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   Chapter 16 No.16

Tom Gerrard By Louis Becke Characters: 10457

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The news of Westonley's sudden death was a great shock to Gerrard. The brief telegram from his half-sister had been forwarded to Port Denison, and Lacey had sent it on to him at Fraser's Gully, by the mailman, together with a copy of the Clarion, containing the telegraphed account of the Dacre's bank failure. Had Gerrard looked at the newspaper, he might perhaps have connected Westonley's sudden end with the financial disaster, which had brought ruin to so many thousands of Australian homes, for he knew that his brother-in-law banked at Dacre's. But Mrs Westonley had said nothing of the cause of her husband's death-"Edward died suddenly yesterday. Am writing you fully to-night to Port Denison" was all that she had said.

"Dear old Ted!" he said as his eyes filled, and he saw before him the great, bearded face with the kindly, mirthful eyes, and heard the deep, gruff voice. "How can I tell Jim-the boy will be heartbroken."

And Jim's grief almost unmanned "Uncle Tom," as the boy now called him. Putting the telegram in his pocket, he went down to the battery, where his protégé was being inducted into the mysteries of amalgamation by Fraser.

"Jim," he said quietly, "come along the creek with me for a bit of a stroll."

"Is your face paining you much this morning, Uncle Tom?" said the boy, as they left the battery, and walked towards the creek, "you look quite white."

"No, sonny," and he placed his hand affectionately on the boy's shoulder, "my face isn't paining me, but I have a thundering big pain in my heart, Jim-a pain which you must share with me. I have just had a telegram 'from Marumbah-with very, very sad news."

"Is it about Mary?" and the boy's lips quivered; "is she sick, Uncle?" and then, with a gasp-"is she dead?"

"No, sonny, Mary is all right, but Mr Westonley is dead," and then he told him all that he could tell.

An hour later, when they returned to the house, and Kate Fraser wondered why they looked so quiet and depressed, Gerrard told her of the news he had received.

"Poor Jim!" she said, as she put her arms round the boy, who was trying hard not to again break down.

Then Gerrard went on to say that he would now have to change his plans somewhat.

"I must get back to Port Denison tomorrow, Miss Fraser. I want to send some telegrams as well as letters. But as it will take my sister's letter quite a fortnight to come from Marumbah, I shall put in most of the time at Kaburie, and, if I may, also inflict myself upon your father and yourself occasionally."

"Do. We shall be so glad."

Two days later he and Jim were back in Port Denison, and lunching with Lacey at the Queen's Hotel. Then for the first time Gerrard heard of the Dacre bank failure.

"It must have been a fearful shock to poor Ted," he said to Lacey; "and perhaps it was that that killed him, for, as you say, the bank suspended on Saturday, and he died early on the Monday following. I fear he must have been hit very badly by the smash, for he not only had a lot of money in it, but was a big shareholder in the concern as well."

"That's unfortunate, for yesterday's news gives further revelations of the smash, which is the very worst that has occurred in the Colonies. Every one thought that Dacre's bank was as solid as the rock of Gibraltar."

This intelligence disturbed Gerrard greatly-so much so that after lunch he sent a telegram to Westonley's Melbourne agents-who were also his own-and asked them if they could tell him how his sister would be affected by the collapse of Dacre's. In a few hours he received an answer-"Deeply regret to say everything will be swept away."

"Poor Lizzie!" he said to Lacey after dinner, as they sat on the verandah smoking; "this will be terrible news for her-if she does not already know of it. Thank God, I can help her to some extent," and he meant to "help" her by giving her Kaburie, for which he had only a few days previously sent Mrs Tallis a draft upon his bankers for six thousand pounds.

"You were lucky not to have had anything in Dacre's."

"Very, for Westonley was always cracking it up to me. He urged me strongly only six months ago to buy a hundred shares-a pretty hole I should be in now if I had taken the poor fellow's advice."

"Yes, indeed. But no one ever dreamt of Dacre's being anything but one of the soundest banks in the world It is a blackguardly affair-a cruel, shameless fraud-and I hope that the men who are responsible for it will each get seven years' hard labour."

"They deserve it I suppose that Westonley, with Marumbah Downs, and Comet Vale, and the funds he had in Dacre's was worth a hundred thousand at least; and now my poor sister and little Mary Rayner will be absolutely penniless. Thank heaven, I did not take his advice, but stuck to the Capricornian Pastoralists' Bank."

The editor of the Clarion gasped and dropped his cigar. But he quickly recovered himself, and turning his face away from Gerrard, puffed out volumes of smoke most energetically, considering what he should do. He soon decided. "Better tell him the grim truth at once," he thought.

"Gerrard!"

The change in his voice struck his companion-it was low, grave, and sympathetic.

