Dadder Raft is on his way to get a legal opinion from the Harbour Master on whether he is permitted, under Water Law, to push a Revenue Man off the Raft.
The river path gave way to the broad paved harbour with its adjoining squares of warehouses basking on the gentle slopes. At the far end of the harbour, close to the pier, was the Harbour Master's Office, an exceptionally fine building in the manner of the Magistrate's Court, which was on the other side of the estuary, over the swing bridge. On the Magistrate's side the terracing was steeper and the the houses clung to the cliffs like barnacles, keeping their glittering glass eyes on the comings and goings of the ships, tutting at the women going aboard in defiance of custom and inviting disaster. The Magistrate kept a pair of binoculars in a box in the upper balcony of the court. He would perch up there while the court was closed and he had no registry work to do, scrying the Harbour Master's side through the small fanlight window.
Matters of disagreement arose between the Magistrate and the Harbour Master. For instance, the Magistrate maintained that the moment a sailor or similar nautical - reprobates, pirates, convicts, drunkards, philanderers, blasphemers and general ne'er do wells - set foot on dry land, then landlaw was their lawful master.
The Harbour Master maintained that as the harbour edgings and pier were man-made and projected over the water, then he was the lawful authority according to Maritime law. Moreover, he believed that a little traditional maritime discipline would work wonders and he still had the Cat in its mahogany box, and he could use it, by Neptune he would, if the situation demanded it. Throwing a man in chokey was, in his view, cruel, whereas a quick stripe and back to work made the point without costing much or affecting a man's livelihood.
The Constable, the Harbour Bailiff, and indeed the thieves, reprobates, pirates, blasphemers, etc had all got used to waiting while the Magistrate and the Harbour Master had their procedural wrangles. It took so long that the drunkards were often sober by the time it was decided what should happen to them, so they went home or back on board, if they could remember where either were, when the Constable nodded them off. The pirates sat nervously in the lock-up - a desperate bunch of men - in case the Constable decided on a spot of pre-emptive hanging as a result of a jurisdictional misunderstanding.
Everybody knew that the real cause of disagreement between the Authorities was the extraordinary kindness shown by the Magistrate's wife to the Harbour Master when his wife died. This was not something the Magistrate could complain about - one is expected to show kindness when the mother of young girls passes away - but even so, there are limits. The Magistrate, the most upright of men if you don't count the Vicar, which he didn't because he didn't trust that Vicar further than he could throw him, suspected those limits had been breached on several occasions.
The pinnacle of the Harbour Master's undisputed authority was that he was in charge of the swing bridge over the estuary which divided the town. He decided if the bridge was to be swung, hence breaking the road, and the Magistrate could only howl in impotent rage if his lawful prey had already escaped over it. It was miles upstream before the river could be crossed by the Constables, so the Magistrate kept a boat on his side but knew that by the time it was crewed and launched, the miscreant would be long gone.
The Magistrate and his wife had no children, which perhaps explained a lot. The Harbour Master had two girls, each named Helen, as were all the women in the Harbour Master's family, for the famous Helen of Troy whose face Launched A Thousand Ships. Nature then determined that older would be Big Fat Helen and the younger Little Fat Helen. It had to be this way because you can't call a nineteen year old woman "Old Fat Helen".
Dadder Raft went in to the Harbour Master's Office, a temple to mahogany and polished brass. He dinged the ship's bell hanging over the counter and Big Fat Helen bustled out to warn the little Rafts to not put fingerprints on the brass, she'd just finished polishing that.
"Might One hinquire as to the precise nature of One's hinquiry?" she politely asked Dadder, who had whipped off his knitted beany bobble hat because he was in an Official Office, and was wringing it in his hands.
"It's a personal matter. I need to speak to the Master."
"Ah" said BF Helen sympathetically, with a broad wink. "I'll get him. I'll take the children for a walk".
"No, it's nothing like that, but thank you, the children could do with some air".
Outside the office, BF Helen immediately took the Rafts to the sweet shop and bought a bag of flying saucers and offered them round. Taking a pink one for herself and nibbling it, she instructed them. "Don't fall over the edge, don't go down the steps, don't get on any strange boats and don't feed the rats, cats or seagulls." She stretched out her arms with her shawl spread behind her head "An albatross this big carried off a kid last week. Never seen'im agin. If you hold up food for them, they'll grab you in their talons." Baba Raft looked on the verge of tears. "It's alright" cooed Big Fat Helen. "They only do it if you feed them. Don't feed them and you'll be alright".
Baba Raft howled as a huge white bird which had been cruising over the harbour spotted BF Helen's pink flying saucer and came at her from behind as she spread her arms in imitation of an albatross. It zoomed at her, its beak open, and scooped up the sweet, screaming as the sherbet began to fizz in its gullet.
The shock knocked BF Helen over the edge of the harbour, tripping her against the low chain which marked the boundary, and with a shriek she fell in to the water.
To be continued Harbour Adventure Part 3.