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

The Way to Manage the Law.

It may have been that the Prospector’s brief appearance in Court had roused the public spirit latent in his hirsute breast, or it may have been that his taciturnity had been cast aside in order that he might assume his true position as a leader of men; however that may have been, it is a fact that, on the morning after the trial, he was to be seen and heard haranguing a crowd outside The Lucky Digger, and inciting his hearers to commit a breach of the peace, to wit, the forcible liberation of a prisoner charged with a serious crime.

“An’ what did ’e come for? ’e come to see his pal had fair play,” Bill was exclaiming, as he stood on the threshold of the inn and faced the crowd of diggers in the street. “‘E proved the whole boilin’ of ’em, Judge, law-sharks, police, an’ bum-bailies, was a pack of fools. He made a reg’lar holy show of ’em. An’ what does ’e git? Jahroh.”

Here the speaker was interrupted by cries, approving his ruling in the matter.

“He come to give Justice a show to git her voice ’eard, and what’s ’e find? a prison.” Bill paused here for effect, which followed immediately in the form of deep and sepulchral groans.

“Now I arsk you, ain’t there plenty real criminals in this part o’ the world without freezin’ on to the likes of us? But the Law’s got a down on diggers. What did the police know of this Dolphin gang? Nothing. But they collared Mr. Scarlett, and was in a fair way to scrag ’im, if Justice hadn’t intervened. Who have you to thank for that? a digger, my mate Tresco. Yes, but the Law don’t thank ’im, not it; it fastens on to the very bloke that stopped it from hangin’ the wrong man.”

Here there arose yells of derision, and one digger, more vociferous than his fellows, was heard to exclaim, “That’s right, olé man. Give ’em goss!”

The crowd now stretched across the broad street and blocked all traffic, in spite of the exertions of a couple of policemen who were vainly trying to disperse Bill’s audience.

“Now I want to know what you’re goin’ to do about it,” continued the Prospector. “All this shoutin’ an’ hoorayin’ is very fine, but I don’t see how it helps my mate in the lock-up. I want to know what you’re goin’ to do!”

He paused for an answer, but there was none, because no one in the vast assembly was prepared to reply.

“Then,” said the Prospector, “I’ll tell you what. I want six men to go down to the port for a ship’s hawser, a thick ’un, a long ’un. I want those men to bring that there hawser, and meet me in front of the Police Station; an’ we’ll see if I can show you the way to manage the Law.”

The concourse surged wildly to and fro, as men pushed and elbowed their way to the front.

“Very good,” said Bill, as he surveyed the volunteers with the eye of a general; “you’ll do fine. I want about ten chain o’ rope, thick enough and strong enough to hold a ship. Savee?”

The men detailed for this special duty answered affirmatively, seized upon the nearest “express,” and, clambering upon it, they drove towards the sea amidst the cheering of the crowd.

The Prospector now despatched agents to beat up all the diggers in the town, and then, accompanied by hundreds of hairy and excited men, he made his way towards the lock-up, where the goldsmith, who had been arrested immediately after Scarlett’s trial, lay imprisoned. This place of torment was a large, one-storied, wooden building which stood in a by-street facing a green and grassy piece of land adjacent to the Red Tape Office.

By the time that Bill, followed by an ever increasing crowd, had reached the “station,” the men with the hawser arrived from the port.

No sooner were the long lengths of heavy rope unloaded from the waggon, then deft hands tied a bowline at one end of the hawser and quickly passed it round the lock-up, which was thus securely noosed, and two or three hundred diggers took hold of the slack of the rope.

Then was the Prospector’s opportunity to play his part in the little drama which he had arranged for the edification of Timber Town. Watch in hand, he stepped up to the door of the Police Station, where he was immediately confronted by no less a person than the Sergeant himself.

“’Day, mister,” said Bill, but the policeman failed to acknowledge the greeting. “You’ve got a mate of ours in here a man of the name of Tresco. It’s the wish of these gentlemen that he be liberated. I give you three minutes to decide.”

