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

The Wages of Sin.

As Pilot Summerhayes turned up the street, after having deposited his money, he might well have passed the goldsmith, hurrying towards the warehouse of Crookenden and Co. to receive the wages of his sin.

In Tresco’s pocket was the intercepted correspondence, upon his face was a look of happiness and self-contentment. He walked boldly into the warehouse where, in a big office, glazed, partitioned, and ramparted with a mighty counter, was a small army of clerks, who, loyal to their master, stood ready to pillage the goldsmith of every halfpenny he possessed.

But, with his blandest smile, Benjamin asked one of these formidable mercenaries whether Mr. Crookenden was within. He was ushered immediately into the presence of that great personage, before whom the conducting clerk was but as a crushed worm; and there, with a self-possession truly remarkable, the goldsmith seated himself in a comfortable chair and beamed cherubically at the merchant, though in his sinful heart he felt much as if he were a cross between a pirate and a forger.

“Ah! you have brought my papers?” said the merchant.

“I’ve brought my papers,” said the goldsmith, still smiling.

Crookenden chuckled. “Yes, yes,” he said, “quite right, quite right. They are yours till you are paid for them. Let me see: I gave you L50 in advance there’s another L50 to follow, and then we are quits.”

“Another hundred-and-fifty,” said Tresco.

“Eh? What? How’s that? We said a hundred, all told.”

“Two hundred,” said Tresco.

“No, no, sir. I tell you it was a hundred.”

“All right,” said Tresco, “I shall retain possession of the letters, which I can post by the next mail or return to Mr. Varnhagen, just as I think fit.”

The merchant rose in his chair, and glared at the goldsmith.

“What!” cried Tresco. “You’ll turn dog? Complete your part of the bargain. Do you think I’ve put my head into a noose on your account for nothing? D’you think I went out last night because I loved you? No, sir, I want my money. I happen to need money. I’ve half a mind to make it two-hundred-and-fifty; and I would, if I hadn’t that honour which is said to exist among thieves. We’ll say one-hundred-and-fifty, and cry quits.”

“Do you think you have me in your hands?”

“I don’t think,” replied the cunning goldsmith. “I know I’ve got you. But I’ll be magnanimous I’ll take L150. No, L160 I must pay the boatmen and then I’ll say no more about the affair. It shall be buried in the oblivion of my breast, it shall be forgotten with the sins of my youth. I must ask you to be quick.”

“Quick?”

“Yes, as quick as you conveniently can.”

“Would you order me about, sir?”

“Not exactly that, but I would urge you on a little faster. I would persuade you with the inevitable spur of fate.”

The merchant put his hand on a bell which stood upon his table.

“That would be of no use,” said Benjamin. “If you call fifty clerks and forcibly rob me of my correspondence, you gain nothing. Listen! Every clerk in this building would turn against you the moment he knew your true character; and before morning, every man, woman and child in Timber Town would know. And where would you be then? In gaol. D’you hear? in gaol. Take up your pen. An insignificant difference of a paltry hundred pounds will solve the difficulty and give you all the comfort of a quiet mind.”

“But what guarantee have I that after you have been paid you won’t continue to blackmail me?”

“You cannot possibly have such a guarantee it wouldn’t be good for you. This business is going to chasten your soul, and make you mend your ways. It comes as a blessing in disguise. But so long as you don’t refer to the matter, after you have paid me what you owe me, I shall bury the hatchet. I simply give you my word for that. If you don’t care to take it, leave it: it makes no difference to me.”

The fat little merchant fiddled nervously with the writing materials in front of him, and his hesitation seemed to have a most irritating effect upon the goldsmith, who rose from his chair, took his watch from his pocket, and walked to and fro.

“It’s too much, too much,” petulantly reiterated Mr. Crookenden. “It’s not worth it, not the half of it.”

“That’s not my affair,” retorted Tresco. “The bargain was for L200. I want the balance due.”

“But how do I know you have the letters?” whined the merchant.

