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ALBERT DORRINGTON

THE AFFAIR AT THE BANK

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As published in
The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser,
11 March 1908

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-05-18
Produced by Terry Walker, Gary Meller and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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THE winter rain was driving across the paddock in slanting squalls. A few head of cattle wandered in from the flat as though seeking shelter from the bleak southerly wind. Sergeant Cummins walked to the homestead verandah; shook the water from his cap, and entered the house.

His wife came out to meet him—a small, brown-eyed, bush woman, who had suffered the cares of many a gold-rush to be near her husband when fever and ill-luck stalked through his camp.

"You're pale to-night, Kate," he said tenderly. "Where's Tom? Isn't he home yet?"

"He's gone to a party at Tranbar. He won't be home before midnight," sighed Mrs. Cummins. "I'm afraid he's given his heart and mind to Nellie Armstrong. He's as silent as a sick boy the last week or so."

She took her husband's dripping water-proof into the kitchen, and hung it in a dry corner."

The white-haired trooper seemed in no hurry to change his uniform. Seated in a chair he watched his wife half-shrewdly as she prepared the evening meal. And the rain roared over the iron- roofed cottage and outbuildings with deafening insistence.

"Tregear, the bank-manager, spoke to me this morning, Kate!"

Sergeant Cummins sat back in the chair and glanced at his wife suddenly. "He's in sore trouble."

Mrs. Cummins turned almost sharply, and looked at her husband curiously. "What's the matter with Tregear?" she asked, "He doesn't complain as a rule."

"Seven hundred pounds missing from the bank safe. And he hasn't a word to say concerning its whereabouts."

Sergeant Cummins wiped his face and paced the room thoughtfully.

"It's the nastiest business I've struck for years. Tregear told me the news in a half-confidential way, because Tom and he are the only two employed in the bank. He thought it was only right, he said, to let me know."

Mrs. Cummins's face grew white as her husband finished. Tom was in his nineteenth year, and had been employed by the bank since he had left school. He was their only child, she had marked every day of her son's life; planned his future for many a year to come. Now the news that 700 had been taken surreptitiously from the bank filled her with an unspeakable dread. She sat beside her husband, white-lipped, almost speechless.

"Did—did Tregear insinuate that our boy—" she broke down suddenly, and covered her face.

"Tregear made no statements, Kate. But he left no doubt in my mind as to what he thought." Sergeant Cummins braced himself suddenly, and his spurs clinked on the board floor.

"Tregear reckons the money has been taken by a bank employee, and there are only two at Tranbar—himself and our lad Tom."

"And Tom's away dancing, while this wretched thing is hanging over our heads," sobbed the trooper's wife.

"Let him dance," growled Sergeant Cummins. "We'll have the truth when he comes home. We'll know who's taken the cash, and by God if there's a stammer in his voice, a shift in his eye, I'll shoot him, on the threshold."

The trooper's wife was silent. There was no need for her to fill the house with lamentations or futile pleadings. She knew her husband, and the value he placed on his son's truth and honesty. And she knew, too, as mothers know, that her son's hands were as clean as his mind. She sat immovable in her chair as the rain spilled over the iron roof and filled the night with the sound of rising flood-waters.

The ticking of the clock seemed the only incident that separated husband and wife from eternity. They sat silent through the long night, and waited—waited...


Illustration

They sat silent through the long night, and waited—waited...


Doubt of her son's honesty stayed only one moment in the woman's mind. Suppose, he had gone—fled to Melbourne or Perth—with the money. How could she face her neighbours again?

Like a frozen image sat Sergeant Cummins, his hands resting on his knees, his head sunk forward, listening for the sound of his son's footsteps. He could not believe that Tom had been tempted by the sight of money. He even permitted his mind to go back over the past, in his effort to recall one single instance of the boy's infidelity or untrustworthiness.


