Read CHAPTER XII of The Tale of Timber Town , free online book, by Alfred Grace, on

Rock Cod and Macaroni.

The small boat came alongside the pilot-shed with noise and fuss out of all proportion to the insignificance of the occasion.

It was full spring-tide, and the blue sea filled the whole harbour and threatened to flood the very quay which stretched along the shore of Timber Town.

In the small boat were two fishermen, the one large and fat, the other short and thick.

Stoppa, Rocka Codda!” cried the big man, who was of a very dark complexion. “You son ’a barracouta, what I tella you? Why you not stoppa ze boat?”

“Stop ‘er yourself, you dancin’, yelpin’ Dago.”

“You calla me Dago? I calla you square-’ead. I calla you Russian-Finna. I calla you mongrel dogga, Rocka Codda.”

The Pilot’s crew, standing at the top of the slip, grinned broadly, and fired at the fishermen a volley of chaff which diverted the Italian’s attention from his mate in the boat.

“Ah-ha!” His voice sounded as shrill as a dozen clarions, and it carried half-a-mile along the quay. He sprang ashore. “Hi-ya!” It was like the yell of a hundred cannibals, but the Pilot’s crew only grinned. “You ze boys. I bringa you ze flounder for tea. Heh?” In one moment the fat fisher was back in the boat, and in another he had scrambled ashore with a number of fish, strung together through the gills. Above the noise of the traffic on the quay his voice rose, piercing. “I presenta. Flounder, all aliva. I give ze fish. You giva” with suddenness he comically lowered his voice “tobacco, rumma what you like.” He lay the gift of flounders on the wooden stage. “Where I get him? I catcha him. Where you get ze tobacco, rumma? You catcha him. Heh?”

Rock Cod, having made fast the boat, was now standing beside his mate.

A sailor picked up the flounders, and, turning back the gills of one of them, said, “Fresh, eh, Macaroni?”

The bulky Italian sidled up to the man. “Whata I tell you? Where I catcha him? In ze sea. Where you catcha ze tobacco? In ze sea. What you say? Heh?” He gave the sailor a dig in the ribs.

By way of answer he received a push. His foot slipped on the wet boards of the stage, and into the water he fell, amid shouts of laughter.

As buoyant as a cork, he soon came to the surface, and, scrambling upon the stage, he seized a barracouta from the boat, and rushed at his mate. “You laugha at me, Rocka Codda? I teacha you laugh.” Taking the big fish by the tail, he belaboured his partner in business with the scaly carcase, till the long spines of the fish’s back caught in the fleshy part of his victim’s neck. But Rock Cod’s screams only drew callous comment from his persecutor. “You laugha at your mate? I teacha you. Rocka Codda, I teacha you respecta Macaroni. Laugha now!”

With a sudden jerk Rock Cod obtained his freedom, though not without additional agony. He faced his partner, with revenge in his wild eyes and curses on his tongue. But just at this moment, a stoutly-built, red-faced sailor pushed his way through the Pilot’s crew, and, snatching the barracouta from the Italian, he thrust himself between the combatants.

“Of all the mad-headed Dagoes that God A’mighty sent to curse this earth you, Macaroni, are the maddest. Why, man, folks can hear your yelling half the length of the quay.”

“Looka!” cried the Italian. “Who are you? Why you come ’ere? Rocka Codda and Macaroni fighta, but ze ginger-headed son of a cooka musinterfere. Jesu Christo! I teacha you too. I got ze barracouta lef’.”

He turned to seize another fish from the bottom of the boat, but the sight of two men fighting on the slip with barracoutas for weapons might detract too much from the dignity of the Pilot’s crew. The Italian was seized, and forcibly prevented from causing further strife.

“D’you think I came here to save Rock Cod from spoiling your ugly face?” asked the red-haired man. “No, siree. My boss, Mr. Crookenden, sent me. He wants to see you up at his office; and I reckon there’s money in it, though you deserve six months’ instead, the pair of you.”

“Heh? Your boss wanta me? I got plenty fisha, flounder, barracuda, redda perch. Now then?”

“He don’t want your fish: he wants you and Rock Cod,” said the red-headed man.

“Georgio” the Italian was, in a moment, nothing but politeness to the man he had termed “ginger” “we go. Ze fisha? I leava my boat, all my fisha, here wit’ my frien’s. Georgio, conducta we follow.”

Accompanied by the two fishermen, the red-headed peacemaker walked up the quay.

“What’s the trouble with your boss?” asked Rock Cod. “What’s ’e want?”

“How can I tell? D’you think Mr. Crookenden consults me about his business? I’m just sent to fetch you along, and along you come.”

“I know, I understanda,” said the Italian. “He have ze new wine from Italia, my countree he senda for Macaroni to tasta, and tell ze qualitee. You too bloody about ze neck, Rocka Codda, to come alonga me. You mus’ washa, or you go to sell ze fish.”

“Go an’ hawk the fish yourself,” retorted Rock Cod. “You’re full o’ water as a sponge, an’ there’ll be a pool where you stand on the gen’leman’s carpet.”

Wrangling thus, they made their way towards the merchant’s office.

While this scene was being performed at the port of Timber Town, Benjamin Tresco was in his workshop, making the duplicate of the chief postmaster’s seal. With file and graver he worked, that the counterfeit might be perfect. Half-a-dozen impressions of the matrix lay before him, showing the progress his nefarious work was making towards completion.

