THE TALE OF TIMBER TOWN.
THE TALE OF TIMBER TOWN
BY A. A. GRACE (Author of "Tales of a Dying Race," "Maoriland Stories," "Folk-Tales of the Maori," "Hone Tiki Dialogues," &c.)
GORDON & GOTCH Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Launceston, Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, N.Z.
PAGE PROEM 9 CHAPTER I. The Master-Goldsmith 11 II. The Wreck of The Mersey Witch 15 III. The Pilot's Daughter 18 IV. Rachel Varnhagen 24 V. Bill the Prospector 30 VI. The Father of Timber Town 33 VII. Cut-Throat Euchre 35 VIII. The Yellow Flag 43 IX. What looked like Courting 48 X. Hocussed 51 XI. The Temptation of the Devil 57 XII. Rock Cod and Macaroni 62 XIII. What the Bush Robin Saw 65 XIV. The Robbery of the Mails 68 XV. Dealing Mostly with Money 73 XVI. The Wages of Sin 77 XVII. Rachel's Wiles 81 XVIII. Digging 83 XIX. A Den of Thieves 86 XX. Gold and Roses 91 XXI. The Foundation of the Gold League 96 XXII. Women's Ways 101 XXIII. Forewarned, Forearmed 108 XXIV. The Goldsmith Comes to Town 112 XXV. Fishing 119 XXVI. A Small, but Important Link in the Story 124 XXVII. The Signal-Tree 127 XXVIII. The Goldsmith Comes to Town the Second Time 130 XXIX. Amiria Plays her Highest Card in the Game of Love 134 XXX. In Tresco's Cave 139 XXXI. The Perturbations of the Bank Manager 145 XXXII. The Quietude of Timber Town is Disturbed 147 XXXIII. The Gold League Washes Up 150 XXXIV. The Goldsmith Comes to Town the Third Time 153 XXXV. Bail 156 XXXVI. In Durance Vile 160 XXXVII. Benjamin's Redemption 164 XXXVIII. The Way to Manage the Law 173 XXXIX. Tresco Makes the Ring 178 EPILOGUE 183
Carlyle Smythe, in his interesting reminiscences of Mark Twain, printed in Life, says that, of all the stories which interested the great American writer while travelling with him through Australasia, the tragical story which is the basis of "The Tale of Timber Town" fascinated the celebrated author more than any other. The version which Mark Twain read was the re-print of the verbatim report of the most remarkable trial ever held in New Zealand, and perhaps south of the Line, and there is no cause for wonder in his interest. I, too, have studied and re-studied that narrative, with its absorbing psychological and sociological problems; I have interrogated persons who knew the chief characters in the story; I have studied the locality, and know intimately the scene of the tragedy: and even though "The Tale of Timber Town" has in the writing taxed my energies for many a month, I have by no means exhausted the theme which so enthralled Mark Twain.
I have tried to reproduce the characters and atmosphere of those stirring days, when L1,000,000 worth of gold was brought into Timber Town in nine months; and I have sought to reproduce the characters and atmosphere of Timber Town, rather than to resuscitate the harrowing details of a dreadful crime. I have tried to show how it was possible for such a tragedy to take place, as was that which so absorbed Mark Twain, and why it was that the tale stirred in him an interest which somewhat surprised Carlyle Smythe.
Here in Timber Town I met them—the unassuming celebrity, and the young entrepreneur. The great humorist, alack! will never read the tale as I have told it, but I am hopeful, that in "The Tale of Timber Town," his erstwhile companion and the public will perceive the literary value of the theme which arrested the attention of so great a writer as Mark Twain.
"The Tale of Timber Town" first appeared in the pages of The Otago Witness, whose proprietors I desire to thank for introducing the story to the public, and for the courtesy of permitting me to reserve the right of reproduction of the work in book-form.
Timber Town. A.A.G.
Timber Town lay like a toy city at the bottom of a basin. Its wooden houses, each placed neatly in the middle of a little garden-plot, had been painted brightly for the delight of the children. There were whole streets of wooden shops, with verandahs in front of them to shade the real imported goods in their windows; and three wooden churches, freshly painted to suit the tastes of their respective—and respectable—congregations; there was a wooden Town Hall, painted grey; a wooden Post Office, painted brown; a red college, where boys in white disported upon a green field; a fawn-coloured school, with a playground full of pinafored little girls; and a Red Tape Office—designed in true Elizabethan style, with cupolas, vanes, fantastic chimney-tops, embayed windows, wondrous parapets—built entirely of wood and painted the colour of Devonshire cream, with grit in the paint to make it look like stone.
Along the streets ran a toy tram, pulled by a single horse, which was driven by a man who moved his arms just as if they were real, and who puffed genuine clouds of smoke from his tobacco-pipe. Ladies dressed in bright colours walked up and down the trim side-paths, with gaudy sunshades in their hands; knocked at doors, went calling, and looked into the shop windows, just like actual people.
It was the game of playing at living. The sky shone brightly overhead; around the town stood hills which no romantic scene-painter could have bettered; the air of the man with water-cart, of the auctioneer's man with bell, and of the people popping in and out of the shops, was the air of those who did these things for love of play-acting on a stage.
As a matter of fact, there was nothing to worry about, in Timber Town; no ragged beggars, no yelling hawkers, no sad-eyed, care-worn people, no thought for to-morrow. The chimneys smoked for breakfast regularly at eight o'clock every morning; the play of living began at nine, when the smiling folk met in the streets and turned, the men into their offices to play at business, the women into the shops where meat and good things to eat were to be had for little more than love. Between twelve and two o'clock everybody went home to dinner, and the cabs which stood in front of the wooden Post Office, and dogs which slept on the pavement beneath the verandahs, held possession of the streets.
But if anyone would see the beauty and fashion of Timber Town, from four to five in the afternoon was the hour. Then wives and daughters, having finished playing at house-keeping for the day, put on their gayest costumes, and visited the milliners. Southern Cross Street buzzed with gaudy life; pretty women bowed, and polite men raised their hats—just as people do in real cities—but, as everybody knew everybody else, the bowing and hat-raising were general, just as they are when the leading lady comes into the presence of the chorus on the stage. Then the vision of gossiping, smiling humanity would pass away—the shops put up their shutters at six o'clock; the game was over for the day, and all the chimneys smoked for tea.
Timber Town by night, except when the full moon shone, was sombre, with nothing doing. The street lamps burnt but indifferent gas; people stayed indoors, and read the piquant paragraphs of The Pioneer Bushman, Timber Town's evening journal, or fashioned those gay dresses which by day helped to make the town so bright, and went to bed early and slept with a soundness and tranquillity, well-earned by the labour of playing so quaintly at the game of life.
The hills which surrounded the little town pressed so closely upon it, that by sheer weight they seemed likely to crush its frail houses into matchwood. On one side mountains, some bare and rugged, some clothed with forest, rose behind the foot-hills, and behind them more mountains, which seemed to rise like the great green billows of an angry sea. On one side stretched the blue of the distant forest-covered ranges, upon the other the azure of the encroaching ocean, which, finding a way between the encircling hills, insinuated its creeping tides into the town itself. And overhead spread the blue sky, for the sky above Timber Town was blue nine days out of ten, and the clouds, when they came, performed their gloomy mission quickly and dispersed with despatch, that the sun might smile again and the playing of the people continue.
No nest in the forest was ever more securely hid than was Timber Town from the outside world. Secreted at the end of a deep bay, that bay was itself screened from the ocean outside by an extensive island and a sandspit which stretched for many a mile.
Inaccessible by land, the little town was reached only by water, and there, in that quiet eddy of the great ocean, lived its quiet, quaint, unique existence.
In such a place men's characters develop along their own lines, and, lacking that process of mental trituration which goes on in large cities where many minds meet, they frequently attain an interesting if strange maturity. In such a community there is opportunity for the contemplation of mankind ignorant of poverty; and such a happy state, begotten of plenty and nurtured by freedom, has its natural expression in the demeanour of the people. It was not characteristic of Timber Town to hoard, but rather to spend. In a climate bright through the whole year, it was not natural that the sorrows of life, where life was one long game, should press heavily upon the players.
But we come upon the little timber town at a time of transition from sequestered peace to the roar and rush of a mining boom, and if the stirring events of that time seem to change the tranquil aspect of the scene, it is only that a breeze of life from outside sweeps over its surface, as when a gust of wind, rushing from high mountains upon some quiet lake nestling at their feet, stirs the placid waters into foam.
So through the wild scene, when the villain comes upon the stage and the hidden treasure is brought to light, though the play may seem to lose its pastoral character, it is to be remembered that if tragedy may endure for the night, comedy comes surely enough in the morning.
* * * * *
THE TALE OF TIMBER TOWN.
Jake Ruggles leant over the goldsmith's bench, put the end of his blow-pipe into the gas-flame, and impinged a little oxygenized jet upon the silver buckle he was soldering. He was a thin, undersized, rabbit-faced youth, whose head was thatched with a shock of coarse black hair. He possessed a pair of spreading black eyebrows upon a forehead which was white when well washed, for Nature had done honestly by the top of his head, but had realised, when his chin was reached, the fatuity of spending more time upon the moulding and adornment of the person of Jake Ruggles.