“Tut, tut! I’m surprised to hear such foolishness from an educated man. What you want will be forthcoming when you’ve drawn the cheque take my word for that. But I’m tired of pottering round here.” The goldsmith glanced at his watch. “I give you two minutes in which to decide. If you can’t make up your mind, well, that’s your funeral. At the end of that time I double the price of the letters, and if you want them at the new figure then you can come and ask for them.”

He held his watch in his hand, and marked the fleeting moments.

The merchant sat, staring stonily at the table in front of him.

The brief moments soon passed; Tresco shut his watch with a click, and returned it to his pocket.

“Now,” he said, taking up his hat, “I’ll wish you good morning.”

He was half-way to the door, when Crookenden cried, “Stop!” and reached for a pen, which he dipped in the ink.

“He, he!” he sniggered, “it’s all right, Tresco I only wanted to test you. You shall have the money. I can see you’re a staunch man such as I can depend on.”

He rose suddenly, and went to the big safe which stood against the wall, and from it he took a cash-box, which he placed on the table.

“Upon consideration,” he said, “I have decided to pay you in cash it’s far safer for both parties.”

He counted out a number of bank notes, which he handed to the goldsmith.

Tresco put down his hat, put on his spectacles, and counted the money. “Ten tens are a hundred, ten fives are fifty, ten ones are ten,” he said. “Perfectly correct.” He put his hand into the inner pocket of his coat, and drew out a packet, which was tied roughly with a piece of coarse string. “And here are the letters,” he added, as he placed them on the table. Then he put the money into his pocket.

Crookenden opened the packet, and glanced at the letters.

Tresco had picked up his hat.

“I am satisfied,” said the merchant. “Evidently you are a man of resource. But don’t forget that in this matter we are dependent upon each other. I rely thoroughly on you, Tresco, thoroughly. Let us forget the little piece of play-acting of a few minutes ago. Let us be friends, I might say comrades.”

“Certainly, sir. I do so with pleasure.”

“But for the future,” continued Crookenden, “we had better not appear too friendly in public, not for six months or so.”

“Certainly not, not too friendly in public,” Benjamin smiled his blandest, “not for at least six months. But any communication sent me by post will be sure to find me, unless it is intercepted by some unscrupulous person. For six months, Mr. Crookenden, I bid you adieu.”

The merchant sniggered again, and Benjamin walked out of the room.

Then Crookenden rang his bell. To the clerk who answered it, he said:

“You saw that man go out of my office, Mr. Smithers?”

“Yes, sir.”

“If ever he comes again to see me, tell him I’m engaged, or not in. I won’t see him he’s a bad stamp of man, a most ungrateful man, a man I should be sorry to have any dealings with, a man who is likely to get into serious trouble before he is done, a man whom I advise all my young men to steer clear of, one of the most unsatisfactory men it has been my misfortune to meet.”

“Yes, sir.”

“That’s all, Mr. Smithers,” said the head of the firm. “I like my young men to be kept from questionable associates; I like them to have the benefit of my experience. I shall do my best to preserve them from the evil influence of such persons as the man I have referred to. That will do. You may go, Mr. Smithers.”

Meanwhile, Benjamin Tresco was striding down the street in the direction of his shop; his speed accelerated by a wicked feeling of triumph, and his face beaming with an acute appreciation of the ridiculous scene in which he had played so prominent a part.

“Hi-yi!” he exclaimed exultingly, as he burst into the little room at the back of his shop, where the Prospector was waiting for him, “the man with whips of money would outwit Benjamin, and the man with the money-bags was forced to shell out. Bill, my most esteemed pal, the rich man would rob the poor, but that poor man was Benjamin, your redoubtable friend Benjamin Tresco, and the man who was dripping with gold got, metaphorically speaking, biffed on the boko. Observe, my esteemed and trusty pal, observe the proceeds of my cunning.”

He threw the whole of his money on the table.

