastened the locker under the Pilot's seat.
"Is there half-a-dozen of beer—quarts?" asked Summerhayes.
"There is," replied Sartoris.
"Two bottles of rum?"
"An' a corkscrew?"
"Then we've just what the doctor ordered: not this doctor—make no mistake o' that. An' them sons o' sea cooks, forrard there, haven't yet found a duplicate key to my locker. Wonderful! wonderful!"
The crew grinned, and put their backs into every stroke, for they knew "the old man" meant that they shouldn't go dry.
"I'm the Pilot o' this here port, eh?"
"Most certainly," said the doctor.
"An' Harbour Master, in a manner o' speaking?"
"And captain o' this here boat?"
They were hugging the shore of the island, where the strength of the incoming tide began to be felt in the narrow tortuous channel. The bluff old Pilot put the steering-oar to port, and brought his boat round to starboard, in order to keep her out of the strongest part of the current.
"Now, lads, shake her up!" he shouted.
The men strained every nerve, and the boat was forced slowly against the tide. With another sudden movement of the steering-oar Summerhayes brought the boat into an eddy under the island, and she shot forward.
"Very well," he said; "it's acknowledged that I'm all that—Pilot, Harbour Master, and skipper o' this boat. Then let me tell you that I'm ship's doctor as well, and in that capacity, since we're outside and there's easy going now under sail, I prescribe a good stiff glass all round, as a preventive against plague, Yellow Jack, small-pox, or whatever disease it is they've got on yonder barque."
Sartoris uncorked a bottle, and handed a glass to the doctor.
"And a very good prescription, too," said the tall, thin medico, who had a colourless complexion and eyes that glittered like black beads; "but where's the water?"
"Who drinks on my boat," growled the Pilot, "drinks his liquor neat. I drown no man and no rum with water. If a man must needs spoil his liquor, let him bring his own water: there's none in my locker."
The doctor took the old seaman's medicine, but not without a wry face; Sartoris followed suit, and then the Pilot. The boat was now under sail, and the crew laid in their oars and "spliced the main brace."
"That's the only medicine we favour in this boat or in this service," said the Pilot, as he returned the key of the locker to his pocket, "an' we've never yet found it to fail. Before encount'ring plague, or after encount'ring dirty weather, a glass all round: at other times the locker is kept securely fastened, and I keep the key." Saying which, he buttoned the flap of his pocket, and fixed his eyes on the strange barque, to which they were now drawing near.
It could be seen that she was a long time "out"; her sails, not yet all furled, were old and weather-worn; her sides badly needed paint; and as she rose and fell with the swell, she showed barnacles and "grass" below the water-line. At her mizzen-peak flew the American ensign, and at the fore-truck the ominous quarantine flag.
As the boat passed under the stern, the name of the vessel could be seen—"Fred P. Lincoln, New York"—and a sickly brown man looked over the side. Soon he was joined by more men, brown and yellow, who jabbered like monkeys, but did nothing.
"Seems they've got a menag'ry aboard," commented Sartoris.
Presently a white face appeared at the side.
"Where's the captain?" asked the Health Officer.
"With the mate, who's dying."
"Then who are you?"
"But where's the other mate?"
"He died a week ago."
"What's wrong on board?"
"Don't know, sir. Ten men are dead, and three are sick."
"Where are you from?"
"Canton? Have you got plague aboard?"
"Not bubonic. The men go off quiet and gradual, after being sick a long time. I guess you'd better come aboard, and see for yourself."
The ladder was put over the side, and soon the doctor had clambered on board.
The men in the boat sat quiet and full of contemplation.
"This is a good time for a smoke," said the Pilot, filling his pipe and passing his tobacco tin forrard. "And I think, Sartoris, all hands 'd be none the worse for another dose o' my medicine." Again his capacious hand went into his more capacious pocket, and the key of the locker was handed to Sartoris.
"Some foolish people are teetotal," continued Summerhayes, "and would make a man believe as how every blessed drop o' grog he drinks shortens his life by a day or a week, as the case may be. But give me a glass o' liquor an' rob me of a month, rather than the plagues o' China strike me dead to-morrer. Some folks have no more sense than barn-door fowls."
A yellow man, more loquacious than his fellows, had attracted the attention of Sartoris.
"Heh! John. What's the name of your skipper?"
The Chinaman's reply was unintelligible. "I can make nothing of him," said Sartoris. But, just at that moment, the man who had described himself as the captain's servant reappeared at the side of the ship.
"My man," said Summerhayes, "who's your captain?"
"Starbruck!" exclaimed Sartoris. "I know him." In a moment he was half-way up the ladder.
"Hi! Sartoris," roared the Pilot. "If you go aboard that vessel, you'll stay there till she's got a clean bill o' health."
"I'm going to help my old shipmate," answered Sartoris from the top of the ladder. "Turn and turn about, I says. He stood by me in the West Indies, when I had Yellow Jack; and I stand by him now." As he spoke his foot was on the main-rail. He jumped into the waist of the quarantined barque, and was lost to sight.
"Whew!" said the Pilot to the vessel's side. "Here's a man just saved from shipwreck, and he must plunge into a fever-den in order to be happy. I wash my hands of such foolishness. Let 'im go, let 'im go."
The thin, neat doctor appeared, standing on the main-rail. He handed his bag to one of the boat's crew, and slowly descended the ladder.
"An' what have you done with Sartoris?" asked the Pilot.
"He's aboard," replied the doctor, "and there he stops. That's all I can say."
"And what's the sickness?"