THE grey dawn found the man and woman still waiting, until across the river came the sound of a young voice, singing in clear tones. A few minutes later the sound of a horse's hoofs slashing the rain-flooded hollows told them that he was at the gate. Sergeant Cummins stood up stiffly, like a man on parade. The door creaked; a face peeped in stealthily.

"Hullo, dad, hullo, mum. Been waiting for me?"

The boy paused as he caught sight of his mother's white face. Turning swiftly, he looked into his father's kindling eyes.

"What's the matter?" he asked, almost coldly. "What's wrong, mother?"

"Listen here, lad." The old trooper held up his finger, warningly. "I got a nasty report from the bank yesterday. Tregear is talking of cash being pilfered. It's hard for me to mention it; all my life I've fought and struggled to keep our name clean. I'd go out in the world tomorrow, and begin the fight again rather than hear Tregear repeat what he said yesterday."

"Oh!" The boy nodded, dully. A red flush spread over his face. His mother's eyes were upon him in a flash, and in that moment of blinding indecision, he saw his father stoop forward, half savagely, the next found him looking into the barrel of a rifle.

"Tom!" The sergeant's voice quivered in the cold dawn, "It's you or Tregear. I'll give ye ten seconds to tell the truth. Quick now—!"

Behind them sat the mother, her nerveless hands resting before her. The boy's head drew level with his father's, his unflinching eyes moved from the deadly barrel to the stern, grey face beyond.

"There may be another beside myself or Tregear," he said slowly.

"Tregear is an honest man!" thundered the trooper. "I've known him all my life."

"Dad." The boy looked deep into the cold eyes in front. "You're condemning me without a shred of proof or evidence. A stranger would have received more consideration at your hands. This thing touches your honour; it touches mine, too. And—" he looked again at the steel-grey eyes, "you'll give me the same chance as Tregear. If you can recall one day in my life where I crawled down on a point of honesty I'll take the lead you've got to spare."

The rifle lowered suddenly; the old trooper bent his head as he swung the weapon into a corner of the room.

"I'll speak to Tregear to-day," he said huskily. And as the boy walked from the room, he called to him unsteadily.

"I expect you to go with me to the bank at 10 o'clock," he added.


THE rain continued throughout the morning. Father and son walked to the bank in silence. Tregear was sitting at his desk when they arrived: his haggard face and leaden eyes hinted at a sleepless night.

He nodded briefly to father and son as they entered. "I have not reported the matter at headquarters," he said significantly. "I thought—" here he glanced hard at Tom Cummins—"that the money might possibly have been returned."

"I have no occasion to doubt my lad's honesty," broke in the old trooper. "If ye have any proof, white or black, Mr. Tregear, that will show he took a pound of the money, I'll sell my home and refund the whole amount."

"If the missing cash is not returned within 48 hours I shall report the matter at headquarters," said the manager sternly. "We must do our duty," and again he looked at the white-faced boy.'

"I regret that I cannot allow you to resume your work here until the matter, is cleared up."

The old trooper touched his son on the shoulder, and they passed silently from the bank.

"Ye may consider yourself under arrest, my lad, until I have the right man under lock and key," he said, bitterly.

Sergeant Cummins escorted his son home, and warned him not to leave the house until the bank mystery was cleared up. At midday he returned to duty, and it was late before he arrived home. Near midnight he rose hastily from bed, and stole unseen from the house.

Arriving at the bank, he halted in the shadow of a timber dray and waited. The rain had almost ceased, but the river was charged with a full flood note as it whined and seethed under the distant bridge piles. Tregear's house adjoined the bank. A row of pepper trees hid it from the road. It was a comfortable, well-built house, and the people of Tranbar envied him his broad, cool stone verandah that sheltered him from rain and heat.

Sergeant Cummins seemed to doze at his post of observation. The hotels had closed an hour or two before; a midnight air of desolation hung about the township. The click of a lock made the old trooper look up suddenly. The door of Tregear's house opened cautiously; a pyjama-clad figure came to the verandah, and passed stealthily through the gate towards the bank.

