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Fiat Justitia Ruat Solum
by [?]

Just then the Admiral, warming to his theme, pushed back his chair a few inches. . . .

For some days previously a stream of traction-engines had passed along the high road, dragging timber-wagons, tent-wagons, machinery, exhibits of all kinds, towards the Tregarrick Show. This heavy traffic (it was afterwards surmised) had helped what Wordsworth calls “the unimaginable touch of Time,” shaking the dry-rotted joists of Scawns House, and preparing the catastrophe.

The Admiral was a heavy-weight. He rode, in those days, at close upon seventeen stone. As he thrust back his chair, there came from the floor beneath–from the wall immediately behind him–an ominous, rending sound. The hind legs of his chair sank slowly, the seat of justice tilted farther and farther; as he clutched wildly at the table, the table began to slide upon him, and with an uproar of cracking timber, table, chairs, magistrates, clerks, together, in one burial blent, were shot downwards into the cellarage.

The Inspector–a tall man–staggering to his feet as the table slid from him into the chasm, leapt and clutched a crazy chandelier that depended above him. His weight tore it bodily from the ceiling, with a torrential downrush of dust and plaster, sweeping him over the edge of the gulf and overwhelming the Trudgians, husband and wife, on the brink of it.

At this moment the constable, fresh from locking up Thomas Edwards below, returned, put his head in at the door, gasped at sight of a devastation which had swallowed up every human being, and with great presence of mind, ran as hard as he could pelt for the hamlet of High Lanes, half a mile away, to summon help.

Now the Inspector, as it happened, was unhurt. Picking himself up, digging his heels into the moraine of plaster, and brushing the grit from his eyes, he had the pleasure of recognising Lord Rattley, the Parson, Mr. Humphry Felix-Williams (son of Sir Felix), and Mr. Batty, as they scrambled forth successively, black with dust but unhurt, save that the Parson had received a slight scalp-wound. Then Mr. Humphry caught sight of a leg clothed in paternal shepherd’s-plaid, and tugged at it until Sir Felix was restored, choking, to the light of day–or rather, to the Cimmerian gloom of the cellarage, in which an unexpected figure now confronted them.

It was the prisoner, Thomas Edwards. A collapsing beam had torn away some bricks from the wall of his cell, and he came wriggling through the aperture, using the most dreadful oaths.

“Stir yourselves–Oh,–,–, stir yourselves! Standin’ there like a–lot of stuck pigs! Get out the Admiral! The Admiral, I tell you! . . . . Hark to the poor old devil, damnin’ away down ther, wi’ two hundredweight o’ table pressin’ against his belly!”

Mr. Edwards, in fact, used an even more vulgar word. But he was not stopping to weigh words. Magistrates, Inspector, Clerk–he took charge of them all on the spot–a master of men. The Admiral, in the unfathomed dark of the cellar, was indeed uttering language to make your hair creep.

“Oh, cuss away, y’ old varmint!” sang down Mr. Edwards cheerfully. “The louder you cuss, the better the hearin’; ‘means ye have air to breathe an’ nothin’ broke internal. . . . Eh? Oh, I knows th’ old warrior! Opened a gate for en once when he was out hare-huntin’, up St. Germans way–I likes a bit o’ sport, I do, when I happens on it. Lord love ye, the way he damned my eyes for bein’ slow about it! . . . Aye, aye, Admiral! Cuss away, cuss away–proper quarter-deck you’re givin’ us! But we’re gettin’ to you fast as we can. . . . England can’t spare the likes o’ you–an’ she won’t, not if we can help it!”

The man worked like a demon. What is more, he was making the others work, flailing them all–peer and baronet and parson–with slave-driver’s oaths, while they tugged to loosen the timbers under which the magistrates’ table lay wedged.