"Ten men are dead, five more are down—two women, Chinese, and three men. I should call it fever, a kind of barbiers or beri-beri. But in the meanwhile, I'll take another drop of your excellent liquor."
The doctor drank the Pilot's medicine in complete silence.
"Let go that rope!" roared Summerhayes. "Shove her off. Up with your sail." The trim boat shot towards the sunny port of Timber Town, and Sartoris was left aboard the fever-ship.
What Looked Like Courting.
On the terrace of the Pilot's house was a garden-seat, on which sat Rose Summerhayes and Scarlett.
Rose was looking at her dainty shoe, the point of which protruded from beneath her skirt; while Scarlett's eyes were fixed on the magnificent panorama of mountains which stretched north and south as far as he could see.
Behind the grass-covered foot-hills, at whose base crouched the little town, there stood bolder and more rugged heights. In rear of these rose the twin forest-clad tops of an enormous mountain mass, on either side of which stretched pinnacled ranges covered with primeval "bush."
Scarlett was counting hill and mountain summits. His enumeration had reached twenty distinct heights, when, losing count, he turned to his companion.
"It's a lovely picture to have in front of your door," he said, "a picture that never tires the eye."
A break in the centre of the foot-hills suddenly attracted his attention. It was the gorge through which a rippling, sparkling river escaped from the mountain rampart and flowed through the town to the tidal waters of the harbour.
"That valley will take us into the heart of the hills," he said. "We start to-morrow morning, soon after dawn—Moonlight and I. Do you know him?"
The girl looked up from her shoe, and smiled. "I can't cultivate the acquaintance of every digger in the town," she replied.
"Don't speak disparagingly of diggers. I become one to-morrow."
"Then, mind you bring me a big nugget when you come back," said the girl.
"That's asking me to command good luck. Give me that, and you shall have the nugget."
"Does luck go by a girl's favour? If it did, you would be sure to have it."
"I never had it on the voyage out, did I?"
"Perhaps you never had the other either."
"That's true—I left England through lack of it."
"I shouldn't have guessed that. Perhaps you'll gain it in this country."
Scarlett looked at her, but her eyes were again fixed on the point of her shoe.
"Well, Rosebud—flirting as usual?" Captain Summerhayes, clad in blue serge, with his peaked cap on the back of his head, came labouring up the path, and sat heavily on the garden-seat. "I never see such a gal—always with the boys when she ought to be cooking the dinner."
"Father!" exclaimed Rose, flushing red, though she well knew the form that the Pilot's chaff usually took. "How can you tell such fibs? You forget that Mr. Scarlett is not one of the old cronies who understand your fun."
"There, there, my gal." The Pilot laid his great brown hand on his daughter's shoulder. "Don't be ruffled. Let an old sailor have his joke: it won't hurt, God bless us; it won't hurt more'n the buzzing of a blue-bottle fly. But you're that prim and proper, that staid and straight-laced, you make me tease you, just to rouse you up. Oh! them calm ones, Mr. Scarlett, beware of 'em. It takes a lot to goad 'em to it, but once their hair's on end, it's time a sailor went to sea, and a landsman took to the bush. It's simply terrible. Them mild 'uns, Mr. Scarlett, beware of 'em."
"Father, do stop!" cried Rose, slapping the Pilot's broad back with her soft, white hand.
"All right," said her father, shrinking from her in mock dread; "stop that hammerin'."
"Tell us about the fever-ship, and what they're doing with Sartoris," said Scarlett.
"Lor', she's knocked the breath out of a man's body. I'm just in dread o' me life. Sit t'other end o' the seat, gal; and do you, Mr. Scarlett, sit in between us, and keep the peace. It's fearful, this livin' alone with a dar'ter that thumps me." The old fellow chuckled internally, and threatened to explode with suppressed merriment. "Some day I shall die o' laffing," he said, as he pulled himself together. "But you was asking about Sartoris." He had now got himself well in hand. "Sartoris is like a pet monkey in a cage, along o' Chinamen, Malays, Seedee boys, and all them sort of animals. Laff? You should ha' seen me standing up in the boat, hollerin' at Sartoris, and laffin' so as I couldn't hardly keep me feet. 'Sartoris,' I says, 'when do the animals feed?' An' he looks over the rail, just like a stuffed owl in a glass case, and says nothing. I took a bottle from the boat's locker, and held it up. 'What wouldn't you give for a drop o' that!' I shouts. But he shook his fist, and said something disrespectful about port wine; but I was that roused up with the humour o' the thing, I laffed so as I had to set down. A prisoner for full four weeks, or durin' the pleasure o' the Health Officer, that's Sartoris. Lord! what a trap to be caught in."
"But what's the disease they've on board?" asked Scarlett.
"That's where it is," replied the Pilot—"nobody seems to know. The Health Officer he says one thing, and then, first one medical and then another must put his oar in, and say it's something else—dengey fever, break-bone, spirrilum fever, beri-beri, or anything you like. One doctor says the ship shouldn't ha' bin currantined, and another says she should, and so they go on quarrelling like a lot o' cats in a sack."
"But there have been deaths on board," said Rose.
"Deaths, my dear? The first mate's gone, and more'n half the piebald crew. This morning we buried the Chinese cook. You won't see Sartoris, not this month or more."
"Mr. Scarlett is going into the bush, father. He's not likely to be back till after the ship is out of quarantine."
"Eh? What? Goin' bush-whacking? I thought you was town-bred. Well, well, so you're goin' to help chop down trees."
Scarlett smiled. "You've heard of this gold that's been found, Pilot?"