The infuriated Sergeant could hardly speak, so great was his anger. But at last he ejaculated, “Be off! This is rioting. You’re causing a breach of the peace.”

“Very sorry, mister, but time’s nearly up,” was the only comment that the Prospector made.

“I arrest you. I shall lock you up!”

Bill quickly stepped back, and cried to his men. “Take a strain!” The hawser was pulled taut, till it ticked. “Heave!” The building creaked to its foundations.

Bill held up his hand, and the rope slackened. Turning to the Sergeant, he said, “You see, mister, this old shanty of yours will go, or I must have my mate. Which is it to be? It lies with you to say.”

But by way of answer the Sergeant rushed at him with a pair of handcuffs. Half-a-dozen diggers intervened, and held the Law’s representative as if he had been a toy-terrier.

The Prospector now gave all his attention to his work. “Take a strain!” he cried. “Heave!” The wooden building creaked and cracked; down came a chimney, rattling upon the iron roof.

“Pull, boys!” shouted the Prospector. “Take the time from me.” With arms extended above his head, he swayed his body backwards and forwards slowly, and shouted in time to his gesticulations, “Heave! Heave! Now you’ve got her! Altogether, boys! Let her ’ave it! Heave!”

The groaning building moved a foot or two forward, the windows cracked, and another chimney came down with a crash. Bill held up his hand, and the hawser slackened.

“Now, mister,” he said, addressing the helpless, struggling Sergeant, “when’s my mate a-comin’? Look sharp in saying the word, or your old shed’ll only be fit for firewood.”

At this point of the proceedings, a constable with an axe in his hand issued from the tottering building; his intention being to cut the rope. But he was immediately overpowered and disarmed.

“That fixes it,” said the Prospector. “Now, boys; take a strain the last one. Heave, all! Give ’er all you know. Altogether. Heave! There she comes. Again. Heave!”

There was a crashing and a smashing, the whole fabric lurched forward, and was dragged half-way across the road. Bill held up his hand.

“Now, Sergeant, have you had enough, or do you want the whole caboose pulled across the paddock?”

But the answer was given by a constable leading a battered, tattered, figure from the wrecked building.

It was Benjamin Tresco.

Led by the Prospector, the great crowd of diggers roared three deafening cheers; and then the two mates shook hands.

That affecting greeting over, Benjamin held up his hand for silence.

“Gentlemen, I thank you,” he said. “This is the proudest day of my life. It’s worth while being put in limbo to be set free in this fashion. I hardly know what I’ve done to deserve such a delicate attention, but I take it as a token of good feeling, although you pretty near killed me with your kindness. The Law is strong, but public opinion is stronger; and when the two meet in conflict, the result is chaos for the Law.”

He pointed to the wrecked building, by way of proof; and the crowd roared its approval.

“But there’s been a man worse man-handled than me,” continued the goldsmith, “a man as innocent as an unborn babe. I refer to Mr. Scarlett, the boss of the Robin Creek diggings.”

The crowd shouted.

“But he has regained his liberty.” Benjamin’s face shone like the rising sun, as he said the words. “I call upon you to give three cheers for Mr. Jack Scarlett.” The response was deafening, and the roar of the multitude was heard by the sailors on the ships which lay at the wharves of Timber Town.

From the mixed crowd on the side-path, where he had been standing with Cathro and Mr. Crewe, Scarlett stepped forward to thank the man who by his intervention had delivered him from obloquy and, possibly, from death. Immediately the diggers marked the meeting, they rushed forward, seized Scarlett, Tresco, and the Prospector; lifted them shoulder high, and marched down the street, singing songs appropriate to the occasion.

At the door of The Lucky Digger the procession stopped, and there the heroes were almost forcibly refreshed; after which affecting ceremony one body-guard of diggers conducted Scarlett to the Pilot’s house, and another escorted Bill and Ben to the goldsmith’s shop. But whereas Scarlett’s friends left him at Captain Summerhayes’ gate, the men who accompanied Tresco formed themselves into a guard for the protection of his person and the safety of his deliverer.