The master-goldsmith was a rubicund man, with a face which Jake, in a rage, had once described as that of "a pig with the measles." But this was, without doubt, a gross perversion of the truth. Benjamin Tresco's countenance was as benign as that of Bacchus, and as open as the day. Its chief peculiarity was that the brow and lashes of one eye were white, while piebald patches adorned his otherwise red head.
In his own eyes, the most important person in Timber Town was Benjamin Tresco. But it was natural for him to think so, for he was the only man of his trade in a town of six thousand people. He was a portly person who took a broad view of life, and it was his habit to remark, when folk commented on his rotundity, "I am big. I don't deny it. But I can't help myself—God A'mighty made me big, big in body, big in brain, big in appetite, big in desire to break every established law and accepted custom; but I am prevented from giving rein to my impulses by the expansiveness of my soul. That I developed myself. I could go up the street and rob the Kangaroo Bank; I could go to Mr. Crewe, the millionaire, and compel him at the pistol's mouth to transfer me the hoards of his life-time; I could get blazing drunk three nights a week; I could kidnap Varnhagen's pretty daughter, and carry her off to the mountains; but my soul prevents me—I am the battle-ground of contending passions. One half of me says, 'Benjamin, do these things'; the other half says, 'Tresco, abstain. Be magnanimous: spare them!' My appetites—and they are enormous—say, 'Benjamin Tresco, have a real good time while you can; sail in, an' catch a-holt of pleasure with both hands.' But my better part says, 'Take your pleasure in mutual enjoyments, Benjamin; fix your mind on book-learning and the elevating Arts of peace.' I am a bone of contention between Virtue and License, an' the Devil only knows which will get me in the end."
But at the time of introduction he was quietly engraving a little plate of gold, which was destined to adorn the watch-chain of the Mayor, who, after Mr. Crewe, was Timber Town's most opulent citizen.
When the craftsman engraves, he fastens his plate of gold to the end of a piece of wood, long enough to be held conveniently in the hand, and as thick as the width of the precious metal. This he holds in his left hand, and in his right the graver with which he nicks out little pieces of gold according to design, which pieces fall into the apron of the bench—and, behold! he is engraving. The work needs contemplation, concentration, and attention; for every good goldsmith carries the details of the design in his head. But, that morning, there seemed to be none of these qualities in Benjamin Tresco. He dropped his work with a suddenness that endangered its fastenings of pitch, rapped the bench with the round butt of his graver, and glared ferociously at Jake Ruggles.
"What ha' you got there?" he asked fiercely of his apprentice, who sat with him at the bench and was now working industriously with a blow-pipe upon the hoop of a gold ring. "Who told you to stop soldering the buckles?"
Jake turned his head sideways and looked at his master, like a ferret examining an angry terrier; alert, deliberate, and full of resource.
"It's a bit of a ring I was give to mend," he replied, "up at The Lucky Digger."
Tresco stretched out a long arm, and took the gem. Then he drew a deep breath.
"You've begun early, young man," he exclaimed. "Would you poach on my preserves? The young lady whose finger that ring adorns I am wont to regard as my especial property, an' a half-fledged young pukeko, like you, presumes to cut me out! You mend that lady's trinkets? You lean over a bar, an' court beauty adorned in the latest fashion? You make love to my 'piece' by fixing up her jewels? Young man, you've begun too early. Now, look-a-here, I shall do this job myself—for love—I shall deliver this ring with my own hand." Tresco chuckled softly, and Jake laughed out loud.
The scene had been a piece of play-acting. The apprentice, who knew his master's weakness for the pretty bar-maid at The Lucky Digger was, as he expressed himself, "taking a rise out of the boss," and Tresco's simulated wrath was the crisis for which he had schemed. Between the two there existed a queer comradeship, which had been growing for more than two years, so that the bald, rotund, red-faced goldsmith had come to regard the shock-headed, rat-faced apprentice more as a son than as an assistant; whilst Jake would say to the youth of his "push," "Huh! none o' yer bashin' an' knockin' about fer me—the boss an' me's chums. Huh! you should be in my boots—we have our pint between us reg'lar at eleven, just like pals."
Picking up the ring with a pair of tweezers, the master-jeweller first examined its stone—a diamond—through a powerful lens. Next, with a small feather he took up some little bits of chopped gold from where they lay mixed with borax and water upon a piece of slate; these he placed deftly where the gold hoop was weak; over the top of them he laid a delicate slip of gold, and bound the whole together with wire as thin as thread. This done, he put the jewel upon a piece of charred wood, thrust the end of his blow-pipe into the flame of the gas-burner, which he pulled towards him, and with three or four gentle puffs through the pipe the mend was made. The goldsmith threw the ring in the "pickle," a green, deadly-looking chemical in an earthenware pot upon the floor.
Tresco was what the doctors call "a man of full habit." He ate largely, drank deeply, slept heavily, but, alas! he was a bachelor. There was no comfortable woman in the room at the back of his workshop to call in sweet falsetto, "Benjamin, come to dinner! Come at once: the steak's getting cold!" As he used to say, "This my domicile lacks the female touch—there's too much tobacco-ashes an' cobwebs about it: the women seem kind o' scared to come near, as if I might turn out to be a dog that bites."
The ring being pickled, Benjamin fished it out of the green liquid and washed it in a bowl of clean water. A little filing and scraping, a little rubbing with emery-paper, and the goldsmith burnished the yellow circlet till it shone bright and new.
"Who knows?" he exclaimed, holding up the glistening gem, "who knows but it is the ring of the future Mrs. T.? Lord love her, I have forty-eight pairs of socks full of holes, all washed and put away, waiting for her to darn. Think of the domestic comfort of nearly fifty pairs of newly-darned socks; with her sitting, stitching, on one side of the fire, and saying, 'Benjamin, these ready-made socks are no good: I must knit them for you in future,' and me, on the other side, smiling like a Cheshire cat with pure delight, and saying: 'Annie, my dear, you're an angel compacted of comfort and kindness: my love, would you pass me a paper-light, if you please?' But in the meantime the bird must be caught. I go to catch it."
He slipped his dirty apron over his head, put on his coat and weather-beaten hat of strange outlandish shape, placed the ring in a dainty, silk-lined case, and sallied forth into the street.
Timber Town burst on his benignant gaze. Over against him stood a great wooden shop, painted brilliant blue; along the street was another, of bright red; but most of the buildings were a sober stone-colour or some shade of modest grey or brown. One side of the street was verandah'd along its whole length, and the walks on either side of the macadamised road were asphalted. Benjamin, wearing the air of Bacchus courting the morning, walked a hundred yards or so, till he came to the centre of the town, where four streets met. At one corner stood the Kangaroo Bank; at another a big clothing-shop; at the two others Timber Town's rival hostelries—The Bushman's Tavern and The Lucky Digger. The Bank and hotels, conspicuous amid the other buildings, had no verandahs in front of them, but each was freshly painted; the Bushman's Tavern a slate-blue, The Lucky Digger a duck-egg green.
The sun was hot; the iron on the roofs ticked in the heat and reflected the rays of heaven. Benjamin paused on the edge of the pavement, mopped his perspiring brow, and contemplated the garish scene. Opposite the wooden Post Office, which flanked the "clothing emporium," stretched a rank of the most outlandish vehicles that ever came within the category of cabs licensed to carry passengers. Some were barouches which must have been ancient when Victoria was crowned, and concerning which there was a legend that they came out to the settlement in the first ships, in 1842; others were landaus, constructed on lines substantial enough to resist collision with an armoured train; but the majority were built on a strange American plan, with a canopy of dingy leather and a step behind, so that the fare, after progressing sideways like a crab, descended, at his journey's end, as does a burglar from "Black Maria."
Along the footpaths walked, in a leisurely manner, a goodly sprinkling of Timber Town's citizens, with never a ragged figure among them.
Perhaps the seediest-looking citizen "on the block" was Tresco himself, but what he lacked in tailoring he made good in serene benignity of countenance. His features, which beamed like the sun shining above him, were recognised by all who passed by. It was, "How do, Benjamin; bobbin' up, old party?" "Mornin', Tresco. You remind me of the rooster that found the jewel—you look so bloomin' contented with yourself." "Ah! good day, Mr. Tresco. I hope I see you well. Remember, I still have that nice little bit of property for sale. Take you to see it any time you like."
With Benjamin it was, "How do, Ginger? In a hurry? Go it—you'll race the hands round the clock yet." "Good morning, Mr. Flint. Lovely weather, yes, but hot. Now, half-a-pint is refreshing, but you lawyers have no time—too many mortgages, conveyances, bills of sale to think about. I understand. Good morning." "Why, certainly, Boscoe, my beloved pal. Did you say 'half'?—I care not if it's a pint. Let us to the blushing Hebe of the bar."
Tresco and his friend, Boscoe, entered the portals of The Lucky Digger. Behind the bar stood a majestic figure arrayed in purple and fine linen. She had the development of an Amazon and the fresh face of a girl from the shires of England. Through the down on her cheek "red as a rose was she."
Tresco advanced as to the shrine of a goddess, and leant deferentially over the bar. Never a word spoke he till the resplendent deity had finished speaking to two commercial travellers who smoked cigars, and then, as her eyes met his, he said simply, "Two pints, if you please, miss."