"I see it in the paper."
"I'm going to try if I can find where it comes from."
"Lord love 'ee, but you've no luck, lad. This gold-finding is just a matter o' luck, and luck goes by streaks. You're in a bad streak, just at present; and you won't never find that gold till you're out o' that streak. You can try, but you won't get it. You see, Sartoris is in the same streak—no sooner does he get wrecked than he is shut up aboard this fever-ship. And s'far as I can see, he'll get on no better till he's out o' his streak too. You be careful how you go about for the next six months or so, for as sure as you're born, if you put yourself in the way of it, you'll have some worse misfortune than any you've yet met with. Luck's like the tide—you can do nothing agin it; but when it turns, you've got everything in your favour. Wait till the tide of your luck turns, young man, before you attempt anything rash. That's my advice, and I've seen proof of it in every quarter of the globe."
"Father is full of all sorts of sailor-superstitions. He hates to take a ship out of port on a Friday, and wouldn't kill an albatross for anything."
"We caught three on the voyage out," said Scarlett; "a Wandering Albatross, after sighting the Cape of Good Hope, and two sooty ones near the Campbell Islands. I kept the wing-bones, and would have given you one for a pipe-stem, Captain, if the ship had reached port."
"But she didn't, my lad," growled the Pilot, "and that's where the point comes in. Why sailors can't leave them birds alone astonishes me: they don't hurt nobody, and they don't molest the ship, but sail along out of pure love o' company. On the strength o' that you must kill 'em, just for a few feathers and stems for tobacco-pipes. And you got wrecked. P'r'aps you'll leave 'em alone next voyage."
During the last part of the conversation, Rose had risen, and entered the house. She now returned with a small leather case in her hand.
"This, at any rate, will be proof against bad luck," she said, as she undid the case, and drew out a prismatic compass. She adjusted the eye-piece, in which was a slit and a glass prism and lifted the sight-vane, down the centre of which a horsehair stretched perpendicularly to the card of the compass. Putting the instrument to her eye, Rose took the bearing of one of the twin forest-clad heights, and said, "Eighty degrees East—is that right?"
"You've got the magnetic bearing," said Scarlett, taking the instrument from the girl's hand. "To find the real bearing, you must allow for the variation between the magnetic and true North."
"Oh, dear!" she exclaimed; "that's too dreadfully technical. But take the compass: it should keep you from being lost in the bush, anyway."
"Thank you," said Jack. "It will be very useful. It's a proper mining-compass."
"I hope its needle will guide you to untold gold, and that the mine you are looking for will act on it like a loadstone."
"Practical and sentimental—that's Rosebud," said the Pilot, from the further end of the seat. "And you'll always notice, Scarlett, that it's the practical that comes first with her. Once upon a time she give me a cardigan jacket to wear under my coat. She'd knitted it herself. She said it would keep me warm on frosty nights, and prevent me gettin' cold and all that; and when I gets into the boat one night, and was feeling for a match, bless you if I didn't find a piece o' paper, folded up, in the pocket o' that there cardigan jacket. I took it out and read it by the lantern. It was from my own dar'ter, jest as if I'd ha' been her sweetheart, and in it was all manner o' lovey-dovey things just fit to turn her old dad's head. Practical first, sentimental afterwards—that's Rosebud. Very practical over the makin' of an apple-pie—very sentimental over the eatin' of it, ain't you, my gal?"
"I don't know about the sentiment," said Rose, "but I am sure about the pie. If that were missing at dinner-time I know who would grumble. So I'll go, and attend to my duties." She had risen, and was confronting Scarlett. "Good-bye," she said, "and good fortune."
Jack took her proffered hand. "Thank you," he said.
She had walked a few steps towards the house, when she looked over her shoulder. "Don't forget the nuggets," she said with a laugh.
"I sha'n't forget," he replied. "If I get them, you shall have them. I hope I may get them, for your sake."
"Now, ain't that a wee bit mushy, for talk?" said the old Pilot, as his daughter disappeared. "You might give a gal a few pennyweights, or even an ounce, but when you say you hope you may find gold for her sake, ain't that just a trifle flabby? But don't think you can deceive my gal with talk such as that. She may be sentimental and stoopid with her old dad, but I never yet see the man she couldn't run rings round at a bargain. And as for gettin' soft on a chap, he ain't come along yet; and when he does, like as not I'll chuck him over this here bank, and break his impident neck. When my gal Rosebud takes a fancy, that's another matter. If she should have a leanin' towards some partic'lar chap, why, then I'd open the door, and lug him in by the collar if he didn't come natural and responsive. I've got my own ideas about a girl marrying—I had my own experience, and I say, give a girl the choice, an' she'll make a good wife. That's my theory. So if my gal is set agin a man, I'm set agin him. If she likes a partic'lar man, I'll like him too. She won't cotton to any miserable, fish-backed beach-comber, I can promise you. So mushy, flabby talk don't count with Rose; you can make your mind clear on that point."
The young man burst into a laugh.
"Keep her tight, Pilot," he said, in a voice loud with merriment. "When you know you've got a good daughter, stick to her. Chuck every interloper over the bank. I should do so myself. But don't treat me so when I come with the nuggets."
"Now, look 'ee here," said the Pilot, as he rose cumbersomely, and took Scarlett by the arm. "I've said you're in a bad streak o' luck, and I believe it. But, mark me here: nothing would please me better than for you to return with a hatful of gold. All I say is, if you're bent on going, be careful; and, being in a bad streak, don't expect great things."