“One struggle more and I am free,” muttered the goldsmith. “The English seals, I happen to know, usually arrive in a melted or broken condition. To restore them too perfectly would be to court detection a dab of sealing-wax, impressed with a key and sat upon afterwards, will answer the purpose. But this robbing business well, it suits my temperament, if it doesn’t suit my conscience. Oh, I like doing it my instincts point that way. But the Sunday-school training I had when a boy spoils the flavour of it. Why can’t folk let a lad alone to enjoy his sins? Such a boy as I was commits ’em anyway. An’ if he must commit ’em and be damned for ’em, why spoil both his lives at least they might leave him alone here. But they ain’t practical, these parsonic folk.” He rose, and took a white, broken-lipped jug from a shelf, and drank a deep draught. “Water,” he murmured. “See? Water, air, sunshine, all here for me, in common with the parson. P’r’aps I shall lack water in limbo, but so, too, may the parson anyway he and I are on the same footing here; therefore, why should he torment me by stirring up my conscience? He has a bad time here and we’ll grant this for the sake of argument a good time afterwards. Now, I’ve got to have a bad time with old Safety Matches down below. Why, then, should the parson want to spoil my time here? It looks mean anyway. If I were a parson, I’d make sure I had a good time in this world, and chance the rest. Sometimes I’m almost persuaded to be converted, and take the boss position in a bethel, all amongst the tea and wimmen-folk. Lor’, wouldn’t I preach, wouldn’t I just ladle it out, and wouldn’t the dears adore me?”

Suddenly there was a loud knocking at the door. Instantly the spurious seals and the fraudulent matrix were swept into the drawer above the apron of the bench, and Benjamin Tresco rose, benignant, to receive his visitors.

He opened the door, and there entered the red-headed sailor, who was closely followed by Rock Cod and Macaroni.

Tresco drew himself up with dignity.

“This is quite unexpected,” he said. “The honour is great. Who do I see here but Fish-ho and his amiable mate? It is sad, gentlemen, but I’m off flounders since the Chinaman, who died aboard the barque, was buried in the bay. It is a great misfortune for Fish-ho to have dead Chinamen buried on his fishing-grounds, but such is the undoubted fact.”

“You need have no fear on that score, mister,” said the red-headed sailor. “They’ve not come to sell fish. Speak up, Macaroni.”

“We come to tella you we come from Mr. Crookendena. We come to you accepta ze service of Rocka Codda and Macaroni.”

For one brief moment Tresco looked perplexed. Then his face assumed its usual complacence. “Are you in the know, too?” he asked of the seaman.

“All I know is that I was told to pilot these two men to your shop. That done, I say good-day.”

“And the same to you,” said Tresco. “Happy to have met you, sir, and I’m sorry there’s nothing to offer you in the jug but water.”

“There’s no bones broke anyway,” replied the sailor as he edged towards the door. “But if you’ll say when the real old stingo is on tap, I’ll show you how to use the water.”

“Certainly,” said Tresco. “Nothing will please me better. Good afternoon. Sorry you must go so soon. Take great care of yourself. Good men are scarce.”

As the door closed behind the sailor the goldsmith turned to the fishermen.

“So you were sent to me by Mr. Crookenden?”

“That’s so.” It was Rock Cod who answered. “He give us the price of a drink, an’ says he, ’There’ll be five pound each for you if you do as Mr. Tresco tells you.’ We’re a-waitin’ orders; ain’t that so, Macaroni?”

“Rocka Codda spik alla right he understanda ze Inglese. I leave-a it to him.”

“You are good men in a boat, I have no doubt. Very good.” The goldsmith pursed his lips, and looked very important. “Mr. Crookenden has entrusted me with a mission. You row the boat I carry out the mission. All you have to do is to bring your boat round to Mr. Crookenden’s wharf at ten o’clock to-night, and the rest is simple. Your money will be paid you in the morning, in full tale, up to the handle, without fail. You understand? Five pounds a piece for a few hours’ hire of your boat and services.”

“We catch your drift all right,” said Rock Cod.

“But, remember” the goldsmith looked very serious “mum’s the word.”

“I have ze mum,” said Macaroni. “I spik only to Rocka Codda, he spik only to me zat alla right?”

“Quite so, but be punctual. We shall go out at ten o’clock, wet or fine. Till then, adieu.”

“Ze same to you,” said the Italian. “You ze fine fella.”

“Take this, and drink success to my mission.” Tresco handed them a silver coin.

“That part of the business is easy,” remarked Rock Cod. “But as to the job you’ve got in hand, well, the nature o’ that gets over me.”

“All you’re asked to do is to row,” said Tresco. “As to the rest, that lies with me and my resourcefulness. Now git.”

Benjamin opened the door, and pushed the fishermen out.

“Remember,” he said, as they departed, “if I hear a word about the matter in the bar of any hotel, our bargain is off and not a cent will you get for your pains.”

“Look ’ere, cap’n.” Rock Cod turned suddenly round. “We passed you our word: ain’t that good enough?”

“My trusty friend, it is. So-long. Go, and drink my health.”

Without another word the fishermen went, and the goldsmith returned to put the finishing touches to his fraudulent work.