The liquor fell frothing into two tankards; Boscoe put down the money, and the goddess withdrew to the society of the bagmen, who talked to her confidentially, as to their own familiar friend.
Tresco eyed the group, smilingly, and said, "The toffs are in the cheese, Boscoe. You'd think they'd a monopoly of Gentle Annie. But wait till I get on the job."
Boscoe, a wizened little tinsmith, with the grime of his trade upon him, looked vacuously to his front, and buried his nose in his pot of beer.
"Flash wimmen an't in my line," said he, as he smacked his lips, "not but this yer an't a fine 'piece.' But she'd cost a gold mine in clo'es alone, let alone brooches and fallals. I couldn't never run it." Here one of the gaudy bagmen stretched out his hand, and fingered the bar-maid's rings. The girl seemed nothing annoyed at this awkward attention, but when her admirer's fingers stole to her creamy chin, she stepped back, drew herself up with infinite dignity, and said with perfect enunciation, "Well, you have got an impudence. I must go and wash my face."
She was about to leave the bar, when Tresco called after her, "My dear, one minute." From his pocket he drew the dainty ring-case, and held it out to the girl, who took it eagerly. In a moment the gem was on her finger. "You dear old bag of tricks!" she exclaimed. "Is it for me?"
"Most certainly," said Benjamin. "One moment." He took the ring between his forefinger and thumb, as if he were a conjurer about to perform, glanced triumphantly round the bar-room, held the girl's hand gallantly in his, deliberately replaced the ring on her finger, and said, "With this ring I thee wed; with my body I thee worship; with all my worldly goods I thee endow."
"Thanks, I'll take the ring," retorted the bar-maid, with mock annoyance and a toss of her head, "but, really, I can't be bothered with your old carcase."
"Pleasing delusion," said Tresco, unruffled. "It's your own ring!"
A close, quick scrutiny, and the girl had recognised her refurbished jewel.
"You bald-headed rogue!" she exclaimed. But Tresco had vanished, and nothing but his laugh came back through the swinging glass-door.
The bagmen laughed too. But Gentle Annie regarded them indignantly, and in scornful silence, which she broke to say, "And now I shall go and wash my face."
The Wreck of the Mersey Witch.
The Maori is a brown man. His hair is straight, coarse, black, and bright as jet. His eyes are brown, his teeth are pearly white; and, when he smiles, those brown eyes sparkle and those white teeth gleam. A Maori's smile is one of Nature's most complete creations.
But as Enoko poked his head out of the door of the hut, his face did not display merriment. Day was breaking; yet he could see nothing but the flying scud and the dim outline of the shore; he could hear nothing but the roar of the breakers, battering the boulders of the beach.
He came out of the hut, his teeth chattering with the rawness of the morning; and made a general survey of the scene.
"It's too cold," he muttered in his own language. "There's too much wind, too much sea."
With another look at the angry breakers, he went back into the hut. "Tahuna," he cried, "there's no fishing to-day—the weather's bad."
Tahuna stirred under his blankets, sat up, and said in Maori, "I'll come and look for myself."
The two men went out into the cold morning air.
"No," said Tahuna, "it's no good—there's a north-east gale. We had better go back to the pa when the day has well dawned."
The words were hardly out of his mouth, when a sudden veering of the wind drew the scud from the sea and confined it to the crest of the rocky, wooded cliff under which the Maoris stood. The sea lay exposed, grey and foaming; but it was not on the sea that the men's eyes were riveted. There, in the roaring, rushing tide, a ship lay helpless on the rocks.
Enoko peered, as though he mistrusted the sight of his eye—he had but one. Tahuna ran to the hut, and called, "Come out, both of you. There's a ship on the rocks!"
From the hut issued two sleepy female forms, the one that of the chief's wife, the other that of a pretty girl. The former was a typical Maori wahine of the better class, with regular features and an abundance of long black hair; the latter was not more than eighteen years old, of a lighter complexion, full-figured, and with a good-natured face which expressed grief and anxiety in every feature. "Oh!" she exclaimed, as a great wave broke over the helpless ship, "the sailors will be drowned. What can we do?"
"Amiria," said the chief to her, "go back to the pa, and tell the people to come and help. We three,"—he pointed to his wife, Enoko and himself—"will see what we can do."
"No," replied the girl, "I can swim as well as any of you. I shall stay, and help." She ran along the beach to the point nearest the wreck, and the others followed her.
Tahuna, standing in the wash of the sea, cried out, "A rope! A rope! A rope!" But his voice did not penetrate ten yards into the face of the gale.
Then all four, drenched with spray, shouted together, and with a similar result.
"If they could float a rope ashore," said the chief, "we would make it fast, and so save them."
The vessel lay outside a big reef which stretched between her and the shore; her hull was almost hidden by the surf which broke over her, the only dry place on her being the fore-top, which was crowded with sailors; and it was evident that she must soon break up under the battering seas which swept over her continually.
"They can't swim," said the chief, with a gesture of disgust. "The pakeha is a sheep, in the water. We must go to them. Now, remember: when you get near the ship, call out for a rope. We can drift back easily enough."
He walked seawards till the surf was up to his knees. The others followed his example; the girl standing with the other woman between the men.
"Now," cried Tahuna, as a great breaker retired; and the four Maoris rushed forward, and plunged into the surf. But the force of the next wave dashed them back upon the beach. Three times they tried to strike out from the shore, but each time they were washed back. Tahuna's face was bleeding, Enoko limped as he rose to make the fourth attempt, but the women had so far escaped unscathed.
"When the wave goes out," cried the chief, "rush forward, and grasp the rocks at the bottom. Then when the big wave passes, swim a few strokes, dive when the next comes, and take hold of the rocks again."
"That's a good plan," said Enoko. "Let us try it."
A great sea broke on the shore; they all rushed forward, and disappeared as the next wave came. Almost immediately their black heads were bobbing on the water. There came another great breaker, the four heads disappeared; the wave swept over the spot where they had dived, but bore no struggling brown bodies with it. Then again, but further out to sea, the black heads appeared, to sink again before the next great wave. Strong in nerve, powerful in limb were those amphibious Maoris, accustomed to the water from the year of their birth.
They were now fifty yards from the shore, and swam independently of one another; diving but seldom, and bravely breasting the waves.
The perishing sailors, who eagerly watched the swimmers, raised a shout, which gave the Maoris new courage.
Between the Natives and the ship stretched a white line of foam, hissing, roaring, boiling over a black reef which it was impossible to cross. The tired swimmers, therefore, had to make a painful detour. Slowly Tahuna and Enoko, who were in front, directed their course towards a channel at one end of the reef, and the women followed in their wake. They were swimming on their sides, but all their strength and skill seemed of little avail in bringing them any nearer to their goal. But suddenly Amiria dived beneath the great billows, and when her tangled, wet mane reappeared, she was in front of the men. They and the chief's wife followed her example, and soon all four swimmers had passed through the channel. Outside another reef lay parallel to the first, and on it lay the stranded ship, fixed and fast, with the green seas pounding her to pieces.
When the Maoris were some fifty yards from the wreck, they spread themselves out in a line parallel to the reef on which lay the ship, her copper plates exposed half-way to the keel. "Rope! Rope! Rope!" shouted the Maoris. Their voices barely reached the ship, but the sailors well knew for what the swimmers risked their lives. Already a man had unrove the fore-signal-halyards, the sailors raised a shout and the coiled rope was thrown. It fell midway between Tahuna and Enoko, where Amiria was swimming. Quickly the brave girl grasped the life-line, and it was not long before her companions were beside her.
They now swam towards the channel. Once in the middle of that, they turned on their backs and floated, each holding tight to the rope, and the waves bearing them towards the shore.
The return passage took only a few minutes, but to get through the breakers which whitened the beach with foam was a matter of life or death to the swimmers. They were grasped by the great seas and were hurled upon the grinding boulders; they were sucked back by the receding tide, to be again thrown upon the shore.
Tahuna was the first to scramble out of the surf, though he limped as he walked above high-water-mark. Amiria lay exhausted on the very margin, the shallow surge sweeping over her; but the rope was still in her hand. The chief first carried the girl up the beach, and laid her, panting, on the stones; then he went back to look for the others. His wife, with wonderful fortune, was carried uninjured to his very feet, but Enoko was struggling in the back-wash which was drawing him into a great oncoming sea. Forgetting his maimed foot, the chief sprang towards his friend, seized hold of him and a boulder simultaneously, and let the coming wave pass over him and break upon the beach. Just as it retired, he picked up Enoko, and staggered ashore with his helpless burden.
For five minutes they all lay, panting and still. Then Amiria got up and hauled on the life-line. Behind her a strange piece of rock, shaped like a roughly-squared pillar, stood upright from the beach. To this she made fast the line, on which she pulled hard and strong. Tahuna rose, and helped her, and soon out of the surf there came a two-inch rope which had been tied to the signal-halyards.
When the chief and the girl had fixed the thicker rope round the rock, Tahuna tied the end of the life-line about his waist, walked to the edge of the sea, and held up his hand.
