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ALBERT DORRINGTON

THE HAPPY FORGER

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As published in
Townsville Daily Bulletin, 2 February 1929

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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OLD Dave Gordon heard with joy the news that his daughter Margaret had escaped in No. 6 boat from the ill-starred Araluen. He swallowed with many gulps, however, the tidings that the Araluen's rich cargo of camphor and silk, cinnabar and sandalwood was lying in seven fathoms of shoal water, seven hundred miles west of the Sulu Sea. But Margaret, his Margaret, was safe.

The solitary wireless message made it clear that only No. 6 boat had got away after four others had been swamped. The boat had been in charge of Derek Hamilton when picked up by the City of Canton, now on her way to the port of Songolo, where Gordon's big trade-house overlooked the bay.

For the life of him old Gordon could not account tor Hamilton's presence on board the doomed Araluen. Margaret had been on a visit to the British Consul's wife in Macassar, and had occupied the Araluen's private state-room amidships on the return trip to Songolo. Hamilton was his clerk and man of business. He had been sent to Batavia to purchase some rubber land. Gordon had given him a bearer cheque for eight thousand pounds, drawn on Gilderman's bank in Batavia to facilitate the deal. With the cash on the table Hamilton should have had an easy task talking to the impoverished owners of the estate in question.

It became evident to old Gordon as the hours wore that Hamilton had successfully terminated the deal, and had, either by chance or design, found a berth for the return passage on the same vessel with Margaret.

It was late that night when the City of Canton steamed slowly into Songolo, where David Gordon and a madly-cheering crowd of planters and traders awaited the landing of the Araluen's twenty-five survivors.

Gordon was first to greet Margaret and the score of native women and children Hamilton had succeeded in packing into crazy No. 6 boat. Came Hamilton himself down the City of Canton"s crowded gangway, sun-seared, wind-burnt and hatless, and grinning boyishly at the excited groups of men and women straining and swaying for a grip of his oar-blistered hand.

Margaret's eyes still reflected something of the last-minute light on the Araluen's boat-deck, where two hundred Malay planters and pilgrims had disputed Hamilton's authority to fill the boat with souls of his own choosing. All the other boats had capsized or been swamped In the black millrace of water that swirled round the reef-battered Araluen.

For a seat In No. 6 boat two hundred dank-haired, fear-blinded Malays fought with sticks and knives, pieces of broken cabin furniture. Mick Flanaghan, the famous fat skipper of the Araluen, had been struck on the head by a flying bulkhead stay, and had gone down with his ship, other officers had perished in the swamped boats. Derek Hamilton, with Margaret in his arms, was part of the crowd surging and clamouring for possession of the last boat. As far as Margaret could remember, that was all—that unforgettable picture of the long-armed, sea-burnt Hamilton, his back to the rail, a flat-faced automatic revolver speaking the only language the Malay boat-rushers were ever likely to understand.

"Stand away, there! Only the women and kids get past! Sternly, you rat-faced banana chewing bimboes! Women and children I said!"

Then Margaret recalled his last spoken words on the boat-deck of the foundering Araluen.

"This way, little mother! This way for Hampton Court and the swans!"


OLD David Gordon was one of the silk kings of Songolo. He had smashed the Chinese guilds and tongs, had built his own ships and pontoons, and carried his own cargoes to the four corners of the earth. His only child was Margaret. Since the death of her mother, eight years before, he had put a score of trained servants at her disposal. He had filled the palatial trade-house with the art wonders of the East, so that she might escape the paralysing loneliness that so often entered the lives of isolated, companionless girls.

Hamilton had come to Songolo in a cargo tramp 18 months before. The old silk king had liked the boy's appearance, liked his well set, rangy figure, fresh from a college playground, the kind of youngster always in a condition to tackle a boatload of sulking Arabs or Chinese coolies.