When Scarlett walked into the Pilot’s parlour, he found the old sailor poring over a pile of letters and documents which had just arrived by the mail from England.

“Well, Pilot, good news, I hope,” said Jack.

“No,” replied the gruff old seaman; “it’s bad and yet it’s good. See here, lad.” He pushed a letter towards Jack, and fixed his eyes on the young man’s face.

“I had better not read it,” said Jack. “Let Miss Summerhayes do so.”

“I’ve no secrets from you, lad. There’s nothing in it you shouldn’t know; but, no, no, ’tain’t for my dar’ter’s eyes. It’s from my brother’s lawyers, to say he’s dead.”

“What, dead?”

“Yes, died last January. They say he had summat on his mind; they refer me to this packet here his journals.” The Pilot took up two fat little books, in which a diary had been kept in a clear, clerkly hand. “I’ve been looking them through, and it’s all as clear as if it had been printed.”

Scarlett sat down, and looked at the old man earnestly.

“I’ve told you,” continued Summerhayes, “how I hated my brother: you’ve heard me curse him many a time. Well, the reason’s all set down in these books. It worried him as he lay sickening for his death. To put it short, it was this: He was rich I was poor. I was married he was single. He had ships I had none. So he gave me command of one of his tea-clippers, and I handed over to his care all I held dear. But I believed he proved unworthy of my trust. And so he did, but not as I thought. Here in his diary he put down everything he did while I was on that voyage; writing himself down blackguard, if ever a man did. But he owns that however base was his wish, he was defeated in the fulfilment of it. And here, as he was slowly dying, he puts down how he repents. He was bad, he was grasping, he was unscrupulous, but he wasn’t as bad as he wished to be, and that’s all you can say for him. I bury my resentment with his body. He’s dead, and my hatred’s dead. To prove his repentance he made his Will, of which this is a certified copy.”

The Pilot handed to Jack a lengthy legal document, which had a heavy red seal attached to it, and continued, “To my dar’ter he leaves the bulk of his money, an’ to me his ships. There, that ends the whole matter.”

Jack read the deed while the Pilot smoked.

“You’re a rich man, Captain Summerhayes,” said he, as he handed back the document to its owner.

“If I choose to take the gift,” growled the Pilot.

“Which you must, or else see an immense sum of money go into the maw of Chancery.”

“Chancery be smothered! Ain’t there my dar’ter Rose?”

“Yes, but she couldn’t take the ships except at your wish or at your death.”

“Then she shall have ’em.”

“Nonsense, Pilot. You know now that your brother never wronged you unpardonably. You own that in a large measure you misjudged him. Now then, place your unfounded charge against his evil intention, and you are quits. He tried to square himself by leaving you half his wealth, and you will square yourself with him by accepting his gift. If you don’t do that, you will die a worse man than he.”

The Pilot was silent for some time, and drummed the table with his fingers.

“I don’t like it,” he complained.

“You must take it. If you don’t, you will drag before the public a matter that must grieve your daughter.”

“All right, I’ll take it; but I shall hold it in trust for my gal.”

“That is as you please.”

“But there’s one good thing in it, Jack. Sartoris! Rosebud! Come here. There’s a gentleman wants to see you.”

Rose Summerhayes and the shipless Captain, when the Pilot opened his mail, had retired to the kitchen, in order that the old man, who was evidently upset by his news, might digest it quietly. They now reappeared, looking half-scared lest the heavens had fallen on the Pilot.

They were astonished to see him radiant, and laughing with Jack.

“Now, my gal and Captain Sartoris, sir, I’ve got a little matter to clear up. I own there was a problem in them letters as almost bamfoozled me. I confess it almost beat me. I own it got the better of me considerably. But this young man, here stand up, Jack, and don’t look as if you’d stolen the sugar out of the tea-caddy this young man, my dear, pulled me through. He put it to me as plain as if he’d bin a lawyer an’ a parson rolled into one. The difficulty’s overcome: there’s nothing of it left: it don’t exist.”