That was a signal for the first man to leave the ship. He would have to come hand-over-hand along the rope, through the waters that boiled over the deadly rocks, and through the thundering seas that beat the shore. And hand-over-hand he came, past the reef on which the ship lay, across the wild stretch of deep water, over the second and more perilous reef, and into the middle of the breakers of the beach. There he lost his hold, but Tahuna dashed into the surf, and seized him. The chief could now give no attention to his own safety, but his wife and Amiria hauled on the life-line, and prevented him and his burden from being carried seawards by the back-wash. And so the first man was saved from the wreck of The Mersey Witch.
Others soon followed; Tahuna became exhausted; his wife took his place, and tied the life-line round her waist. After she had rescued four men, Enoko came to himself and relieved her; and Amiria, not to be outdone in daring, tied the other end of the line about her waist, and took her stand beside the half-blind man.
As the captain, who was the last man to leave the ship, was dragged out of the raging sea, a troop of Maoris arrived from the pa with blankets, food, and drink. Soon the newcomers had lighted a fire in a sheltered niche of the cliff, and round the cheerful blaze they placed the chilled and exhausted sailors.
The captain, when he could speak, said to Tahuna, "Weren't you one of those who swam out to the ship?"
"Yeh, boss, that me," replied the chief in broken English. "You feel all right now, eh?"
"Where are the women we saw in the water?"
"T'e wahine?" said Tahuna. "They all right, boss."
"Where are they? I should like to see them. I should like to thank them."
The chief's wife, her back against the cliff, was resting after her exertions. Amiria was attending to one of the men she had dragged out of the surf, a tall, fair man, whose limbs she was chafing beside the fire. When the chief called to his wife and the girl, Amiria rose, and placing her Englishman in the charge of a big Maori woman, she flung over her shoulders an old korowai cloak which she had picked up from the beach, and pushing through the throng, was presented to the captain.
He was a short, thick-set man, weather-beaten by two score voyages. "So you're the girl we saw in the water," said he. "Pleased to meet you, miss, pleased to meet you," and then after a pause, "Your daughter, chief?"
Amiria's face broke into a smile, and from her pretty mouth bubbled the sweetest laughter a man could hear.
"Not my taughter," replied Tahuna, as his wife approached, "but this my wahine, what you call wife."
The Maori woman was smiling the generous smile of her race.
"You're a brave crowd," said the captain. "My crew and I owe you our lives. My prejudice against colour is shaken—I'm not sure that it'll ever recover the shock you've given it. A man may sail round the world a dozen times, an' there's still something he's got to learn. I never would ha' believed a man, let alone a woman, could ha' swum in such a sea. An' you're Natives of the country?—a fine race, a fine race." As they stood, talking, rain had commenced to drive in from the sea. The captain surveyed the miserable scene for a moment or two; then he said, "I think, chief, that if you're ready we'll get these men under shelter." And so, some supported by their dusky friends, and some carried in blankets, the crew of The Mersey Witch, drenched and cold, but saved from the sea, were conveyed to the huts of the pa.
The Pilot's Daughter.
She came out of the creeper-covered house into a garden of roses, and stood with her hand on a green garden-seat; herself a rosebud bursting into perfection.
Below her were gravelled walks and terraced flower-beds, cut out of the hill-side on which the quaint, gabled house stood; her fragrant, small domain carefully secreted behind a tall, clipped hedge, over the top of which she could see from where she stood the long sweep of the road which led down to the port of Timber Town.
She was dressed in a plain, blue, cotton blouse and skirt; her not over-tall figure swelling plumply beneath their starched folds. Her hair was of a nondescript brown, beautified by a glint of gold, so that her uncovered head looked bright in the sunlight. Her face was such as may be seen any day in the villages which nestle beneath the Sussex Downs, under whose shadow she was born; her forehead was broad and white; her eyes blue; her cheeks the colour of the blush roses in her garden; her mouth small, with lips coloured pink like a shell on the beach. As she stood, gazing down the road, shading her eyes with her little hand, and displaying the roundness and whiteness of her arm to the inquisitive eyes of nothing more lascivious than the flowers, a girl on horseback drew up at the gate, and called, "Cooee!"
She was tall and brown, dressed in a blue riding-habit, and in her hand she carried a light, silver-mounted whip. She jumped lightly from the saddle, opened the gate, and led her horse up the drive.
The fair girl ran down the path, and met her near the tethering-post which stood under a tall bank.
"Amiria, I am glad to see you!"
"But think of all I have to tell you." The brown girl's intonation was deep, and she pronounced every syllable richly. "We don't have a wreck every day to talk about."
"Come inside, and have some lunch. You must be famishing after your long ride."
"Oh, no, I'm not hungry. Taihoa, by-and-by."
The horse was tied up securely, and the girls, a contrast of blonde and brunette, walked up the garden-path arm-in-arm.
"I have heard such things about you," said the fair girl.
"But you should see him, my dear," said the brown. "You would have risked a good deal to save him if you had been there—tall, strong, struggling in the sea, and so helpless."
"You are brave, Amiria. It's nonsense to pretend you don't know it. All the town is talking about you." The white face looked at the brown, mischievously. "And now that you have got him, my dear, keep him."
Amiria's laugh rang through the garden. "There is no hope for me, if you are about, Miss Rose Summerhayes," she said.
"But wasn't it perfectly awful? We heard you were drowned yourself."
"Nonsense! I got wet, but that was all. Of course, if I was weak or a bad swimmer, then there would have been no hope. But I know every rock, every channel, where the sea breaks its force, and where it is strongest. There was no danger."
"How many men?"
"Twenty-nine; and the one drowned makes thirty."
"And which is the particular one, your treasure trove? Of course, he will marry you as soon as the water is out of his ears, and make you happy ever afterwards."
Amiria laughed again. "First, he is handsome; next, he is a rangatira, well-born, as my husband ought to be. I really don't know his name. Can't you guess that is what I have come to find out?"
"You goose. You've come to unburden yourself. You were just dying to tell me the story."
They had paused on the verandah, where they sat on a wooden seat in the shade.
"Anyway, the wreck is better for the Maori than a sitting of the Land Court—there! The shore is covered with boxes and bales and all manner of things. There are ready-made clothes for everyone in the pa, boots, tea, tobacco, sugar, everything that the people want—all brought ashore from the wreck and strewn along the beach. The Customs' Officers get some, but the Maori gets most. I've brought you a memento."
She put her hand into the pocket of her riding-habit, and drew out a little packet. "That is for you—a souvenir of the wreck."
"Isn't it rather like stealing, to take what really belongs to other people?"
"Rubbish! Open it, and see for yourself," said Amiria, smiling.
Rose undid the packet's covering, and disclosed a black leather-covered case, much the worse for wear.
"It isn't injured by the water—it was in a tin-lined box," said the Maori girl. "It opens like a card-case."
Rose opened the little receptacle, which divided in the middle, and there lay exposed a miniature portrait framed in oxidized silver.
The portrait represented a beautiful woman, yellow-haired, with blue eyes and a bright colour on her cheeks, lips which showed indulgence in every curve, and a snow-white neck around which was clasped a string of red coral beads.
Rose fixed her eyes on the picture.
"Why do you give me this?" she asked. "Who is it?"
Amiria turned the miniature over. On its back was written "Annabel Summerhayes."
Rose turned slightly pale as she read the name, and her breath caught in her throat. "This must be my mother," she said quietly. "When she died, I was too young to remember her."
Both girls looked at the portrait; the brown face close to the fair, the black hair touching the brown.
"She must have been very good," said Amiria, "——look how kind she is."
Rose was silent.
"Isn't that a nice memento of the wreck," continued the Maori girl. "But anyhow you would have received it, for the Collector of Customs has the packing-case in which it was found. However, I thought you would like to get it as soon as possible."
"How kind you are," said Rose, as she kissed Amiria. "This is the only picture of my mother I have seen. I never knew what she was like. This is a perfect revelation to me."
The tears were in her voice as well as in her eyes, and her lip trembled. Softly one brown hand stole into her white one, and another brown hand stole round her waist, and she felt Amiria's warm lips on her cheek. The two girls had been playmates as children, they had been at school together, and had always shared each other's confidences, but this matter of Annabel Summerhayes was one which her father had forbidden Rose to mention; and around the memory of her mother there had grown a mystery which the girl was unable to fathom.
"Now that this has occurred, there is no harm in disobeying my father," she said. "He told me never to speak of my mother to him or anyone else, but when you give me her picture, it would be stupid to keep silence. She looks good, doesn't she, Amiria? I think she was good, but my father destroyed everything belonging to her: he even took the trouble to change my name from Annabel to Rose—that was after we arrived here and I was three years old. I do not possess a single thing that was hers except this picture; and even that I must hide, for fear my father should destroy it. Come, we will go in."
They passed along the shady verandah, and entered the house. Its rooms were dark and cool, and prettily if humbly furnished. Rose took Amiria along a winding passage, up a somewhat narrow flight of stairs, and into a bedroom which was in one of the many gables of the wooden house. The Maori girl took off her hat and gloves, and Rose, drawing a bunch of keys from her pocket, opened a work-box which stood on the dressing-table, and in it she hid the miniature of her mother. Then she turned, and confronted Amiria.
The dark girl's black hair, loosened by riding, had escaped from its fastenings, and now fell rippling down her back.