"Good-bye," said Scarlett. "I'm in a bad streak? All right. When I work out of that you'll be the first man I'll come to see."
"An' no one'll be gladder to see you."
Captain Summerhayes took Scarlett's hand, and shook it warmly. "Good-bye," he said. "Good luck, and damn the bad streak."
Jack laughed, and walked down the winding path.
The Pilot stood on the bank, and looked after him.
"Hearten him up: that's the way," he said to himself, as he watched the retreating figure; "but, for all that, he's like a young 'more-pork' in the bush, with all his troubles to come."
In a small inner room in The Lucky Digger sat Benjamin Tresco and the Prospector.
The goldsmith was happy. His glass was before him, between his teeth was the stem of his pipe, and in consequence his face beamed with contentment, pleasure, good humour, and indolence.
The digger, on the other hand, looked serious, not to say anxious, and his manner was full of uneasiness. His glass stood untouched, his half-finished pipe had gone out, and he could not sit still, but began to pace backwards and forwards restlessly.
"I've put my foot in it," he said, pulling nervously at his bushy beard. "I've quarrelled with the toffs of the town, and the best thing I can do is to make a git. I'll start for the bush to-morrer."
"Now you're talking bunkum," said Tresco, as the smoke from his pipe wreathed above his head. "I know those men—two bigger rogues never breathed. They simply wanted to fleece you, and instead of that you gave 'em one in the eye. More power to you: it was immense! As for old Mr. Crewe and his crowd, they were on the make too; but they are out of court—there's no chance of them trying to renew your acquaintance. Now, what you must do is to enjoy yourself quietly, and by-and-by get back to your claim. But, for to-night, we'll have a good time—a little liquor, a quiet game of cards, a bit of a talk, and perhaps a better understanding."
"To speak the blanky truth," said the digger, "you're the whitest man I've met. True, I've give myself away a bit, but you're the only man ain't tried to do the pump-handle business with me."
"I'll buy all the gold you like to bring to town."
"Right! Here's my fist: you shall 'ave all I git."
The two men solemnly shook hands.
"Drink your liquor," said Tresco. "It'll do you good."
The digger drank, and re-lit his pipe.
"Now, what I says is that there's men I like to put in the way of a good thing."
"Same here," said Benjamin.
"An' I say you've dealt honest by me, and I'll deal fair and open with you."
"What I should expect," said Benjamin.
"I've found a good thing—more than I could ever want myself, if I lived a hundred years. I intend to do the handsome to a few o' my pals."
"You're one. First, I shall go back and do a bit more prospecting, and see if I can better my claim. Then I shall come to town, and let my mates into the know."
"By-and-by we'll slip out o' town, an' no man any the wiser. You can't track me—I'm too smart, by long chalks."
Tresco's glass stood empty.
"We'll drink to it," he said, and rang the little hand-bell that stood on the table.
Gentle Annie entered, with that regal air common to bar-maids who rule their soggy realms absolutely.
"Well, old gentleman, same old tipple, I suppose," said she to Tresco.
"My dear, the usual; and see that it's out of the wood, the real Mackay. And bring in some dice."
The two men sat quietly till the bar-maid returned.
Tresco rattled the dice, and threw a pair of fours. "No deception," he said. "Are these the house's dice, my dear?"
"They're out of the bar," replied Gentle Annie.
"Are they in common use for throwing for drinks?"
"What d'you take me for? D'you think I know how to load dice?"
"My dear, this gentleman must know everything's square when he plays with me. When we ring again, just bring in the usual. Adieu. Au revoir. Haere ra, which is Maori. Parting is such sweet sorrow."
As the bar-maid disappeared the digger placed a pile of bank-notes on the table, and Tresco looked at them with feigned astonishment. "If you think, mister, that I can set even money again that, you over-estimate my influence with my banker. A modest tenner or two is about my height. But who knows?—before the evening is far spent perhaps my capital may have increased. Besides, there are always plenty of matches for counters—a match for a pound."
"What shall it be?" asked the digger.
"'Kitty,'" answered Tresco. "A pound a throw, best of three."
"I'm agreeable," said the digger.
"Throw for first 'go,'" said Tresco.
The digger nodded, took the dice, and threw "eight."
The goldsmith followed with six, and said, "You go first."
The Prospector put three pounds in the centre of the table beside Tresco's stake, and began to play. His highest throw was ten. Tresco's was nine, and the digger took the pool.
"Well, you got me there," said the goldsmith. "We'll have another 'go.'"
Again the pool was made up, and this time Tresco threw first. His highest throw was "eleven," which the digger failed to beat.
"She's mine: come to me, my dear." Taking the pool, the goldsmith added, "We're quits, but should this sort of thing continue, I have a remedy—double every alternate 'Kitty.'"
The game continued, with fluctuations of luck which were usually in the digger's favour.
But the rattling of the dice had attracted attention in the bar, and, lured by that illusive music, four men approached the room where the gamblers sat.
"No intrusion, I hope," said the leader of the gang, pushing open the door.
"Come in, come in," cried Tresco, barely glancing at the newcomers, so intent was he on the game.
They entered, and stood round the table: an ugly quartette. The man who had spoken was short, thick-set, with a bullet head which was bald on the top, mutton-chop whiskers, and a big lump under his left ear. The second was a neat, handsome man, with black, glittering eyes, over which the lids drooped shrewdly. The third was a young fellow with a weak face, a long, thin neck and sloping shoulders; and the fourth, a clean-shaven man of heavy build, possessed a face that would have looked at home on the shoulders of a convict. He answered to the name of Garstang.
