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

A Small but Important Link in the Story.

The Timber Town Club was filled with ineffable calm. The hum of convivial voices was hushed, the clicking billiard-balls were still, no merry groups of congenial spirits chatted in ante-room, or dining-room. All was strangely quiet, for most of the members were at the diggings, and the times were too pregnant with business to warrant much conviviality.

Scarlett and Mr. Crewe alone sat in the reading-room, where the magazines from England lay in perfect order on little tables, and steel engravings, of which the Club was proud, hung upon the walls. Jack was enjoying the luxury of a big easy chair, and the Father of Timber Town sat upright in another.

“I was asked out to spend the evening, yesterday,” said Jack, lazily.

“Indeed, asked to spend the evening?” replied the alert old gentleman. “I can’t say that I see anything remarkable in that, Scarlett.”

Jack smiled. “By a most charming young lady, I assure you.”

“Ah, that is another matter, quite a different matter, my dear sir.”

“Ostensibly, it was to meet her father, but hang me if the old gentleman put in an appearance!”

“Ho-ho! Better, Scarlett, better still. And what did you do, you rascal?”

“I did nothing. It was the young lady who took up the running.”

“But wasn’t she provided with a judicious Mama, in the background somewhere?”

“No, a calamity seems to have befallen the Mama. She’s non est.”

“That’s very good. The girl depends for protection solely upon her Papa?”

“I remarked that, and said, ’Your Father will hardly approve of my coming to see you in his absence.’ ‘Oh, you needn’t mind that,’ she said ’he trusts me implicitly. And as for you didn’t you save me, the other night?’ You see, I found a drunken digger molesting her, and threw him into the river. But I haven’t so much as seen the old boy yet.”

“Quite so, quite so, but I want to hear about the girl the father will turn up in due time, and as for the digger, he at least would get a bath.”

“I waited for her loving parent to come home, as it was supposed he wanted to see me.”

“I see; I see: and what did he say when he came?”

“He didn’t say anything.”

“That was very churlish conduct, don’t you think Scarlett?”

“But, you see, he didn’t come.”

“Didn’t come home? Now, look here, Scarlett; now, look here, my good fellow. You’re getting into bad ways; you’re courting temptation. By Jupiter! they’ll be marrying you next. They will, sir; they’ll be marrying you, before you know where you are; marrying you in a church. And if they can’t get you to church, they’ll marry you before the Registrar; by Jupiter! they will.”

“But she’s a pretty girl, remember that.”

“She may be the most monstrous pretty girl, for all I care. But don’t you let her hook you, my boy. Women are all fudge, sir. Girls are mostly dolls dressed in feathers and fine clothes. But I grant you that there’s some dignity in a woman who’s a mother; but by forty she becomes old, and then she must be a plaguey nuisance. No, Scarlett, I never married, thank God. Fancy being at the beck and call of a crotchety old beldame, at my time of life. No, sir; I never knew what it was to be questioned and badgered when I came home at night, no matter if it was two in the morning. I can do as I like, sir: I need not go home at all. I’m a free man. Now, take my advice, Scarlett; be a free man too.”

“But you never could have been in love, Mr. Crewe.”

“Perhaps not; very likely not.”

Mr. Crewe had stood during the latter part of the dialogue, that he might the more emphatically denounce matrimony; and Scarlett rose from his comfortable chair, and stood beside him.

“But do as I did, my dear sir” the Father of Timber Town placed his hand on Jack’s sleeve “and nothing disastrous will happen. Whenever a young woman became very pressing, what do you think I used to do?”

“I don’t know. I don’t see how I can tell. Perhaps you told her you had an incurable disease, and had one foot in the grave.”

“No, sir; that would have made her marry me the quicker in order to get my money. No, I used to propose solemnly and in due form on behalf of my brother Julius. I would say, ’My dear young lady, my brother Julius ought to be married, and you are the girl to suit him. He is delicate, affectionate in disposition, domesticated quite the reverse of myself, my dear and you are the beau ideal companion for him.’ But do you believe that Julius is married? No, sir; not a bit of it; no more married than I am no, sir; as confirmed an old bachelor as ever you saw. Very good, wasn’t it? Just the way to deal with them, eh? Adopt the plan, Jack; adopt the plan, and you’ll escape as certainly as I did.”

“Look here,” said Scarlett, “we’ll go and see the banker; we ought to have seen him this morning.”

The old gentleman chuckled. He perceived that his young friend had changed the subject of conversation; but he also agreed that business should come before gossip.

It was but a brief walk from the Club to the Kangaroo Bank.

“You’re a god-send to this town, Jack; a perfect god-send. Do you know that since you discovered this gold, sir, my properties in Timber Town have increased twenty-five per cent. in value? And do you know that I believe they will increase cent. per cent.? Imagine it, sir. Why, we shall all be rich men.”

They passed out into the bright street, where the gaily-painted shops shone in the blazing sun and the iron roofs of the verandahs ticked with the midday heat. The door of the Bank stood open, that the outer air might circulate freely through the big building. The immaculately-attired clerk stood behind his counter, with a big piece of plaster on his forehead; but Scarlett, taking no notice of the scowl he received from the dark-featured Zahn, knocked at the door of the Manager’s room.

