|Chapter Title||THE TOWN COUNCIL.|
|Newspaper Title||Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)|
|Trove Title||The Christmas Motto|
THE TOWN COUNCIL.
The position which Brown had made for himself at the time his secret slipped from his hands was a singular and a high one.
It was not in his nature to be either idle or
passive, and the seven years had thrown in his way here and there the chances to make
his influence felt. He had acted with a liberalism whioh was new to the agricolous souls of Ryllbridge, and with a firmness and. good judgment which could not fail to win him their respect. He had not amassed money, he had not changed his occupation, he was still engineer at the mill, but he was ene of the most trusted and most capable men in the town. Th ey did not trouble to inquire much further. It was true that the
ranks of the gentry of Bellbridge, who stood upon the elevated social platform of larger lauds and income, expressed amongst them- selves some scornful amazement when Brown was elected to the Common Council of the borough. It was not quite fit, they thought, to elect a man of no known possessions, who lived in the simplest way, and who made no effort to ingratiate himself into the nicely defined circles of graduated rural gentility, But Brown, though he lived somewhat tc himself, and was known to be * a bit mac on book readin' and such things ' was toe obviously honest,, and too dangerously clever, for these little heart-burnings t< become public. He had a good man; friends for such a quiet man, and it wa apparent that he was really the practicí spirit who in effect suggested and animate most of the important civic changes an improvements. His tenets had softened little with the conservatism of time ; 1 loved his quiet cottage and his housebo' goddesses-Jinny and Hetty-and was wc content with the uses he found for his abil ties and progressive aims.
But though the seven years sojourn hi brought him respect and friends, they hi also prepared him one whole-souled enen
This was H. Ramsay Bead, an auctioneer, one of the few men there who was not an old resident, ; and who represented alone in Bellbridge the element of, modern commer- cial activity and modern commercial ethics. Brown's high, but unobtrusive rectitude, galled the very fibre of this gentleman ; and the engineer's plain, but pointed speech, had more than once thrown a clear light and a cutting satire on some of Mr. Bead's smart business transactions. Tliere was, moreover, the standing conflict of natures the nominal gentleman against the finer heart and intellect of a lower social scale.
At any rate, Bead's opposition was both venomous and unvarying ; but it had hitherto been confined to Council bickerings, and had found no public expression.
At this time, however, the antagonism came to a climax through a disputed ques- tion, small in itself, but on which Byll bridge, to a man, divided and fought. The petty jealousies of class, and coterie, and sect, which are the bane of small communi- ties, leapt up in flame. Public feeling, dex- terously stirred by Mr. Bead, grew bitter ; the larger grocer divided against his smaller rival, the church against dissent, the refined against the vulgar. The spark which
lighted this rustic blaze was the proposal to grant as an aid and subsidy to a capitalist who wished to erect a sanatorium, a certain
piece of waste land in the hills, and other
It was expected that the erection of s,uch a place would prove of great advantage to the town, and the proposal was strongly supported and urged by Mr. Brown. For no other reason than habitual hostility to Brown, the alienation of corporation land was violently opposed by Mr. Ramsay Read, and methods entirely novel to the borough were employed by Mr. Bead to stir up public feeling. Handbills and posters, public speeches and private scandal, were invoked to secure the humiliation, once and for all, of Wm. Brown ; and at a meeting of the Council Mr. Read poured upon the unprepared engineer such a flood of con- temptuous abuse and aspersion as only the
usual latitude of aldermanic speeches will
As the slandering of Brown's character was the handiest weapon of the opposing faction, it was freely resorted to.
' I'd like to know,' said Jones to his circle at the market-cross, 'howr much Brown's goin' to get out of this. A man don't tr]
on this sort of thing without puttin'some- thing or another into his pocket.'
Brown was dumbfounded ; he was not so eagerly concerned in the matter as to care to fight with this amount of vigor, still he ; could not tamely drop his arguments and r passively succumb. He was hurt by the un imerited abuse, and still more grieved that his townsmen, who had known him so long, should be capable of hearing and repeating foolish and unfounded imputations against him. He was supported by a large party, but he had no wish to be a member of any faction. He was drawn against his will into a vortex of spite and recrimination, and he was only too glad when the day came for a council meeting at which the question would be finally decided. He had met much un- expected ill-will from many people ; he was not conscious that he had merited it, but as they were his fellow-townsman, it was as difficult to bear as if the question at issue had been really a vital one.
4 Never mind, Brown,' said the school- master; 'don't you let that wretched snob
pester you out of it. He hasn't got a leg to
Bamsay-Bead thought so too until the night before the day of decision, when he
received a trump-card and grew certain of victory.