"Dolphin," said he to the man with the lump, "cut in."
"No, no; let it be Carnac," said Dolphin, looking at the keen-eyed man, who replied, "I pass it on to young William."
"Gor' bli' me, why to me?" exclaimed the stripling. "I never strike any luck. I hand the chanst back to you, Carny."
The man with the shrewd eyes sat down at the table, on which he first placed some money. Then he said in a clear, pleasant voice:
"You've no objection, I suppose, to a stranger joining you?"
"Not at all, not at all," said the genial Benjamin.
"If you're meanin' me"—the digger glanced at the company generally—"all I've got to say is: the man as increases the stakes is welcome."
They threw, and the digger won.
"That's the style," said he, as he took the pool. "That's just as it oughter be. I shout for the crowd. Name your poisons, gentlemen." He rang the bell, and Gentle Annie appeared, radiant, and supreme. She held a small tray in one hand, whilst the other, white and shapely, hung at her side. As the men named their liquors, she carefully repeated what they had ordered. When Carnac's turn came, and she said, "And yours?" the handsome gambler stretched out his arm, and, drawing her in a familiar manner towards him, said, "You see, boys, I know what's better than any liquor."
In a moment Gentle Annie had pulled herself free, and was standing off from the sinister-faced man.
"Phaugh!" she said with disgust, "I draw the line at spielers."
"You draw the line at nothing that's got money," retorted the owner of the glittering eyes, brutally.
"Gentlemen," said Gentle Annie, with a touch of real dignity in her manner, "I have your orders." And she withdrew modestly, without so much as another glance at Carnac.
The play continued till her return. She handed round glasses to all but the handsome gambler.
"And where's mine?" asked he.
"You forgot to order it," said she. "I'll send the pot-boy to wait on you." In a perfectly affable manner she took the money from the uncouth digger, and then, throwing a disdainful glance at Carnac, she tossed her head defiantly, and went out.
The game continued. Now Tresco's pile of money was increased, now it had dwindled to a few paltry pounds. The digger looked hot and excited as he, too, lost. Carnac, wearing a fixed, inscrutable smile, won almost every throw.
The gambler's feverish madness was beginning to seize Tresco as it had already seized his friend, but at last he was stopped by lack of funds.
"How much have you on you, Bill?" he asked of the Prospector.
"How much have I got, eh?" said Bill, emptying his pockets of a large quantity of gold and bank-notes. "I reckon I've enough to see this little game through and lend a mate a few pounds as well."
"I'll trouble you for fifty," said Tresco, who scribbled an IOU for the amount mentioned on the back of an envelope, and handed it to the digger.
The man with the lump on his neck had seated himself at the table.
"I think, gents, I'll stand in," said he. "You two are pals, and me and Carnac's pals. Makes things equal." He placed three pounds in the pool.
"Hold on," Carnac interrupted. "I propose a rise. Make it L5 a corner—that'll form a Kitty worth winning—the game to be the total of three throws."
"Consecutive?" Tresco asked.
"Consecutive," said the digger. "It avoids a shindy, and is more straightfor'ard."
A pool of L20 was thus made up, and the play continued.
The innocent youth who answered to the name of William stood behind Tresco's chair and winked at Garstang, whose loosely-made mouth twitched with merriment.
"Don't be rash, Dolly," remarked Young William to the man with the hideous neck, who held the dice box. "Think of your wife an' kids in Sydney before you make yer throw. You're spoilin' my morals."
"Go outside, and grow virtuous in the passage." Dolphin made his throws, which totalled twenty-six.
Tresco followed with eighteen. The digger's and Carnac's chances still remained.
So lucky on the diggings, so unlucky in town, Bill the Prospector took the box with a slightly trembling hand and rattled the dice. His first throw was twelve, his second eleven. "Even money I beat you," he said to Dolphin.
"Garn," replied that polite worthy. "What yer givin' us? D'you take me for a flat?"
The digger threw, and his score totalled thirty.
"P'r'aps, mister," he said, turning to Carnac, "you'd like to take me up. Quid to quid you don't beat me."
The glittering eyes fixed themselves on the digger. "You're too generous, sir," said the gentlemanly Carnac. "Your score is hard to beat. Of course, I mean to try, but the odds are in your favour."
"I'll make it two to one," said the digger.
"Well, if you insist," replied Carnac, "I'll accommodate you." He placed his pound upon the table, and made his first throw—ten.
"Shake 'er up, Carny," cried Young William. "I back you. No deception, gentlemen; a game which is nothing but luck."
The suave gambler's next throw was eleven.
"An even pound you lose, mister," said William to the digger.
"Done," cried the Prospector. "Put out the money."
Carnac threw twelve, said, "The little lady's mine," and took the pool.
The digger handed two pounds to the winner and a pound note to Young William who, crumpling his money in his palm, said, "Oysters for supper and a bottle of fizz—there'll be no end of a spree."
The monotonous round of the game continued, till Tresco's borrowed money had dwindled to but five pounds, which was enough for but one more chance with the dice.
The Prospector had fared but little better. What with the money he had staked, and side bets on individual throws, his pile of money had been reduced to half.
"There ain't nothin' mean about me," he said, "but I'd be obliged if some gen'leman would shout."
Dolphin touched the bell, and said, "I was beginning to feel that way myself."
A very undersized young man, who had plastered his black hair carefully and limped with one leg, appeared, and said in a very shrill voice, "Yes, gentlemen."
"Who are you?" asked Dolphin.