Sergeant Cummins breathed deeply as he scrutinised the man's outline closely. A sullen look came into his eyes. He recognised Tregear in the pyjama-clad figure, the man who had practically branded his son as a thief and a defaulter.

The manager opened the bank door softly, and vanished swiftly inside. The old trooper crouched under the dray as he heard the rattle of keys inside the bank, and the half-muffled slamming of a strong-room door. A few moments later Tregear appeared in the doorway, a small canvas bag in his right hand.

Sergeant Cummins was not certain whether he had a right to intercept Tregear entering or leaving the bank with valuables. The lateness of the hour gave an atmosphere of criminality to the proceedings. Yet the old trooper was too keen a bush-lawyer to arrest Tregear without further warrant. Country bank managers are at liberty to leave or enter their premises at any hour.

Tregear passed through the 'house-gate' and halted uncertainly, then took up a spade from the ground, and commenced to loosen the soil at the foot of a pepper tree. The soil came away easily as though it had been dug quite recently. Scooping out the dirt with his hands, the manager placed the canvas bag in the hole, and rammed back the soil with the flat of the spade.

Sergeant Cummins did not move as Tregear entered the house noiselessly, and closed the door. A sudden thought crossed his mind that made him pause in the shadow and lie still.

Another figure came into view at the end of the street, and approached the bank at a sharp walk. The old trooper scarcely breathed as the man drew hear and vaulted lightly over the bank- house palings into the garden. Kneeling at the foot of the pepper tree he scooped away the loose earth, and hauled out the canvas bag half jauntily.

With his hand on the gate he turned sharply, and glanced at the army revolver peeping at him over the fence.

"I'll trouble you to put down that bag, Ben Field, and walk ahead of me to the police station. Maybe, ye know something of the seven hundred pounds that walked from the bank awhile ago?"

The old trooper spoke calmly, and without heat.

Ben Field dropped the bag with a grunt; a slight shift of the revolver barrel made him hold up his hands. Sergeant Cummins smiled grimly as the man stepped into the road.

Field was a notorious bank-thief and bush-spieler who had caused endless trouble and annoyance among the out-back stations and banks, where mounted troopers were rarely seen.

Sergeant Cummins was satisfied that he had unearthed a pretty little comedy, capable of endless explanation. He was certain in his mind that Tregear was a confirmed sleepwalker, who rose from his bed night after night, and entered the bank when the township was asleep. In waking hours' Tregear was thoroughly honest, but in sleeping moments his spirit was evidently overcome by a desire to appropriate cash, and conceal it in different places.

The notorious Ben Field had without doubt become aware of the manager's nightly visits to the bank, and had watched Tregear, and unearthed the gold the moment it was placed underground. They marched to the lock-up quietly, Field keeping his hands well over his head. At the lock-up gate he turned to the trooper a little desperately.

"How do you know that manager Tregear isn't my accomplice?" he asked bitterly. "Surely you saw him bring the money from the bank."

"Tregear is a sleepwalker," answered the trooper. "His is a case for medical inquiry. A common jury will decide yours. March!"

An hour later. Sergeant Cummins returned home with the key of the lock-up in his pocket. His son was standing in the doorway, his face white and set.

"Did you hear anything, dad?" The boy met his glance half anxiously.

"Ye may resume your duties at the bank this morning," answered the old trooper, hoarsely. "I'll have a talk with Tregear after breakfast."


AT the trial, Ben Field admitted that he had watched Tregear entering the bank night after night until he had assured himself that the manager was really a somnambulist. The sudden appearance of Sergeant Cummins had prevented his taking the second bag of gold, which the sleepwalker had concealed at the foot of the tree.

The circumstances were so peculiar that the jury failed to agree; and Field was acquitted.

The bank authorities thought fit to give Tregear a long holiday. No reputable Australian bank cares to have a sleepwalker on its premises.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.