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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 1 (April 1, 1935)

Left Luggage

page 32

Left Luggage

“As the bag opened, a roar of laughter covered the big man with confusion.

“As the bag opened, a roar of laughter covered the big man with confusion.

The evening goods was about to leave Reefton station. Old Ben swung himself to the footplate and took a last look round. It was not unusual to have something put aboard at the last minute, and Ben was too good a railwayman to miss a chance of freight, and too good a Coaster to inconvenience anyone.

“Not likely to be anything more today,” said Teddy Brew, his fireman. “Apart from our staff, I don't believe there is a soul in Reefton. Even the pubs are deserted.”

The day was the occasion of the annual picnic. Instead of having a dozen or more little picnics, Reefton people combine to make one big affair and have a special excursion train for the event. Everyone, from the oldest pioneer to the youngest baby, attends. On this occasion they had gone to Greymouth, and the goods train would most likely pass them homeward bound a short way down the line.

“I seldom get away from here without being held up in the straight,” old Ben replied to his fireman's last remark. “There you are; I thought so.”

The Reefton station is situated about a quarter of a mile from the main road to the town.

Ben's exclamation was caused by the figure of a slight man who staggered round the corner carrying two boxes. He put one down to signal frantically to the driver to wait. Ben gave him an encouraging wave, and waited for him to come up.

“Uhm! Gelignite, eh? Are you wanting to travel on the train with it?” asked the clerk as he filled in the consignment slip. “If so, special permission will have to be obtained from the Stationmaster for you to travel in the van, and you will have to sign a form quitting the Railway of all responsibility.”

“No,” said the stranger; “I do not care for the risk. I will leave it to be called for at Greymouth.”

“That will be all right. It will be left in the truck on the siding, but you will have to pay hire of the truck for whatever time you leave it there.”

“Right oh! I'll pick it up to-morrow.”

The stranger left the station, and the goods, which was held up a matter of moments only, started on its journey to Greymouth.

About three days later the Station-master at Greymouth stopped old Ben and asked, “Did you see the man who consigned those two boxes of gelignite from Reefton a few days ago?”

Ben pushed his cap over the back of his head and scratched industriously. “Ted,” he called to his fireman, who was passing, “Do you remember the man who consigned those two cases of ‘Jelly’ from Reefton the other day?”

“Yes,” was the reply. “That was the day of the picnic.”

“Do you know him?” asked the Stationmaster. “He has not collected the stuff, and it is still in the truck waiting for him.”

“No, he was a complete stranger to me. I was struck by the fact that he was consigning from Reefton to Grey-mouth, when he could buy here all the ‘Jelly’ he wanted. I don't ever remember bringing the stuff from Reefton to Greymouth previously. Didn't he give any address?”

“Yes, he gave the name of ‘H. Smith, c/o Revington's Hotel,’ but he is not known there.” The Stationmaster was puzzled. “I don't know what to do about it. If he leaves it long the hire of the truck will be more than the value of the explosive, and then he is not likely to claim it. If you see him, speak to him about it.”

“Right oh! I'll know him again, sure. He was a little rat-faced chap with black beady eyes and a small waxed moustache. Didn't look like a miner, but these days there are so many prospectors that I thought nothing of it.”

Several days later there being no claim for the goods, the Stationmaster arranged to store them in a shed specially built for the purpose, owned by the Cobden Quarry. This was just over the Cobden Bridge, and the cases were put off the Runanga train, which passes within a few feet of it.

The matter was reported to the Head Office, and nothing was done in the matter until a sale of unclaimed goods was arranged at Greymouth, when they were sent for.

“We'll have no trouble in disposing of this stuff in a mining locality like Greymouth,” said a clerk. “It should bring nearly its full value.”

“Yes,” was the reply. “Not like that set of oil-paints. No one but Miss Smithers, the schoolteacher, paints in page 33 Greymouth, so she will get them at her own price. I've told her about them, so she will be here for sure.”

“And I have mentioned this ‘Jelly’ to a dozen or so parties, so we should have a good go for it.”

* * *

“Now, ladies and gentlemen,” said the auctioneer, “this bag is locked, and there is no key. It probably contains diamonds. Anyhow the bag is worth a tenner. What am I offered?” A general laugh greeted this sally, as the bag was obviously not worth a shilling. The gambling spirit of the crowd, however, ran the price up to four shillings before it was knocked down.

The grinning carrier who bought it soon satisfied his curiosity with a pocket knife. The bag contained a six months' old lunch!