“Help yourself,” he cried. “Take as much as you please: all I ask is the sum of ten pounds to settle a little account which will be very pressing this evening at eight o’clock, when a gentleman named Rock Cod and his estimable mate, Macaroni Joe, are dead sure to roll up, expectant.”

The digger, who, in spite of his return to the regions of civilisation, retained his wildly hirsute appearance, slowly counted the notes.

“I make it a hundred-and-sixty,” he said.

“That’s right,” said Tresco: “there’s sixty-seven for you, and the balance for me.”

Bill took out the two IOUs, and placed them on the table. They totalled L117, of which Benjamin had paid L50.

“I guess,” said the Prospector, “that sixty-seven’ll square it.” He carefully counted out that sum, and put it in his pocket.

Benjamin counted the balance, and made a mental calculation. “Ninety-three pounds,” he said, “and ten of that goes to my respectable friends, Rock Cod and Macaroni. That leaves me the enormous sum of eighty-three pounds. After tearing round the town for three solid days, raising the wind for all I’m worth and almost breaking my credit, this is all I possess. That’s what comes of going out to spend a quiet evening in the company of Fortunatus Bill; that’s what comes of backing my luck against ruffians with loaded dice and lumps on their necks.”

“Have you seen them devils since?” asked the Prospector.

“I’ve been far too busy scrapin’ together this bit of cash to take notice of folks,” said Benjamin, as he tore up the IOUs and threw them into the fireplace. “It’s no good crying over spilt milk or money lost at play. The thing is for you to go back to the bush, and make good your promise.”

“I’m going to-morrow mornin’. I’ve got the missus’s money, which I’ll send by draft, and then I’ll go and square up my bill at the hotel.”

“And then,” said Benjamin, “fetch your swag, and bunk here to-night. It’ll be a most convenient plan.”

“We’re mates,” said the Prospector. “You’ve stood by me and done the ‘an’some, an’ I’ll stand by you and return the compliment. An’ it’s my hope we’ll both be rich men before many weeks are out.”

“That’s so,” said Benjamin. “Your hand on it.”

The digger held out his horny, begrimed paw, which the goldsmith grasped with a solemnity befitting the occasion.

“You’ll need a miner’s right,” said the digger.

“I’ve got one,” said Tresco. “Number 76032, all in order, entitling me to the richest claim in this country.”

“I’ll see, mate, that it’s as rich as my own, and that’s saying a wonderful deal.”

“Damme, I’ll come with you straight away!”

“Right, mate; come along.”

“We’ll start before dawn.”

“Before dawn.”

“I’ll shut the shop, and prospect along with you.”

“That’s the way of it. You an’ me’ll be mates right through; and we’ll paint this town red for a week when we’ve made our pile.”

“Jake! Drat that boy; where is he? Jake, come here.”

The shock-headed youth came running from the back yard, where he was chopping wood.

“Me and this gentleman,” said his master, “are going for a little excursion. We start to-morrow morning. See? I was thinking of closing the shop, but I’ve decided to leave you in charge till I return.”

The lad stood with his hands in his pockets, and blew a long, shrill whistle. “Of all the tight corners I was ever in,” he said, “this takes the cake. I’ll want a rise in wages look at the responsibility, boss.”

The goldsmith laughed. “All right,” he said. “You shall have ten shillings a week extra while I’m away; and if we have luck, Jake, I’ll make it a pound.”

“Right-oh! I’ll take all the responsibility that comes along. I’ll get fat on it. And when you come back, you’ll find the business doubled, and the reputation of B. Tresco increased. It’ll probably end in you taking me in as partner but I don’t care: it’s all the same to me.”

The goldsmith made an attempt to box the boy’s ear, but Jake dodged his blow.

“That’s your game, is it?” exclaimed the young rogue. “Bash me about, will you? All right I’ll set up in opposition!”

He didn’t wait for the result of this remark, but with a sudden dart he passed like a streak of lightning through the doorway, and fled into the street.