Read CHAPTER VI of The Tale of Timber Town , free online book, by Alfred Grace, on ReadCentral.com.

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.”