The next day Brown introduced the motion, and stated camly hut forcibly all tho reasons which prompted him to recom- mend it. Then Mr. Ramsay-Read, with a peculiar exultation in his manner, rose in opposition.
'Mr. Mayor and Gentlemen,' he said, * there are many reasons why this motion should be rejected ; but, I can give you one^ to-day which will startle you. The project to rob the; town of its ancient pos- sessions has been all along mainly sup- ported and pushed by one man. When I tell you what I know of the character of that man, I think you will admit that any scheme he supports is likely to be a bad one for the town, however well it may turn to his own advantage. What, gentlemen! Shall we tolerate a man like this amongst us? (pointing at Brown). Is a fellow of this stamp to sit with us in a council of gentlemen - a fellow who has been an anarchist, a demagogue, a rioter, and a
Brown started up amidst intense excite- ment, but Read yelled him down.
' Ask him yourself if his name is William Brown, or if he has been living with you for a great many years under an alias.''
Brown sat down again stunned. Here was the old story coming from the mouth of the man who would make every incident of it shameful. He said nothing.
' Gentlemen,' Read went on ; ' you see he does not deny it. Gentleman, this man,' who has been imposing on you so long as a perfect and upright citizen, who has passed himself off under a false name, is Wm. Hutton ! ringleader in the notorious bread riots so many years ago, who escaped from London and the police, and came here instead of going to the hulks as a felon in leg-irons. Are we to be imposed upon by an escaped gaol-bird, a miserable runaway from justice ? You may not remember the infamous name of William Hutton, but you
all remember the riots. 1 have obtained copies of the newspapers of that time, by which it seems that this Wm. Broivn, Esq., was wanted by the police, for being con- cerned in the Sunday Bread Riot, for inciting the people to violence, and for breaking into and robbing (with others) the shops of a number of bakers and a jeweller.'
Brown rose, passionate and trembling, yet trying hard to control his voice.
" Gentlemen, I am William Hutton ; all
the rest is untrue.'
He could not say any more. He left the room, and avoiding the people, he walked rapidly towards the moors, leaving Read to finish his newspaper extracts, and wind up his speech, which he did with the conscious- ness of complete success.
lt was terrible,-this upheaval of the past. All the sad incidents of his manhood
garnished by the "blackest of lies, everything he had done barely distorted into a crime, and his assumed name as evidence-in-chief tc
support it all. Sb many years of'blameless life counted noshing against the bidder infamy that lay ¡in an alias. He wanderec a long way brooding over all this, anc cursing, with a fury he could not suppress, the name of the scoundrel who had timi besmirched his .lifèv There were-fifteei miles of low ground, absolutely flat, before him-an immense tract of marsh land, inter sected in all directions by 4 rh ines ' full o: water. Sometimes he jumped the narrowe] ditches, sometimes he wandered a long wa] to find the plank bridge, he did not know oi care where he went, so that he was walking all the while. Then he sat down unde: some low trees to think, and while he la]
there the sun set.
He was Utterly unnerved by the smart o the contumely, and the lies and the looks o: wonder ai d aversion which he had seen 01 the faces of his fellow-counciltnen : he ha( never been so shamed, so aspersed. I would have been better, he thought, afte all to have stayed in London and disprove! these lies ; but the thought reminded him o Jinny, and remembering that she would b anxious, he turned home.
lt was getting darker every moment, an» there were not many lights in the town t guide him. He started at a run to find th main track across the marshes, but th exertion made him still more tired, nervouf and dejected.
At last the moon came out. He wa within half-a-mile of the town when he saA two figures on the little timber-bridg which crossed one of the 4 rhinos.' He wa bound to pass them. He had almost don
so when he saw the man's face.
It was Read.
He might have struck him had he bee:
alone, but there waB a woman hiding her
face on his shoulder.
'You damned liar and hound,' he said, furiously, ' let me catch you alone !'
The woman turned her face, frightened. ' Hetty !' he cried, gasping with amazement, 'Hetty! You-with-him !'
He had not troubled before to think in what way Read had gained the secret, but now it flashed on him. They were in league against him-that fellow and the girl he had trusted, mocking him, as he stood there trembling, and beside himself with anger. He staggered back against the opposite
' Hetty, did you tell that man about me ?' Read whispered to the girl, and she drew herself up with an air of contempt, vi hile he drew her closer, and they said nothing.
' "Wretched girl,' he said, ' treacherous and thankless. You've lived with us all
these years, and now- Bah ! go with him if you like him. Don't enter my house again.'
He hardly knew how he got home. Jinny had heard, of course, but they said little that night. He only said ' Hetty had done it,
and she would not come back there.'
Brown went to work as usual, but he was now known by his right name. He made a few explanations-not many. With his employers and all his best friends his life
Read left for London ; ' for three months' holiday,' he said. Hetty went with him.