He had given Hamilton a job in the trade-room with the intimation that business was business in the East, and that one had to fight for it among the slick-handed compradores and silk jobbers of Songolo. The firm had to buy and sell often at throat-cutting rates. Hamilton had listened to the old trader's instructions, had gone about his tasks with alacrity and good humour. And David Gordon, master of a thousand fates and careers, had gone about his own numerous duties and had promptly forgotten Hamilton's existence.

And then the news of the Araluen's foundering had reached Gordon. For a moment sick terror gripped him. Always things were happening in these warm seas, mutinies, cyclones, the havoc of pestilence. He stood rooted on the trade-house verandah at the mere suggestion of Margaret fighting for her young life among the black gangs of coffee and sugar planters, coolie firemen struggling to reach those accursed boats. Lucky for Margaret that the level-brained, quick-footed Hamilton had secured a berth aboard the Araluen. Lucky for them all that his cabin stood between her and the stinking gangs of ghost- footed Mahommedans.

Not often a slender, grey-eyed girl with the English peach bloom in her cheeks came into their lives. And they had watched her slightest movements about the deck of the ill-fated ship. Even with Hamilton beside her the vessel had a thousand eyes for her. Arab eyes, alive and glowing with the wonder of her presence.

At the moment Gordon and Margaret were about to enter the trade house, a native runner handed him a message. David glimpsed hurriedly, then read it a second time, a serious look of unbelief in his pinched eyes.

Margaret came to life instantly.

"What's wrong, daddy?" she asked, holding his shrinking arm.

Gordon crushed the cablegram in his burning fingers, put the crumpled piece into his pocket.

"A fool has played me false; that's all, child! I won't be long finding out the truth."'

Margaret barely tasted her food that evening. Her father's buckled brows, his continued silence, suggested one or more business calamities, bound to follow on the loss of the Araluen and her uninsured cargo and hull. Gordon owned the vessel, it was a curious but not uncommon oversight which had caused his native agent in Macassar to neglect her re-insurance for the return voyage. Even Gordon could hardly survive the blow. Ship and cargo meant a dead loss of nearly half a million sterling!

Margaret felt that Hamilton ought to have dined with them that night. Her father's moods disturbed her. Conscious of his overwhelming affection, his one desire to make her life a dream and a delight, she was secretly pained to think that Derek had not been thanked for his desperate stand against the boat-rushers on the fatal night of the wrack.

"Oh, yes, I'll pay my respects to Hamilton," Gordon announced, almost guessing the thought in Margaret's mind. "I'll find him In his bungalow."

He rose from the table, looked back from the cool draughty doorway to the wistful-eyed Margaret in the slender, high-backed chair.

"Hamilton did only what a dozen other fellows would have done. Every man's a hero when a rich man's daughter is in danger!"

There was bitterness and gall in David's words as he passed to the rear of the trade-house where Hamilton's bungalow snuggled among the banyans and magnolias.

Margaret sat very still in the high-backed chair, a lovely, sad-eyed figure in that spacious, exquisitely arranged dining room, a ghost at her own banquet. How lonely and remote her father had made her life, In spite of his wealth and good nature! The soft-footed Goanese servants flitted in and out, bearing away untasted dishes, wondering in their gentle furtive way why this tall English lily, the lovely child of the great tuan, did not dance and sing as her beautiful mother had done.


GORDON pushed open the door of Hamilton's bungalow and stood breathing heavily in the warm darkness of the room. There was a sudden stir on the camp bed, under the open window. The light was switched on. Hamilton almost staggered to his feet. He had been asleep. For sixty hours he had manipulated a heavy steering oar in the crowded lifeboat, scarce daring to shift his glance from star or compass. On board the City of Canton he had failed to snatch an hour's rest, the cabins were packed, the decks noisy and crowded.

He met David's scowl with a sleepy grin. He had been dreaming of the whimpering, close-huddled shapes at the bottom of the Araluen's lifeboat, the unforgettable, praying voices of the native women as the boat heaved and fell down the mountainous slopes of brine. Gordon was speaking.