"I'm the actin'-barman," replied the young man, twirling the japanned tray in his hands, and drawing himself up to his full height.
"I should call you the blanky rouseabout," said Dolphin. "We want the bar-maid."
"Miss Quintal says she ain't comin'," said the important youth. "To tell the truth, she's a bit huffed with the 'ole lot of yer. What's your orders, gents?"
He had hardly got the words out of his mouth, when Young William rushed him from the room and along the passage.
Dolphin rang the bell, but no one came to the door till Young William himself reappeared.
"I guess we won't have no more trouble with that lot," said he. "I jammed 'im inter a cupboard under the stairs, along with the brooms an' dustpans. 'Ere's the key. I'll take your orders meself, gentlemen."
"Where's the lovely bar-maid?" asked Dolphin.
"She's that took up with a gent that's got a cast in his eye and a red mustache," replied William, "that she's got no time fer this crowd. What's yours, Garstang? Look slippy. Don't keep me all night."
The men named their liquors, and Young William, taking three shillings from Dolphin, returned to the bar.
He was rather a long time away, and when he reappeared Carnac remarked, "You've been deuced slow over it—you'll have to be sharper than that, if you want to be waiter in a hotel, my Sweet William."
"You're all very small potatoes in this room, you're no class—you're not in it with wall-eyed blokes. Here's yer drinks."
He went round the table, and carefully placed each individual's glass at his elbow; and the game continued.
The pool fell to Carnac, and all Tresco's money was gone.
"Here's luck," said the Prospector, lifting his glass to Dolphin; and when he had drunk he put his stake in the middle of the table.
Carnac rattled the dice-box. "Hello!" he said. "Kitty is short by five pounds. Who's the defaulter?"
"Me, I'm afraid, gentlemen," said Tresco. "I'm cleaned out. 'Case of stone-broke."
"What's this?" exclaimed the digger. "You ain't got a stiver left? Well, there ain't nothing mean about me—here y'are." He roughly divided his money, and pushed one-half across the table to Tresco.
"Hear, hear!" cried Carnac, clapping his hands.
"'Ere, 'ere!" echoed Sweet William. "Very 'an'some, most magnanimous."
Benjamin reached out his hand for the money, and in so doing overturned his glass, which broke into shivers on the floor.
"Good liquor spilt," he remarked as he counted the money and drew another IOU for the amount loaned, which was sixty-seven pounds.
The play proceeded. "Here's to you," said Dolphin, as he drank to Tresco. "Better luck—you deserve it."
The digger was filled with the gambler's fever. His eyes were wild, his face was hot; he drained his glass at a draught, and drummed the table with his fingers.
"Neck or nothin', Tresco," he said. "Make it ten pound a corner, and let's blanky well bust or win. Win, I say—double the stakes, and see if that'll change our luck."
"Anything to oblige you, gentlemen," said Carnac. "Let it be ten pounds, and you can withdraw as soon as you win your money back. It's a free country: you can have one throw, two, or any number you please. But don't say you were coerced, if you lose."
Tresco answered by putting his ten pounds in the pool.
The situation seemed to amuse Young William. He stood behind the goldsmith's chair, holding his sides to suppress his laughter, and making pantomimic signs to Garstang, who looked on with stolid composure and an evil smile.
The players made their throws, and Carnac won the pool.
"Never mind," cried the Prospector, with strong expletives. "There's my stake—let me have another shy. Game to the finish." He rose to his feet, threw his money down on the table with a bang, reeled as he stood, and sat down heavily.
And so the game went on. No luck came to Tresco, and but a few pounds remained in front of him. "One more Kitty, and that finishes me," he said, as he placed his stake in the pool.
As usual, he lost.
"Here's seven pounds left," he cried. "Even money all round, and sudden death on a single throw."
The final pool was made up. The digger threw first—a paltry seven. Dolphin followed with five. It was Tresco's turn to play next, and he threw eleven.
Carnac dallied long with the dice. He was about to throw, when the Prospector rose from his seat and, swaying, caught at the suave gambler's arm for support. With a rattle the dice-box fell. Carnac uttered an oath. Before the players three dice lay upon the table.
Tresco swore deep and loud, and in a moment had fastened both his hands upon the cheat's throat. Carnac struggled, the table with all its money fell with a crash, but the sinister Garstang made a swift movement, and before Tresco's face there glittered the barrel of a revolver.
"Drop him," said Garstang hoarsely. "Loose hold, or you're dead."
The goldsmith dropped his man, but Garstang still covered him with his weapon.
"Stow the loot, William," said Dolphin, suiting the action to the word; and while the two trusty comrades filled their pockets with gold and bank-notes, Carnac slunk from the room. With a heavy lurch the digger tumbled up against the wall, and then fell heavily to the floor.
"Don't give so much as a squeak," said Garstang to the goldsmith, "or you'll lie beside your mate, only much sounder."
Dolphin and Young William, laden with booty, now retired with all speed, and Garstang, still covering his man, walked slowly backward to the door. He made a sudden step and was gone; the door shut with a bang; the key turned in the lock, and Benjamin Tresco was left alone with the insensible form of Bill the Prospector.
"Hocussed, by Heaven!" cried the goldsmith. "Fleeced and drugged in one evening."
The Temptation of the Devil.
The atmosphere of the little room at the back of Tresco's shop was redolent of frying chops. The goldsmith was cooking his breakfast.
As he sneezed and coughed, and watered at the eyes, he muttered, "This is the time of all others that I feel the lack of Betsy Jane or a loving wife."