"It's a great trouble," she said. "Nothing will hold it—it is like wire. The pins drop out, and down it all comes."
Rose was combing and brushing the glossy, black tresses. "I'll try my hand," said she. "The secret is plenty of pins; you don't use enough of them. Pins, I expect, are scarce in the pa." She had fastened up one long coil, and was holding another in place with her white fingers, when a gruff voice roared through the house:—
"Rosebud, my gal! Rosebud, I say! What's taken the child?"
Whilst the two girls had been in the bedroom, three figures had come into sight round the bend of the beach-road. They walked slowly, with heavy steps and swaying gait, after the manner of sailor-men. As they ascended the winding pathway leading to the house, they argued loudly.
"Jes' so, Cap'n Summerhayes," said the short, thick-set man, with a blanket wrapped round him in lieu of a coat, to the big burly man on his left, "I stood off and on, West-Nor'-West and East-Sou'-East, waiting for the gale to wear down and let me get into your tuppeny little port. Now you are pilot, I reckon. What would you ha' done?"
"What would I ha' done, Sartoris?" asked the bulky man gruffly. "Why, damme, I'd ha' beat behind Guardian Point, and took shelter."
"In the dark?"
"In the dark, I tell you."
"Then most likely, Pilot, you'd ha' run The Witch on the Three Sisters' reefs, or Frenchman's Island. I stood off an' on, back'ard an' forrard."
"An' shot yourself on to the rocks."
The third man said nothing. He was looking at the Pilot's house and the flowers while the two captains paused to argue, and fidgeted with the blanket he wore over his shoulders.
"Well, come in, come in," said the Pilot. "We'll finish the argyment over a glass an' a snack." And then it was that he had roared for his daughter, who, leaving Amiria to finish her toilet, tripped downstairs to meet her father.
"Why, Rosebud, my gal, I've been calling this half-hour," exclaimed the gruff old Pilot. "An' here's two gentlemen I've brought you, two shipwrecked sailors—Cap'n Sartoris, of The Mersey Witch, and Mr. Scarlett." His voice sounded like the rattling of nails in a keg, and his manner was as rough as his voice.
Each blanketed man stepped awkwardly forward and shook hands with the girl, first the captain, and then the tall, uncomfortable-looking, younger man, who turned the colour indicated by his name.
"What they want is a rig-out," rumbled the Pilot of Timber Town; "some coats, Rosebud; some shirts, and a good feed." The grizzled old mariner's face broke into a grim smile. "I'm Cap'n Summerhayes, an't I? I'm Pilot o' this port, an't I?—an' Harbour Master, in a manner o' speaking? Very good, my gal. In all those capacities—regardless that I'm your dad—I tell you to make these gen'lemen comfortable, as if they were at home; for you never know, Rosebud, when you may be entertaining a husband unawares. You never know." And, chuckling, the old fellow led the shipwrecked men into his bedroom.
When they had been provided with suits belonging to the Pilot, they were shown into the parlour, where they sat with their host upon oak chairs round a battered, polished table, with no cloth upon it.
Captain Sartoris was a moderately good-looking man, if a trifle weather-beaten, but dressed in the Pilot's clothes he was in danger of being lost and smothered; and Scarlett bore himself like one who laboured under a load of misery almost too great to be borne, but he had wisely rejected the voluminous coat proffered by his benefactor, and appeared in waistcoat and trousers which gave him the appearance of a growing boy dressed in his father's cast-off apparel.
Such was the guise of the shipwrecked men as they sat hiding as much of themselves as possible under the Pilot's table, whilst Rose Summerhayes bustled about the room. She took glasses from the sideboard and a decanter from a dumb-waiter which stood against the wall, and placed them on the table.
"And Rosebud, my gal," said the Pilot, "as it's quite two hours to dinner, we'll have a morsel of bread and cheese."
The French window stood open, and from the garden was blown the scent of flowers.
Rose brought the bread and cheese, and stood with her hands folded upon her snowy apron, alert to supply any further wants of the guests.
"And whose horse is that on the drive?" asked the Pilot.
"Amiria's," replied his daughter.
"Good: that's a gal after my heart. I'm glad she's come."
"Take a chair, miss," said Captain Sartoris from the depths of the vast garments that encumbered him.
"Thank you," replied Rose, "but I've the dinner to cook."
"Most domestic, I'm sure," continued Sartoris, trying hard to say the correct thing. "Most right an' proper. Personally, I like to see young ladies attend to home dooties."
Rose laughed. "Which is to say the comfort of you men."
"My gal," said her father sternly, "we have all we want. Me an' these gen'lemen will be quite happy till dinner-time."
Rose stooped to pick up the boots which her father had discarded for a pair of carpet-slippers, and rustled out of the room.
"Gen'lemen," said the Pilot of Timber Town, "we'll drink to better luck next time."
The three men carefully filled their glasses, emptied them in solemn silence, and put them almost simultaneously with a rattle on the polished table.
"Ah!" exclaimed the Pilot, after a long-drawn breath. "Four over proof. Soft as milk, an't it? Goes down like oil, don't it?"
"Most superior tipple," replied the skipper, "but you had your losses in The Witch, same as me and the owners. I had aboard six cases of the finest port as ever you tasted, sent out for you by your brother; senior partner of the firm, Mr. Scarlett. 'Cap'n Sartoris,' he says, 'I wish you good luck and a prosperous voyage, but take care o' that port wine for my brother. There's dukes couldn't buy it.' 'No, sir,' I says to him, 'but shipowners an' dukes are different. Shipowners usually get the pick of a cargo.' He laughed, an' I laughed: which we wouldn't ha' done had we known The Witch was going to be piled up on this confounded coast."
The Pilot had risen to his feet. His face was crimson with excitement, and his brow dark with passion.
"Cap'n Sartoris!" he exclaimed, as he brought his fist with a bang upon the table, so that the decanter and tumblers rattled, "every sea-faring man hates to see a good ship wrecked, whoever the owner may be. None's more sorry than me to see the bones of your ship piled on that reef. But when you talk about bringing me a present o' wine from my brother, you make my blood boil. To Hell with him and all his ships!" With another bang upon the table, he paced up and down, breathing deeply, and trembling with passion still unvented.
Sartoris and Scarlett looked with astonishment at the suddenly infuriated man.
"As for his cursed port wine," continued the Pilot, "let him keep it. I wouldn't drink it."
"In which case," said the skipper, "if I'd ha' got into port, I'd ha' been most happy to have drank it myself."
"I'd have lent you a hand, Captain," said Scarlett.
"Most happy," replied Sartoris. "We'd ha' drank the firm's health, and the reconciliation o' these two brothers. But, Pilot, let me ask a question. What on this earth could your brother, Mr. Summerhayes, ha' done to make you reject six cases o' port—reject 'em with scorn: six cases o' the best port as was ever shipped to this or any other country? Now, that's what puzzles me."
"Then, Cap'n Sartoris—without any ill-feeling to you, though I do disagree with your handling o' that ship—I say you'll have to puzzle it out. But I ask this: If you had a brother who was the greatest blackguard unhung, would you drink his port wine?"
"It would largely depend on the quality," said the skipper—"the quality of the wine, not o' the man."
"The senior partner of your firm is my brother."
"That's right. I don't deny it."
"If he hadn't been my brother I'd ha' killed him as sure as God made little apples. He'd a' bin dead this twenty year. It was the temptation to do it that drove me out of England; and I vowed I'd never set foot there while he lived. And he sends me presents of port wine. I wish it may choke him! I wish he may drink himself to death with it! Look you here, Sartoris: you bring back the anger I thought was buried this long while; you open the wound that twelve thousand miles of sea and this new country were healing. But—but I thank God I never touched him. I thank God I never proved as big a blackguard as he. But don't mention his name to me. If you think so much of him that you must be talking, talk to my gal, Rosebud. Tell her what a fine man she's got for an uncle, how rich he is, how generous—but I shall never mention his name. I'm a straight-spoken man. If I was to tell my gal what I thought of him, I should fill her with shame that such a man should be kindred flesh and blood."
The Pilot had stood still to deliver this harangue, and he now sat down, and buried his face in his hands. When he again raised his head, the skipper without a ship was helping himself sorrowfully to more of the whisky that was four over proof.
Slowly the rugged Pilot rose, and passed out of the French window into the garden of roses and the sunlight.
"I think," said Sartoris, passing the decanter to Scarlett, "that another drop o' this will p'raps straighten us up a bit, and help us to see what we've gone an' done. For myself, I own I've lost my bearings and run into a fog-bank. I'd be glad if some one would help me out."
"The old man's a powder-magazine, to which you managed to put a match. That's how it is, Captain. These many years he's been a sleeping volcano, which has broken suddenly into violent eruption."
Both men, figures comical enough for a pantomime, looked seriously at each other; but not so Amiria, whose face appeared in the doorway.
"It's a mystery, a blessed puzzle; but I'd give half-a-crown for a smoke," said Sartoris, looking wistfully at the Pilot's tobacco-pipes on the mantelpiece. "I wonder if the young lady would object if I had a draw."
There was an audible titter in the passage.
"A man doesn't realise how poor he can be till he gets shipwrecked," said Scarlett: "then he knows what the loss of his pipe and 'baccy means."