"I want to thank you, Hamilton, for lifting my little girl out of that unholy scramble, the other night. It was touch and go for you all. Margaret wishes me to say as much."

A bald and empty offering that hardly reached Hamilton's tired brain. He smiled sleepily but was not unmindful of the great man's presence in his scantily furnished bungalow.

"Things might have been worse, sir," he managed to say. "I think those reefs off the Mindanao channel call for notice on our Admiralty charts. Poor old Flanagan wasn't to blame!"

"I've a suspicion he was drunk at usual. All my silk and cinnabar at the bottom of the sea! half a million's worth, reckoning the Araluen herself!"

A silence.

For the first time in his young life Derek Hamilton felt his nerves leap and twitch. He knew what was behind this old trader's bitter grin of rage. Gordon had smelt ruin in the loss of his big ocean freighter, bankruptcy, annihilation.

"I'm sorry sir," Hamilton, said and waited.

All the pent-up anger in David's breast named out now.

"Sorry, ye damned forger! When I dug you out of that old banana tramp that brought ye to Songolo, I thought ye had a grain of gratitude somewhere in your make up!"

Snatching the crumpled cablegram from his pocket he slapped it on the table for Hamilton to read.


YOUR CHEQUE FOR EIGHTY THOUSAND POUNDS WAS TENDERED BY HAMILTON. WE PAID UNDER EXTREME PRESSURE. WE NOW SUSPECT CHEQUE HAS BEEN ALTERED. —MANAGER GILDERMAN'S BANK.


A bland but weary smile lit up Hamilton's tired face as he read the message. Gordon's fist hit the table like a sledge hammer. If Hamilton imagined he could carry on his criminal exploit on the stretch of his recent work aboard the Araluen he was in for the shock of his life.

"I gave ye my cheque for eight thousand! I trusted ye!" The muscles of the old trader's jaw worked convulsively. "Ye took the cheque and wrote a letter after the word eight, ye added a nought to the figures. The bank paid out, curse them! And now where in Gehenna is the seventy-two thousand ye stole? The money that would now stand between me and perdition!"

Hamilton stood, white-lipped, silent as one not sure of his own explanation. Moreover, lack of sleep had for the moment unsettled him. He wished that old Gordon had waited a day or two longer.

"Ye make no answer!" Gordon volleyed, stung to the point of insanity by Derek's silence. "To-morrow, at noon, you'll show where the money is or by the powers I'll hand ye to the black police?"

Perhaps it was the thought of Margaret, sitting alone among the phantom-footed servants, kept Gordon sane. He did not look back once as he flung from the bungalow into the soft night air of the magnolia scented night.

The fragrance of wild lavender and broom blew about the trade- house. From across the lantern-lit bay came the strumming of a mandolin. The sound brought him to his sense, and to the fact that ruin, bleak and pitiless, now stared him in the face. With the money Derek had taken from the Dutch bank in Batavia he could have held off his creditors, the hordes of yellow and black traders who would howl for their dues the moment it became known that his agent in Macassar had neglected the Araluen's re- insurance.


AT breakfast the following morning Margaret heard with consternation that Hamilton had disappeared. Gordon had gone up- river in the trade-house launch in the hope of arranging a temporary loan with one of the foreign banks in Taluan. An hour before noon came news that Gilderman's bank had suspended payments. Consternation swept through Songolo. Thousands of small traders and compradores would be ruined. Gilderman's agencies and branches extended through the Archipelago.

Margaret met her father the moment he stepped from the launch. One look at his drawn face was enough. He had failed to negotiate a loan, owing to the collapse of Gilderman's. Margaret followed him to his office overlooking the bay where fleets of rice-laden junks and sampans crowded past their steel pontoons. Trade was flowing from them now. In a night the word had gone forth that the great white tuan had lost his best ship and his money. He was now a beggar in his big trade-house by the beach. He would need a rich old husband for his daughter now, The young men had no money, Allah knew. The heart of the tuan was broken. He had leaned on a reed and the mud was about his ears. All the blood had drained from Gordon's cheeks. Margaret's hand went to his shoulder.