"What is i

t, Lacey? Now, out with it. You have something unpleasant to tell me, and don't like doing it. I'll bet you drinks that I can guess what it is. I saw you start when I mentioned the Capricornian Pastoralists' Bank. Has that 'busted' too?"

"Yes. It smashed yesterday as a result of the Dacre collapse. The news was in my rag this morning."

"Was it? I didn't look at the Clarion to-day. Is it a bad case?"

"Very bad; about a shilling in the pound is all that will come out of the wreck. Will you be hard hit?"

"Rather! Curls me up like a corkscrew. To pay Mrs Tallis her six thousand pounds I gave a mortgage on Ocho Rios for five thousand pounds as I only had about three or four thousand pounds in the Capricornian. I'm deuced lucky that it wasn't more."

He rose from his seat and paced angrily to and fro on the verandah for a moment or two, then he stopped suddenly, and a smile lit up his scarred face.

"What an ass I am, Lacey! The thing can't be helped, but only a little while ago I had made up my mind to give Kaburie to my sister; and now I can't pay for Kaburie, for my draft for six thousand pounds is worthless to Mrs Tallis, and all the labouring of mustering and branding has gone for nothing. Poor little woman! I am sorry for her! Isn't it a beastly mess?"

"You think too much of others, Gerrard, and too little of yourself."

"I don't! I'm very fond of being good to myself, I can assure you. But a smack in the face like this is enough to make a saint swear like an Australian Member of Parliament. Now, I bought Kaburie with the idea of making it a breeding station-prize cattle and all that sort of thing-for Ocho Rios. Then when I received this telegram from my agents in Melbourne telling me that my sister would be left penniless, I made up my mind to write to her by the next mail south, and tell her that Kaburie was for her and my niece Mary. And another thing I wanted to do was to give a man I know a good lift." (He meant Fraser.) "And now I'll be as good as stony-broke for the next two years."

"I wish I could help you," began Lacey, earnestly.

"Thanks, old man. It is awfully good of you, but I shall pull through all right in the end, and with a good season or two should easily lift the mortgage on Ocho Rios. All I am scared of now is a drought, but if a drought does come, I can't stop it, and therefore, it is no use my worrying about it." He hoisted his feet upon the table, and touched the bell for the waitress. "Well, thank heavens, Lacey, I still have a thirst, and an iced brandy and soda is very soothing to the nerves. Milly, bring the ice again please, and if you see the boy tell him to come here."

Jim soon appeared, still looking subdued and depressed.

"Sit down here, old son, and have a long drink of ginger ale with a lump of ice in it," and he put his hand on the boy's arm, and made him sit down between himself and Lacey. "Jim, my son, I've just had some beastly bad news. I've lost a lot of money, and you and I will have to work like niggers when we get to Ocho Rios. Savvy?"

"Yes, Uncle Tom. I will work very, very hard for you."

"For us both, Jim, and for Mary and Aunt Lizzie; for we are all in the same boat I'll tell you the whole yarn by and by; but for the present well talk about something else for a change."

Lacey looked at him in silent admiration and wonder. "Nothing can disturb the equanimity of such a serene mind," he thought, "and I like him for taking the youngster into his confidence like that."

"I wonder what made Aulain leave so suddenly," said Gerrard, as Milly appeared with the ice, and the ginger ale for Jim. "It was strange of him not to even leave a note for me."

"Oh! when a man has fever he does very queer things. All he told me was that he was off to Brisbane to tender his resignation in person, and as that is against the regulations he hoped to be dismissed. He has been very strange lately. I think that matters have gone wrong in a certain quarter."

Gerrard nodded. "I know. Well, I'm sorry if it is the case. She is a bonny little lady."

Milly again appeared. "If you please, Mr Gerrard, Sergeant Macpherson would like to see you for a few minutes on important business."

"All right, Milly! Ask him to come up. Jim, I hope you haven't been up to any games while I was away."

The local Sergeant of Police was shown up.

"Good evening, sir," he said. "I have just had a wire from Cardwell from Inspector Sheridan, saying that news had come through by the mail boat from Somerset, that there has been a very bad bush fire up your way, and Ocho Rios station is destroyed."

"Any lives lost?"

"No, sir, but the fire spread all over the run for fifty miles about, and your stockman thinks that there are hardly two hundred head of cattle left I am sorry to bring you such bad news, sir."

"Oh! don't apologise, Sergeant," was the quiet reply, "I'm getting used to bad news. Milly, bring a chair for Mr Macpherson, and another big glass, and some more ice. Now sit down, Sergeant, and tell me all about it. Jim, get off that railing, or you'll fall off into the street, and break your leg. My luck is dead against me. Light your pipe, Sergeant, and make yourself comfy."

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