There was a scuffling outside the door, and the young lady with the brown eyes was forcibly pushed into the room.
"Oh, Rose, I'm ashamed," exclaimed the Maori girl, as the Pilot's daughter pushed her forward. "But you two men are so funny and miserable, that I can't help myself,"—she laughed good-naturedly—"and there's Captain Summerhayes, fretting and fuming in the garden, as if he'd lost a thousand pounds."
The scarecrows had risen respectfully to their feet, when suddenly the humour of the situation struck them, and they laughed in unison; and Amiria, shaking with merriment, collapsed upon the sofa, and hid her mirth in its cushions.
"Never mind," said the skipper, "it's not the clo'es that make the man. Thank God for that, Scarlett. Clo'es can't make a man a bigger rogue than he is."
"Thank God for this." Scarlett tapped his waist. "I've got here what will rig you out to look less like a Guy Fawkes. You had your money in your cabin when the ship struck; mine is in my belt."
"I wondered, when I pulled you ashore," said the Maori girl, "what it was you had round your waist."
Scarlett looked intently at the girl on the sofa.
"Do you mean you are the girl that saved me? You have metamorphosed yourself. Do you dress for a new character every day? Does she make a practice of this sort of thing, Miss Summerhayes—one day, a girl in the pa; the next, a young lady of Timber Town?"
"Amiria is two people in one," replied Rose, "and I have not found out which of them I like most, and I have known them both for ten years."
"Most interesting," said Captain Sartoris, shambling forward in his marvellous garb, and taking hold of the Maori girl's hand. "The privilege of a man old enough to be your father, my dear. I was glad to meet you on the beach—no one could ha' been gladder—but I'm proud to meet you in the house of my old friend, Cap'n Summerhayes, and in the company of this young lady." There could be no doubt that the over-proof spirit was going to the skipper's head. "But how did you get here, my dear?"
"I rode," replied Amiria, rising from the sofa. "My horse is on the drive. Come and see him."
She led the way through the French-window, and linked arms with Rose, whilst the two strange figures followed like a couple of characters in a comic opera.
On the drive stood the Pilot, who held Amiria's big bay horse as if it were some wild animal that might bite. He had passed round the creature's neck a piece of tarred rope, which he was making fast to the tethering-post, while he exclaimed, "Whoa, my beauty. Stand still, stand still. Who's going to hurt you?"
The Maori girl, holding her skirt in one hand, tripped merrily forward and took the rope from the old seaman's grasp.
"Really, Captain," she said, laughing, "why didn't you tie his legs together, and then lash him to the post? There, there, Robin." She patted the horse's neck. "You don't care about eating pilots, or salt fish, do you, Robin?"
"We'll turn him into the paddock up the hill," said Rose. "Dinner's ready, and I'm sure the horse is not more hungry than some of us."
"None more so than Mr. Scarlett an' myself," said Sartoris, "——we've not had a sit-down meal since we were wrecked."
He sat on a wool-bale in his "store," amid bags of sugar, chests of tea, boxes of tobacco, octaves of spirits, coils of fencing-wire, bales of hops, rolls of carpets and floor-cloth, piles of factory-made clothes, and a miscellaneous collection of merchandise.
Old Varnhagen was a general merchant who, with equal complacency, would sell a cask of whisky, or purchase the entire wool-clip of a "run" as big as an English county. Raising his eyes from a keg of nails, he glanced lovingly round upon his abundant stock in trade; rubbed his fat hands together; chuckled; placed one great hand on his capacious stomach to support himself as his laughter vibrated through his ponderous body, and then he said, "'Tear me, 'tear me, it all com' to this. 'Tear, 'tear, how it make me laff. It jus' com' to this: the Maoris have got his cargo. All Mr. Cookenden's scheming to beat me gifs me the pull over him. 'Tear me, it make me ill with laffing. If I believed in a God, I should say Jehovah haf after all turn his face from the Gentile, and fight for his Chosen People. The cargo is outside the port: a breath of wind, and it is strewn along the shore. Now, that's what I call an intervention of Providence."
He got off the wool-bale much in the manner in which a big seal clumsily takes the water, and walked up and down his store; hands in pockets, hat on the back of his head, and a complacent smile overspreading his face. As he paused at the end of the long alleyway, formed by his piles of merchandise, and turned again to traverse the length of the warehouse, he struck an attitude of contemplation.
"Ah! but the insurance?" he exclaimed. As he stood, with bent head and grave looks, he was the typical Jew of the Ghetto; crafty, timid, watchful, cynical, cruel; his grizzled hair, close-clipped, crisp, and curly; his face pensive, and yellow as a lemon.
"But he will haf seen to that: I gif him that much credit. But in the meantime he is without his goods, and the money won't be paid for months. That gif me a six-months' pull over him."
The old smile came back, and he began to pace the store once more.
There was a rippling laugh at the further end of the building where Varnhagen's private office, partitioned off with glass and boards from the rest of the store, opened on the street. It was a laugh the old man knew well, for he hopped behind a big pile of bales like a boy playing hide-and-seek, and held his breath in expectation.
Presently, there bustled into the warehouse a vision of muslin and ribbons. Her face was the face of an angel. It did not contain a feature that might not have been a Madonna's. She had a lemon-yellow complexion, brightened by a flush of carmine in the cheeks; her eyes were like two large, lustrous, black pearls; her hair, parted in the middle, was glossy and waving; her eyebrows were pencilled and black; her lips were as red as the petals of the geranium. But though this galaxy of beauties attracted, it was the exquisite moulding of the face that riveted the attention of Packett, the Jew's storeman, who had conducted the dream of loveliness to the scene.
She tapped the floor impatiently with her parasol.
She stamped her dainty foot in pretty anger.
"The aggravating old bird! I expect he's hiding somewhere."
There came a gurgling chuckle from amid the piled-up bales.
The girl stood, listening. "Come out of that!" she cried. But there was never another sound—the chuckling had ceased.
She skirmished down a by-alley, and stormed a kopje of rugs and linoleums; but found nothing except the store tom-cat in hiding on the top. Having climbed down the further side, she found herself in a difficult country of enamelled ware and wooden buckets, but successfully extricating herself from this entanglement she ascended a spur of carpet-rolls, and triumphantly crowned the summit of the lofty mountain of wool-bales. The country round lay at her feet, and half-concealed behind a barrel of Portland cement she saw the crouching form of the enemy.
Her head was up among the timbers of the roof, and hanging to nails in the cross-beams were countless twisted lengths of clothesline, and with these dangerous projectiles she began to harass the foe. Amid the hail of hempen missiles the white flag was hoisted, and the enemy surrendered.
"Rachel! Rachel! Come down, my girl. You'll break your peautiful neck. Packett, what you stand there for like a wooden verandah-post? Go up, and help Miss Varnhagen down. Take care!—my 'tear Rachel!—look out for that bucket!—mind that coil of rubber-belting! Pe careful! That bale of hops is ofer! My 'tear child, stand still, I tell you; wait till I get the ladder."
With Packett in a position to cut off retreat, and the precipice of wool-bales in front, Rachel sat down and shook with laughter.
Varnhagen naturally argued that his pretty daughter's foot, now that the tables were so suddenly turned upon her, would with the storeman's assistance be quickly set upon the top rung of the ladder which was now in position. But he had not yet learned all Rachel's stratagems.
"No!" she cried. "I think I'll stay here."
"My child, my Rachel, you will fall!"
"Oh, dear, no: it's as firm as a rock. No, Packett, you can go down. I shall stay here."
"But, my 'tear Rachel, you'll be killed! Come down, I beg."
"Will you promise to do what I want?"
"My 'tear daughter, let us talk afterwards. I can think of nothing while you are in danger of being killed in a moment!"
"I want that gold watch in Tresco's window. I sha'n't come down till you say I can have it."
"My peautiful Rachel, it is too expensive. I will import you one for half the price. Come down before it is too late."
"What's the good of watches in London? I want that watch at Tresco's, to wear going calling. Consent, father, before it is too late."
"My loafly, how much was the watch?"
"Oh, that is too much. First, you will ruin me, and kill yourself afterwards to spite my poverty. Rachel, you make your poor old father quite ill."
"Then I am to have the watch?"
"Nefer mind the watch. Some other time talk to me of the watch. Come down safe to your old father, before you get killed."
"But I do mind the watch. It's what I came for. I shall stay here till you consent."
"Oh, Rachel, you haf no heart. You don't loaf your father."
"You don't love your daughter, else you'd give me what I want."
"I not loaf you, Rachel! Didn't I gif you that ring last week, and the red silk dress the week pefore? Come down, my child, and next birthday you shall have a better watch than in all Tresco's shop. My 'tear Rachel, my 'tear child, you'll be killed; and what good will be your father's money to him then? Oh! that bale moved. Rachel! sit still."
"Then you'll give me the watch?"
"Yes, yes. You shall have the watch. Come down now, while Packett holds your hand."
"Can I have it to-day?"
"Be careful, Packett. Oh! that bale is almost ofer."
"Will you give it me this morning, father?"
"Yes, yes, this morning."
"Before I go home to dinner?"
"Yes, pefore dinner."
"Then, Packett, give me your hand. I will come down."