“Well, perhaps this is the one with the diamonds,” suggested the auctioneer. The article this time was a very neat suitcase with the initials “B.O'D.” The crowd bid up to twenty-five shillings—a fair price for it. The auctioneer, however, was not satisfied. “Come on, Bill,” he called to Bill O'Dowd, a six-foot miner. “It's got your initials on it; you had better buy it. Do you say 27/6?”

Bill did, and it was knocked down to him. Curiosity again made an immediate investigation essential, and it was unnecessary to use force as someone provided a key. Big Bill opened the case on a counter with a number of men and women round eager for a glance. As the bag opened, a roar of laughter covered the big man with confusion. Frothy lacey undies in numerous pastel shades cascaded out in all directions. As he tried to push them in again it seemed impossible that they could all have come out of one suitcase. Finally, in desperation, he called: “Here, anyone can have these,” and the ladies soon cleared the counter.

“Well, well! Bad luck, Bill, but this is more in your line,” said the auctioneer, as the clerk dragged to light the two boxes marked “Gelignite.” “I am almost certain the diamonds are not in these boxes. No ladies need apply. Now, what am I bid for these lovely boxes of noise? Although I am not a fortune-teller, I predict that the purchaser of this lot may soon get a rise in the world. Now then, each, with the option of taking both.”

There was no hesitation in the bidding. Everyone knew the value of gelignite, and knew, moreover, that they would not get it much below its value.

“Thirty bob,” called Tom Swassie, from the Brunnerton Co-operative party, and grinned as he was immediately overbid by Wildhill from Seven Mile.

“Two quid,” tried Bill again, and lost to Harry—no one knew his other name—from Cronadun. This brought the price to within a few shillings of the actual value ruling at the time locally, and everyone expected that Harry would get the boxes; but a new element entered into the competition.

“Three pounds,” bid a thin voice from a far corner. All eyes turned to see who was bidding over value. It was not as though he had been run up in the excitement of fast bidding. In cold blood the stranger had bid beyond the value.

Among others who saw the stranger, was Teddy Brew, and he moved away from the crowd to puzzle out the riddle, for to him it was a bigger surprise than to anyone else.

The temptation to act detective seems inborn in most of us, and with growing interest. Teddy watched the purchaser wrap the boxes carefully in brown paper before calling a carrier. The carrier was instructed to take the “parcels” to Revington's Hotel, and the owner climbed up alongside the driver.

Brew followed on foot, and after seeing the safe arrival at the hotel, he crossed to the P.O. and from the telephone booth, where he could watch the hotel door, he held a short conversation. Leaving the booth, he waited a few minutes on the corner and was joined by a tall man, whom he addressed as “Dave.” Both proceeded to Revington's, and after a conversation with the manager, the three went upstairs and the manager knocked on a door.

In answer to the call of “Come in,” they entered, and the manager addressed the occupant. “I am informed, Mr Manio, that you have brought two boxes of explosive to this room. This won't do, you know. It's not safe.”

“Oh, it's safe enough,” was the reply, “but I suppose I'd better get it out again.”

“I certainly insist. We will give you a lift down with it.”

As they reached the main entrance, Teddy and Dave put the case they were carrying—apparently carelessly—on the scale. The counterweights were set at 56lb., but the box did not raise a quiver on the arm. With a swift movement, Dave pushed the weight indicator back, till at 40lbs. the arm moved.

Turning to the owner of the box, he said: “I am Detective Joss, and I would like to know what you have in this box. A box of gelignite weighs 56lbs.; this is only 40lbs.”

“How do I know? I bought ‘Blind’ at the auction. If there is short weight, I am the loser.”

“Suppose we open it?”

“Yes, when I'm ready, and without any assistance from you.”

The detective brought the argument to a finish by taking a hammer and knocking off the lid.

“Heavens! I'll put you up for this!” snarled the stranger. The detective moved some of the bricks and pieces of lead piping which coyly peeped through paper wrappings, and a miscellaneous collection of watches, bangles, and other jewellery was disclosed.

The detective turned to Manio and said: “I arrest you for the Reefton burglaries on 1st February, 1930.”

Manio pleaded guilty at the trial. Having burgled most of Reefton during the absence of the residents at the picnic he wanted to get clear of the district quickly. He thought the left luggage branch of the Railways was the safest place to leave the “swag,” but preferred to buy at the auction so as to be able to account for having the goods if caught with them later.

Only Teddy Brew's smartness in remembering his face and that the boxes were consigned the day of the picnic and burglary, upset his plans.

page 34