Within the financial sanctum, a little shrivelled-up man sat at a large table which was placed in the middle of the room. His face was clean-shaven but for a pair of grizzled mutton-chop whiskers, and as he bent over his papers he showed a little bald patch on the top of his crown.

Scarlett and Mr. Crewe stood side by side, in front of him.

“I have come from the diggings,” said Jack, “and have called to ask ...”

“Oh ... How do you do, Mr. Crewe? Be seated, sir.... Be seated, both of you.... A lovely day, Mr. Crewe; a perfectly beautiful day. Take a seat, sir, I beg.”

But as the chairs stood a long way off against the wall, old Mr. Crewe and Jack only glanced at them.

“I’ve come to ask,” continued Scarlett, “that you will establish a branch of your Bank on Bush Robin Creek.”

The Manager looked first at Scarlett and then at Mr. Crewe. “You’re very good,” he said. “Establish a branch on the diggings? Gentlemen, do be seated.” So saying, he journeyed to a far wall, and returned with a couple of chairs, which he dragged after him to where his visitors stood.

“It would be a great convenience to the diggers,” said Jack, “to sell their gold on the field, and receive drafts on your Bank. Then, they would travel with more safety and less fear of being robbed.”

“It’s worth thinking of,” said the Manager, when he had seen that both Scarlett and Mr. Crewe were seated.

“It should be profitable to the Bank,” said Mr. Crewe, “and that, sir, is your main consideration.”

“The track will be completed in a few days,” Scarlett remarked, “and your agent couldn’t possibly lose his way in the bush.”

“Could not lose his way? Exactly. It would be very awkward if he were to get lost, with L20,000 in his possession.”

“I can imagine what sort of a losing it would be considered,” said Mr. Crewe, laughing.

“How far is it to the field?” asked the Manager.

“As the crow flies, about forty miles,” replied Jack, “but by the track, some eight or ten miles more.”

“The difficulty will be the escort,” said the Manager. “There must be an escort to convey gold to town. If the police, now, would give assistance, it could be managed.”

“Failing them,” said Jack, “the diggers would be only too glad to provide an escort themselves.”

The banker smiled. “I was imagining that the Government might undertake the transportation.”

“This is a detail,” said Mr. Crewe. “It could be arranged when your agent wished to come to town with all the gold he had bought on the field.”

“I make the proposal to you on behalf of the syndicate which I represent,” said Jack. “There is a demand for a branch of your Bank on Bush Robin Creek: communication is now easy, and the field is developing fast.”

“I shall see to it, gentlemen; I shall do my best to oblige you.”

“And to benefit your institution,” interjected Mr. Crewe.

The Manager smiled the sycophantic smile of one who worships Mammon. “I shall endeavour to meet the difficulty, Mr. Crewe. We shall see what can be done.” He rang his bell, and a clerk appeared. “Mr. Zahn is not at the counter to-day,” he said.

“No, sir,” said the clerk; “he is buying gold.”

“Very good; send him to me,” said the Manager, and Isaac was quickly summoned.

“I shall require you to proceed to the diggings at Bush Robin Creek,” said the Manager, addressing the gold-clerk. “These gentlemen have made representations to me which show that there is considerable business to be done there by buying gold. You will hold yourself in readiness to start in a couple of days. Does that suit you, sir?” he added, turning to Scarlett.

“Admirably,” replied Jack. “I’ll return to-morrow, and shall tell the diggers that your agent is coming.”

“But why should you not travel together?” said the Manager. “You could show Mr. Zahn the way.”

Isaac looked at Scarlett, and Scarlett looked at him.

“I think I could find my way alone,” said Zahn.

Jack smiled. “I shall be only too glad to give any assistance I can; but if Mr. Zahn prefers to travel by himself, of course there is the bare chance that he might get off the track and be lost.”

“I’ll risk it,” said the Jew. “I’d rather get lost than be thrown over a precipice.”

“Dear me, dear me,” said Mr. Crewe, his voice and gesture expressive of the utmost astonishment. “This looks bad, Jack; this is a very bad beginning.”

“You mean that you don’t quite appreciate this gentleman’s overtures?” asked the Manager.

Zahn was silent.

“We had a small difference in a hotel,” said Jack. “But for my part I am quite willing to let bygones be bygones.”

Zahn scowled. “That may be so,” he said, “but I should prefer to travel alone.”

“Dear, dear; well, well,” said the Father of Timber Town. “But, after all, this is a mere matter of detail which can be settled by and by. If you go to the diggings, sir” he turned his benignant gaze on the clerk “you will not only be in a most responsible position, but you will be able to do such profitable business for your Bank, sir, that you will probably earn promotion.”

“It’s settled,” said the Manager. “We shall send a representative, and I hope that the arrangement will be satisfactory to all parties. I hope you are contented, Mr. Crewe.”

“Perfectly, my dear sir, perfectly,” said the Father of Timber Town.

“Then you may consider the thing done,” said the Manager; and ushering his visitors from the room he conducted them to the garish street.