The dainty victress placed her little foot firmly on the uppermost rung; and while Packett held the top, and the merchant the bottom, of the ladder, the dream of muslin and ribbons descended to the floor.
Old Varnhagen gave a sigh of relief.
"You'll nefer do that again, Rachel?"
"I hope I shall never need to."
"You shouldn't upset your poor old father like that, Rachel."
"You shouldn't drive me to use such means to make you do your duty."
"Yes, to give me that watch."
"Ah, the watch. I forgot it."
"I shall go now, and get it."
"Yes, my child, get it."
"I'll say you will pay at the end of the month."
"Yes, I will pay—perhaps at the end of the month, perhaps it will go towards a contra account for watches I shall supply to Tresco. We shall see."
"Good-bye, Rachel; but won't you gif your old father a kiss pefore you go?"
The vision of muslin and ribbons laid her parasol upon an upturned barrel, and came towards the portly Jew. Her soft dress was crumpled by his fat hand, and her pretty head was nestled on his shoulder.
"Ah! my 'tear Rachel. Ah! my peautiful. You loaf your old father. My liddle taughter, I gif you everything; and you loaf me very moch, eh?"
"Of course, I do. And won't it look well with a brand-new gold chain to match?"
"Next time my child wants something, she won't climb on the wool-bales and nearly kill herself?"
"Of course not. I shall wear it this afternoon when I go out calling."
"Now kiss me, and run away while I make some more money for my liddle Rachel."
The saintly face raised itself, and looked with a smile into the face of the old Jew; and then the bright red lips fixed themselves upon his wrinkled cheek.
"You are a good girl; you are my own child; you shall have everything you ask; you shall have all I've got to give."
"Good-bye, father. Thanks awfully much."
The girl turned; the little heels tapped regularly on the floor; the pigeon-like walk was resumed; and Rachel Varnhagen, watched by the loving eyes of her father, passed into the street.
The gold-buying clerk at the Kangaroo Bank was an immaculately dressed young man with a taste for jewelry. In his tie he wore a pearl, in a gold setting shaped like a diminutive human hand; his watch-chain was of gold, wrought in a wonderful and extravagant design. As he stepped through the swinging, glazed doors of the Bank, and stood on the broad step without, at the witching hour of twelve, he twirled his small black moustache so as to display to advantage the sparkling diamond ring which encircled the little finger of his left hand. His Semitic features wore an expression of great self-satisfaction, and his knowing air betokened intimate knowledge of the world and all that therein is. He nodded familiarly to a couple of young men who passed by, and glanced with the appreciative eye of a connoisseur at the shop-girls who were walking briskly to their dinners.
Loitering across the pavement he stood upon the curbing, and looked wistfully up and down the street. Presently there hove in sight a figure that riveted his attention: it was Rachel Varnhagen, with muslins blowing in the breeze and ribbons which streamed behind, approaching like a ship in full sail.
The gold-clerk crossed over the street to meet her, and raised his hat.
"You're in an awful hurry. Where bound, Rachel?"
"If your old Dad told you to go and buy a gold watch and chain, you'd be in a hurry, lest he might change his mind."
"My soul hankers after something dearer than watches and chains. If your Dad would give me leave, I'd annex his most precious jewel before he could say, 'Knife!' He'd never get a chance to change his mind. But he always says, 'My boy, you wait till you're a manager, and can give me a big overdraft.' At that rate we shall have to wait till Doomsday."
"The watch is at Tresco's. Come along: help me turn the shop upside down to find the dandiest."
"How d'you manage to get round the Governor, Rachel? I'd like to know the dodge."
"He wouldn't mind if you fell off a stack of bales and broke your neck. He'd say, 'Thank God! that solves that liddle difficulty.'"
"Wool bales? Has wool gone up? I don't understand."
"Of course you don't, stupid. If you were on the top of a pile of swaying bales, old Podge would say, 'Packett, take away the ladder: that nice young man must stay there. It's better for him to die than marry Rachel—she'd drive him mad with bills in a month.'"
"Oh, that wouldn't trouble me—I'd draw on him."
"Oh, would you?" Rachel laughed sceptically. "You don't know the Gov. if you think that. You couldn't bluff him into paying a shilling. But I manage him all right. I can get what I want, from a trip to Sydney to a gold watch, dear boy."
"Then why don't you squeeze a honeymoon out of him?—that would be something new, Rachel."
She actually paused in her haste.
"Wouldn't it be splendid!" she exclaimed, putting her parasol well back behind her head, so that the glow of its crimson silk formed a telling background to her face. "Wouldn't it be gorgeous? But as soon as I'm married he will say, 'No, Rachel, my dear child, your poor old father is supplanted—your husband now has the sole privilege of satisfying your expensive tastes. Depend on him for everything you want.' What a magnificent time I should have on your twelve notes a month!"
The spruce bank-clerk was subdued in a moment, in the twinkling of one of Rachel's beautiful black eyes—his matrimonial intentions had been rudely reduced to a basis of pounds, shillings and pence.
But just at this embarrassing point of the conversation they turned into Tresco's doorway, and confronted the rubicund goldsmith, whose beaming smile seemed to fill the whole shop.
"I saw an awf'ly jolly watch in your window," said Rachel.
"Probably. Nothing more likely, Miss Varnhagen," replied Benjamin. "Gold or silver?"
"Gold, of course! Let me see what you've got."
"Why, certainly." Tresco took gold watches from the window, from the glass case on the counter, from the glass cupboard that stood against the wall, from the depths of the great iron safe, from everywhere, and placed them in front of the pretty Jewess. Then he glanced with self-approval at the bank-clerk, and said: "I guarantee them to keep perfect time. And, after all, there's nothing like a good watch—a young lady cannot keep her appointments, or a young man be on time, without a watch. Most important: no one should be without it."
Rachel was examining the chronometers, one by one; opening and shutting their cases, examining their dials, peering into their mysterious works. She had taken off her gloves, and her pretty hands, ornamented with dainty rings, were displayed in all their shapeliness and delicacy.
"What's the price?" she asked.
"Prices to suit all buyers," said Tresco. "They go from ten pounds upwards. This is the one I recommend—it carries a guarantee for five years—jewelled throughout, in good, strong case—duplex escapement—compensation balance. Price L25." He held up a gold chronometer in a case which was flat and square, with rounded corners, and engraved elaborately—a watch which would catch the eye and induce comment.
The jeweller had gauged the taste of his fair customer.
"Oh! the duck."
"The identical article, the ideal lady's watch," said Tresco, unctuously.
"And now the chain," said Rachel.
Benjamin took a dozen lady's watch-guards from a blue velvet pad, and handed them to the girl.
The gold clerk of the Kangaroo Bank stood by, and watched, as Rachel held the dainty chains, one by one, across her bust.
"Quite right, sir, quite right," remarked the goldsmith. "When a gentleman makes a present to a lady, let him do the thing handsome. Them's my sentiments."
The girl looked at Tresco, and laughed.
"This is to be booked to my father," she said. "There, that's the one I like best." She held out an elaborate chain, with a round bauble hanging from it. "If you had to depend on Mr. Zahn, here, you'd have to wait till the cows came home."
Benjamin was wrapping up the watch in a quantity of tissue paper.
"No, no. I'll wear it," exclaimed Rachel. One dainty hand stretched forward and took the watch, while the other held the chain. "There," she said, as she handed the precious purchase to her sweetheart, "fix it on."
She threw her head back, laid her hand lightly on the young man's arm, and allowed him to tuck the watch into her bodice and fasten the chain around her neck.
He lingered long over the process.
"Yes, I would," said the voice from behind the counter. "I most certainly should give her one on the cheek, as a reward. Don't mind me; I've done it myself when I was young, before I lost my looks."
The young man stepped back, and Rachel, after the manner of a pouter pigeon, nestled her chin on her breast, in her endeavour to see how the watch looked in wearing. Then she tapped the floor with the toe of her shoe indignantly, and said, looking straight at the goldsmith: "You lost your looks? What a find they must have been for the man who picked them up. If I were you, I'd advertise for them, and offer a handsome a reward—they must be valuable."
"Most certainly, they were," replied Benjamin, his smile spreading across his broad countenance, "they were the talk of all my lady friends and the envy of my rivals."
"I expect it was the rivals that spoilt them. But don't cry over spilt milk, old gentleman."
"Certainly not, most decidedly not—there are compensations. The price of the watch and chain is L33."
"Never mind the price. I don't want to know the price—that'll interest my Dad. Send the account to him, and make yourself happy."
And, touching her sweetheart's arm as a signal for departure, the dazzling vision of muslins and ribbons vanished from the shop.
Bill the Prospector.
He came down the street like a dog that has strayed into church during sermon-time; a masterless man without a domicile. He was unkempt and travel-stained; his moleskin trousers, held up by a strap buckled round his waist, were trodden down at the heels; under the hem of his coat, a thing of rents and patches, protruded the brass end of a knife-sheath. His back was bent under the weight of his neat, compact swag, which contained his six-by-eight tent and the blankets and gear necessary to a bushman. He helped his weary steps with a long manuka stick, to which still clung the rough red bark, and looking neither to left nor right, he steadfastly trudged along the middle of the road. What with his ragged black beard which grew almost to his eyes, and the brim of his slouch hat, which had once been black, but was now green with age and weather, only the point of his rather characterless nose and his two bright black eyes were visible. But though to all appearances he was a desperate ruffian, capable of robbery and cold-blooded murder, his was a welcome figure in Timber Town. Men turned to look at him as he tramped past in his heavy, mud-stained blucher boots. One man, standing outside The Lucky Digger, asked him if he had "struck it rich." But the "swagger" looked at the man, without replying.