Sartoris’ eyes opened wider and wider as he gazed in astonishment at the Pilot, who continued, “Yes, Sartoris, you well may look, for I’m goin’ to tell you something you don’t expect. You are to have another ship. I have letters here as warrant me in saying that: you shall have command of another ship, as soon as you land in England.”

“D’you mean to say your brother has forgiven the wreck of The Witch? You must be dreaming, Summerhayes.”

“Probably I am. But as soon as you reach home, Sartoris, there’s a ship waitin’ for you. That ends the matter.”

He turned abruptly to Scarlett.

Theres something I have to say to you, young feller. My gal, here, came to me, the night before last when some one we know of was in a very queer street she came to me, all of a shake, all of a tremble, unable to sleep; she came to me in the middle of the night a thing shed never done since she was six years old an at first I thought it was the hysterics, an then I thought it was fever. But she spoke plain enough, an her touch was cool enough. An then she began to tell me

“Really, father,” Rose exclaimed, her cheeks colouring like a peony, “do stop, or you’ll drive me from the room.”

“Right, my dear: I say no more. But I ask you, sir,” he continued, turning to Scarlett. “I ask you how you diagnose a case like that. What treatment do you prescribe? What doctor’s stuff do you give?” There was a smile on the old man’s face, and his eyes sparkled with merriment. “I put it to you as a friend, I put it to you as a man who knows a quantity o’ gals. What’s the matter with my dar’ter Rose?”

For a moment, Jack looked disconcerted, but almost instantly a smile overspread his face.

“I expect it arose from a sudden outburst of affection for her father,” he said.

But here Sartoris spoilt the effect by laughing. “I suspect the trouble rose from a disturbed condition of the heart,” said he, “a complaint not infrequent in females.”

“An’ what, Cap’n, would you suggest as a cure?” asked the Pilot; his eyes twinkling, and his suppressed merriment working in him like the subterranean rumbling of an earthquake.

“Cast off the tow-rope, drop the pilot, and let her own skipper shape her course” this was the advice that Sartoris gave “to my mind you’ve been a-towin’ of her too long.”

“But she’s got no skipper,” said Summerhayes, “an’, dear, dear, she’s a craft with a deal too much top-hamper an’ not near enough free-board to please me, an’ her freight’s valued at over fifty thousand. Where’s the man, Sartoris, you’d guarantee would take her safely into port?”

The two old sailors were now bubbling with laughter, and there were frequent pauses between their words, that their mirth might not explode.

“There was a time,” said Sartoris, “there was a time when I’d ha’ bin game to take on the job meself.”

“What!” exclaimed Rose. “You? Why, you’re old and shaky and decrepit.”

“Yes, I don’t deny it I’m a bit of a hulk, my dear,” but Sartoris laughed as he spoke. “I may have to pass in my cheques, any day. That’s why I stand aside; but I’ll find you the man to take my place. Here ’e is!” The grizzled old sailor seized Scarlett by the arm, and pushed him towards the girl. “This is him. He’s got his master’s ticket all right; an’ though he’s never had command of a ship, he’s anxious to try his hand. Pilot, my advice is, let ’im have her.”

“Thank ’e, Cap’n.” Here the Pilot’s laughter, too long suppressed, burst forth with a terrific roar, in which Sartoris joined. “I mark what you say, Cap’n. I take your advice.” His words again halted to make way for his Titanic laughter. “I believe it’s about the best thing I can do.” He had now caught hold of Scarlett’s hand. “Come here, my gal.” Taking hold of Rose’s hand also, he said, “My dear, I built you an’ I pride myself your lines are beautiful, though I’ve never told you so till now I launched you in life, an’ now I put you in charge of the best skipper I can lay hands on. Always answer your helm quick, take care you don’t fall away to lee-ward in making your course, an’ I’ll go bail he’ll treat you fair an’ safely carry you into port.”

He put his daughter’s hand into Jack’s.

“There,” he said. “A long voyage an’ a happy one. May you weather every storm.” And, walking to the window, the Pilot made pretence of looking out on the roses in the garden, in order to hide the moisture which clouded his eyes.