There was the sound of a foot on the narrow stairs, and Jake Ruggles appeared, his hair still damp from his morning ablutions and his face as clean as his muddy complexion would permit.
"Good morning, my lad."
"Chops and repentance," said the goldsmith.
"Whatyer givin' us?" asked Jake, indignant. "Who's takin' any repentance this morning?—not me, you bet."
"There's a game called Euchre, Jake—never play it. There is likewise a game called Kitty, which is worse. You can lose more money in one night at one of these games than you can earn in six months."
"Speak f'yerself," said the irreverent Jake. "I own I wasn't at a temp'rance meetin' las' night, but I was in bed long before you come home."
"I was attending a sick friend," said Benjamin, dishing up the chops. "I confess I was kept out a little late."
"Must 'a' bin the horrors—I hope 'e didn't die."
"You are mistaken, my brilliant youth. But I own it was something not unlike it. My friend was drugged while having a friendly game of chance with men he deemed to be respectable. One of them dosed his liquor, while another rooked him with loaded dice, and what with one thing and another he was fleeced of all his cash, and was hocussed into the bargain."
"An' what was you doin' there?"
"I? I was being rooked too, but either the drug was the wrong sort to hocuss me, or I overturned my glass by accident, but I escaped with the loss of a few pounds."
"Hocuss yer grandmother!" Jake's ferret-like eyes looked unutterable scorn. "Your bloomin' hocuss was brandy."
"The mind of Youth is perverse and foolish," said the goldsmith, as he poured out the tea. "When the voice of Experience and the voice of Wisdom say, 'Eschew cards, abjure dice, avoid men with lumps on their necks and revolvers in their pockets,' sapient Youth says, 'The old man's goin' dotty.' But we shall see. Youth's innings will come, and I bet a fiver—no, no, what am I thinking of?—I stake my honour that Youth's middle stump gets bowled first ball."
Three years before Tresco had arrived in Timber Town, and had started business on borrowed money. Everything had favoured him but his own improvidence, and on the eve of what he believed to be a financial boom, he found himself in what he described as "a cleft stick." The quarter's rent was a fortnight overdue, the interest on his mortgaged stock must be paid in a few days; and in addition to this he was now saddled with a debt of honour which, if paid, would leave him in a bankrupt condition.
Rising from his half-finished meal, he put on his apron, went into the workshop, and sat down at his bench.
The money which he had held for satisfying the immediate calls of his creditors was squandered, and in the course of the morning he might expect a visit from his landlord, demanding payment.
He might put the digger from his mind—a man drugged overnight would not trouble him next day. The thought gave him relief, and he took up his tool and began to engrave a monogram on a piece of silver. The outlines of the letters were marked in pencil, and the point of his graver deftly ploughed little furrows hither and thither, till the beauty of the design displayed itself.
Jake had opened the shop and taken down the shutters. The goldsmith had lighted his pipe, and the workshop had assumed its usual air of industry, when a rapping was heard on the glass case which stood on the counter of the shop.
Benjamin, glad to welcome so early a customer, rose with a beaming face, and bustled out of the workshop.
Bill the Prospector stood before him.
"Good morning!" Tresco's greeting was effusively delivered. "I hope I see you well."
"A bit thick in the head, mate," said the digger, "but not much the worse, 'cept I ain't got so much as a bean to get a breakfast with."
"Come in, come in," exclaimed Benjamin, as he ushered the digger into the back room, where such chops as had escaped the voracious appetite of Jake Ruggles remained upon the table.
"Sit down, my friend; eat, and be well filled," said the goldsmith. "I'll brew another pot of tea, and soon our Richard will be himself again."
The dissipated digger ate half a chop and a morsel of bread and, when the tea was ready, he drank a cupful thirstily.
"Try another," suggested Tresco, holding the teapot in his hand. "You're a marvel at making a recovery."
The digger complied readily.
"That's the style," said the goldsmith. "There's nothing like tea to counteract the effects of a little spree."
"Spree!" The digger's face expressed indignation which he did not feel equal to uttering. "The spree remained with the other parties, likewise the dollars." He emptied his cup, and drew a long breath.
"I reckon we struck a bit of a snag," said Benjamin, "four of 'em in a lump."
"They properly cleaned me out, anyway," said the digger. "I ain't got so much as sixpence to jingle on a tombstone."
He fumbled in his pockets, and at length drew out two pieces of crumpled paper. These he smoothed with his rough begrimed hands, and then placed them on the table. They were Tresco's IOUs.
"I suppose you'll fix these 'ere, mate," said he.
Benjamin scratched his head.
"When I've squared up my hotel bill an' a few odds and ends," explained the digger, "I'll be makin' tracks."
Tresco looked on this man as a veritable gold-mine, in that he had discovered one of the richest diggings in the country. To quarrel with him therefore would be calamitous: to pay him was impossible, without recourse to financial suicide.
"What does it amount to?" he asked, bending over the bits of dirty paper. "H'm, L117—pretty stiff little bill to meet between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. Suppose I let you have fifty?"
The digger looked at the goldsmith in astonishment.
"If I didn't want the money, I'd chuck these bits o' paper in the fire," he exclaimed. "S'fer as I'm concerned the odd seventeen pound would do me, but it's the missis down in Otago. She must 'ave a clear hundred. Women is expensive, I own, but they mustn't be let starve. So anty up like a white man."
"I'll try," said Tresco.
"If I was you I'd try blanky hard," said the digger. "Act honest, and I'll peg you off a claim as good as my own. Act dishonest, an' you can go to the devil."