"Come and have a drink, mate," said another.
"Ain't thirsty," replied the "swagger."
"Let 'im alone," said a third. "Can't you see he's bin working a 'duffer'?"
Benjamin Tresco, standing on the curb of the pavement, watched the advent of the prospector with an altogether remarkable interest, which rose to positive restlessness when he saw the digger pause before the entrance of the Kangaroo Bank.
The ill-clad, dirty stranger pushed through the swinging, glass door, stood with his hobnailed boots on the tesselated pavement inside the bank, and contemplated the Semitic face of the spruce clerk who, with the glittering gold-scales by his side, stood behind the polished mahogany counter.
But either the place looked too grand and expensive, or else the clerk's appearance offended, but the "swagger" backed out of the building, and stood once more upon the asphalt, wearing the air of a stray dog with no home or friends.
Tresco crossed the street. With extended hand, portly mien, and benign countenance, he approached the digger, after the manner of a benevolent sidesman in a church.
"Selling gold, mate?" He spoke in his most confidential manner. "Come this way. I will help you."
Down the street he took the derelict, like a ship in full sail towing a battered, mastless craft into a haven of safety.
Having brought the "swagger" to a safe anchorage inside his shop, Tresco shut the door, to the exclusion of all intruders; took his gold-scales from a shelf where they had stood, unused and dusty, for many a month; stepped behind the counter, and said, in his best business manner: "Now, sir."
The digger unhitched his swag and dropped it unceremoniously on the floor, stood his long manuka stick against the wall, thrust his hand inside his "jumper," looked at the goldsmith's rubicund face, drew out a long canvas bag which was tied at the neck with a leather boot-lace, and said, in a hoarse whisper, "There, mister, that's my pile."
Tresco balanced the bag in his hand.
"You've kind o' struck it," he said, as he looked at the digger with a blandness which could not have been equalled.
The digger may have grinned, or he may have scowled—Tresco could not tell—but, to all intents and purposes, he remained imperturbable, for his wilderness of hair and beard, aided by his hat, covered the landscape of his face.
"Ja-ake!" roared the goldsmith, in his rasping, raucous voice, as though the apprentice were quarter of a mile away. "Come here, you young limb!"
The shock-headed, rat-faced youth shot like a shrapnel shell from the workshop, and burst upon the astonished digger's gaze.
"Take this bob and a jug," said the goldsmith, "and fetch a quart. We'll drink your health," he added, turning to the man with the gold, "and a continual run of good luck."
The digger for the first time found his full voice. It was as though the silent company of the wood-hens in the "bush" had caused the hinges of his speech to become rusty. His words jerked themselves spasmodically from behind his beard, and his sentences halted, half-finished.
"Yes. That's so. If you ask me. Nice pile? Oh, yes. Good streak o' luck. Good streak, as you say. Yes. Ha, ha! Ho, ho!" He actually broke into a laugh.
Tresco polished the brass dish of his scales, which had grown dim and dirty with disuse; then he untied the bag of gold, and poured the rich contents into the dish. The gold lay in a lovely, dull yellow heap.
"Clean, rough gold," said Tresco, peering closely at the precious mound, and stirring it with his grimy forefinger. "It'll go L3 15s. You're in luck, mister. You've struck it rich, and"—he assumed his most benignant expression—"there's plenty more where this came from, eh?"
"You bet," said the digger. "Oh, yes, any Gawd's quantity." He laughed again. "You must think me pretty green, mister." He continued to laugh. "How much for the lot?"
Tresco spread the gold over the surface of the dish in a layer, and, puffing gently but adroitly, he winnowed it with his nicotine-ladened breath till no particle of sand remained with the gold. Then he put the dish on the scales, and weighed the digger's "find."
"Eighty-two ounces ten pennyweights six grains," he said, with infinite deliberation, and began to figure on a piece of paper. Seemingly, the goldsmith's arithmetic was as rusty as the digger's speech, for the sum took so long to work out that the owner of the gold had time to cut a "fill" of tobacco from a black plug, charge his pipe, and smoke for fully five minutes, before Tresco proclaimed the total. This he did with a triumphant wave of the pen.
"Three hundred and nine pounds seven shillings and elevenpence farthing. That's as near as I can get it. Nice clean gold, mister."
He looked at the digger; the digger looked at him.
"What name?" asked Tresco. "To whom shall I draw the cheque?"
"That's good! My name?" laughed the digger. "I s'pose it's usual, eh?"
"Sometimes they call me Bill the Prospector, sometimes Bill the Hatter. I ain't particular. I've got no choice. Take which you like."
"'Pay Bill the Prospector, or Order, three hundred and nine pounds.' No, sir, that will hardlee do. I want your real name, your proper legal title."
"Sounds grand, don't it? 'Legal title,' eh? But if you must have it—though it ar'n't hardly ever used—put me down Bill Wurcott. That suit, eh?—Bill Wurcott?"
Tresco began to draw the cheque.
"Never mind the silver," said the digger. "Make it three hundred an' nine quid." And just then Jake entered with the quart jug, tripped over the digger's swag, spilt half-a-pint of beer on the floor, recovered himself in time to save the balance, and exclaimed, "Holee smoke!"
"Tell yer what," said the digger. "Let the young feller have the change. Good idea, eh?"
Jake grinned—he grasped the situation in a split second.
The digger took the cheque from Tresco, looked at it upside-down, and said, "That's all right," folded it up, put it in his breeches' pocket just as if it had been a common one-pound note, and remarked, "Well, I must make a git. So-long."
"No, sir," said the goldsmith. "There is the beer: here are the men. No, sir; not thus must you depart. Refresh the inner man. Follow me. We must drink your health and continued good fortune."
Carefully carrying the beer, Tresco led the way to his workshop, placed the jug on his bench, and soon the amber-coloured liquor foamed in two long glasses.
The digger put his pint to his hairy lips, said, "Kia ora. Here's fun," drank deep and gasped—the froth ornamenting his moustache. "The first drop I've tasted this three months."
"You must ha' come from way back, where there're no shanties," risked Tresco.
"From way back," acknowledged the digger.
"Twelve solid weeks? You must have a thirst."
"Pretty fair, you bet." The digger groped about in the depth of his pocket, and drew forth a fine nugget. "Look at that," he said, with his usual chuckle.
Tresco balanced the lump of gold in his deft hand.
"'Nother little cheque. Turn out your pockets, mister. I'll buy all you've got."
"That's the lot," said the digger, taking back the nugget and fingering it lovingly. "I don't sell that—it's my lucky bit; the first I found." Another chuckle. "Tell you what. Some day you can make me something outer this, something to wear for a charm. No alloy, you understand; all pure gold. And use the whole nugget."
Tresco pursed his lips, and looked contemplative.
"A three-ounce charm, worn round the neck, might strangle a digger in a swollen creek. Where'd his luck be then? But how about your missis? Can't you divide it?"
The digger laughed his loudest.
"Give it the missis! That's good. The missis'd want more'n an ounce and a half for her share. Mister, wimmen's expensive."
"Ain't you got no kid to share the charm with?"
"Now you're gettin' at me"—the chuckle again—"worse 'an ever. You're gettin' at me fine. Look 'ere, I'm goin' to quit: I'm off."
"But, in the meantime, what am I to do with this nice piece of gold? I could make a ring for each of your fingers, and some for your toes. I could pretty near make you a collarette, to wear when you go to evening parties in a low-necked dress, or a watch chain more massive than the bloomin' Mayor's. There's twelve pounds' worth of gold in that piece."
The digger looked perplexed. The problem puzzled him.
"How'd an amulet suit you?" suggested the goldsmith.
"A circle for the arm, with a charm device chased on it."
"A bit like a woman, that—eh, mister?"
"Not at all. The Prince o' Wales, an' the Dook o' York, an' all the elite wears 'em. It'd be quite the fashion."
The digger returned the nugget to his pocket. "I call you a dam' amusin' cuss, I do that. You're a goer. There ain't no keepin' up with the likes o' you. You shall make what you blame well please—we'll talk about it by-and-by. But for the present, where's the best pub?"
"The Lucky Digger," said Jake, without hesitation.
"Certainly," reiterated Tresco. "You'll pass it on your way to the Bank."
"Well, so-long," said the digger. "See you later." And, shouldering his swag, he held out his horny hand.
"I reckon," said the goldsmith. "Eight o'clock this evening. So-long." And the digger went out.
Tresco stood on his doorstep, and with half-shut eyes watched the prospector to the door of The Lucky Digger.
"Can't locate it," he mused, "and I know where all the gold, sold in this town, comes from. Nor I can't locate him. But he's struck it, and struck it rich."
There were birch twigs caught in the straps of the digger's "swag," and he had a bit of rata flower stuck in the band of his hat. "That's where he's come from!" Tresco pointed in the direction of the great range of mountains which could be seen distinctly through the window of his workshop.