"What is the real trouble, daddy?"

"That snipe Hamilton!" he burst out, unable to control his wrath. "It doesn't matter now. Gilderman has failed; my money would have gone just the same. It's the fellow's ingratitude. I gave him a roof and a chance to make good. He has robbed me of seventy odd thousand pounds!"

Margaret's face grew deadly white.

"Derek told me all about that cheque, daddy. I thought the idea was splendid!"

"Splendid?" He bent shoulders straightened with the jerk of a lashed steer. "To take seventy-two thousand, eighty in all, from Gilderman's and smash him? Splendid ye call it."

Margaret's eyes sparkled suddenly. It was evident that Hamilton had flung off leaving the details of his business trip unexplained. Her father had been over hasty with him. Derek needed handling properly.

"Listen, daddy, please. Derek told me everything while we sat together in the lifeboat. Arriving in Batavia he heard from one of our own compradores that Gilderman's bank was tottering and could only just meet its day to day liabilities. Derek knew of the large sum you had on deposit there and that there was no time to consult or warn you, so, he took a chance, altered the cheque, and, oh, daddy, they paid him!"

"Where's the money?" Gordon choked.

"Paid to your credit in the new English bank on the Malay Avenue, less the eight thousand he paid for that splendid rubber estate. Last night daddy, you shouted and threatened a poor, nerve-broken boy who hasn't known sleep for a week. He—he was simply waiting for Gilderman to crash before plucking up courage to tell you what he'd done. He only wanted to give you a glad surprise."


A WEEK before the monsoon when the sun stretched like a fiery blade across the tamarisks, Lalum, Margaret's Singalee man called excitedly from the garden path.

"Look, O Light of Day, the young tuan has returned."

Derek Hamilton presented a somewhat dishevelled appearance on the flower-decked lawn on the house front. His clothes were black with grease of the engine room, his shoes torn on one who had carried loads over jagged reefs and shoals. David hailed him from the office door.

"Out of bedlam, by the look of ye!"

He stepped down from the verandah to survey the bedevilled figure of the young clerk. "You've come back for your job, I hope?" he added, as one anxious to make amends for his past harshness.

Hamilton straightened his tall, labour-hardened figure, shot a glance in the direction of Margaret's open window, and then found his voice.

"Wasn't aware I'd left my job, sir!" There was an oddly humorous grin on his boyish face. "It occurred to me the night you cut loose in my bungalow, that our biggest asset was likely to be overlooked if we started quarrelling."

"Asset!" Gordon pondered, as one who had raked together every available shilling to meet his obligations. He knew of no further assets on which to put his hand.

"I mean the Araluen's salvage, sir. I chartered Van Estman's fleet of sampans and junks for seven hundred pounds, and got to work on the wreck. We've salvaged nearly all the cargo, silk, sandalwood, bullion and cinnabar—about two hundred thousand pounds worth up-to-date. There are twenty junk-loads in the harbour, and more coming."


MARGARET did not meet Derek until two hours later. He came into dinner with her father, wearing a silk shirt and borrowed dinner jacket.

"Ye may talk to Margaret," Gordon announced with assumed gruffness. "Tell her I'm willing to give ye a share in my business if ye'll promise not to develop the habit of skying my cheques!" he added with a short laugh.

"It was a happy forgery for us, daddy!" There was a light in Margaret's eyes. "You ought to say something nice to Derek."

"Well, girlie, here's to a handsome penman and a good sailor to boot! May he find—"

"Say no more!" Margaret laughed, touching Hamilton's wineglass with her own. "The toast is drunk!"

Hamilton did not respond. To him the warm touch of Margaret's fingers was more delightful than words or wine.


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.