Tresco had taken off his apron, and was putting on his coat. "I've no intention of doing that," he said. "How would it be to get the police to make those spielers disgorge?—you'd be square enough then."
"Do that, and I'll never speak to you again. I've no mind to be guy'd in the papers as a new chum that was bested by a set of lags."
"But I tell you they had loaded dice and six-shooters."
"The bigger fools we to set two minutes in their comp'ny."
"What if I say they drugged you?"
"I own to bein' drunk. But if you think to picture me to the public as a greenhorn that can be drugged first and robbed afterwards, you must think me a bigger fool'n I look."
Tresco held his hat in his hand.
"I want this yer money now," said the digger. "In three weeks money'll be no object to you or me, but what I lent you last night must be paid to-day."
Tresco went to the door.
"I'll get it if I can," he said. "Stay here till I come back, and make yourself at home. You may rely on my best endeavours." He put on his hat, and went into the street.
Mr. Crookenden sat in his office. He was a tubby man, with eyes like boiled gooseberries. No one could guess from his face what manner of man he might be, whether generous or mean, hot-tempered or good-humoured, because all those marks which are supposed to delineate character were in him obliterated by adipose tissue. You had to take him as you found him. But for the rest he was a merchant who owned a lucrative business and a few small blunt-nosed steamers that traded along the coasts adjacent to Timber Town.
As he sat in his office, glancing over the invoices of the wrecked Mersey Witch, and trying to compute the difference between the value of the cargo and the amount of its insurance, there was a knock at the door, and Benjamin Tresco entered.
"How d'e do, Tresco? Take a chair," said the man of business. "The little matter of your rent, eh? That's right; pay your way, Tresco, and fortune will simply chase you. That's been my experience."
"Then I can only say, sir, it ain't bin mine."
"But, Tresco, the reason of that is because you're so long-winded. Getting money from you is like drawing your eye-teeth. But, come, come; you're improving, you're getting accustomed to paying punctually. That's a great thing, a very great thing."
"To-day," said the goldsmith, with the most deferential manner of which he was capable, "I have not come to pay."
"But to get you to pay. I want a little additional loan."
"Impossible, absolutely impossible, Tresco."
"Owing to losses over an unfortunate investment, I find myself in immediate need of L150. If that amount is not forthcoming, I fear my brilliant future will become clouded and your rent will remain unpaid indefinitely."
The fat man laughed wheezily.
"That's very good," he said. "You borrow from me to pay my rent. A very original idea, Tresco; but don't you think it would be as well as to borrow from some one else—Varnhagen, for instance?"
"The Jews, Mr. Crookenden; I always try to avoid the Jews. To go to the Jews means to go to the dogs. Keep me from the hands of the Jews, I beg."
"But how would you propose to repay me?"
"By assiduous application to business, sir."
"Indeed. Then what have you been doing all this while?"
"Suffering from bad luck." The ghost of a smile flitted across Benjamin's face as he spoke.
"But Varnhagen is simply swimming in money. He would gladly oblige you."
"He did once, at something like 60 per cent. If I remember rightly, you took over the liability."
"Did I, indeed? Do you know anything of Varnhagen's business?"
"No more than I do of the Devil's."
"You don't seem to like the firm of Varnhagen and Co."
"I have no reason to, except that the head of it buys a trinket from me now and then, and makes me 'take it out' by ordering through him."
"Just so. You would like to get even with him?"
"Are you good in a boat, Tresco?"
The goldsmith seemed to think, and his cogitation made him smile.
"Tolerably," he said. "I'm not exactly amphibious, but I'd float, I'd float, I believe," and he looked at his portly figure.
"Are you good with an oar?"
"Pretty moderate," said Tresco, trying to think which end of the boat he would face while pulling.
"And you've got pluck, I hope?"
"I hope," said the goldsmith.
"To be plain with you, Tresco, I've need of the services of such a man as yourself, reliable, silent, staunch, and with just enough of the devil in him to make him face the music."
Benjamin scratched his head, and wondered what was coming.
"You want a hundred pounds," said the merchant.
"A hundred and fifty badly," said the goldsmith.
"We'll call it a hundred," said the merchant. "I've lost considerably over this wreck—you can understand that?"
"Well, Varnhagen, who has long been a thorn in my side, and has been threatening to start a line of boats in opposition to me, has decided, I happen to hear, to take immediate advantage of my misfortune. But I'll checkmate him."
"You're the man to do it."
"I hold a contract for delivering mails from shore. By a curious juncture of circumstances, I have to take out the English mail to-morrow night to the Takariwa, and bring an English mail ashore from her. Both these mails are via Sydney, and I happen to know that Varnhagen's letters ordering his boats will be in the outgoing mail, and that he is expecting correspondence referring to the matter by the incoming mail. He must get neither. Do you understand?—neither."
Tresco remained silent.
"You go on board my boat—it will be dark; nobody will recognise you. Furthermore I shall give you written authority to do the work. You can find your own crew, and I will pay them, through you, what you think fit. But as to the way you effect my purpose, I am to know nothing. You make your own plans, and keep them to yourself. But bring me the correspondence, and you get your money."
"Make it L200. A hundred down and the balance afterwards. This is an important matter. This is no child's play." The subtle and criminal part of Benjamin's mind began to see that the affair would place his landlord and mortgagee in his power, and relieve him for evermore from financial pressure. To his peculiar conscience it was justifiable to overreach his grasping creditor, a right and proper thing to upset the shrewd Varnhagen's plans: a thought of the proposed breach of the law, statutory and moral, did not occur to his mind.