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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS T.C. BRIDGES)

A FRIEND IN NEED

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As published in
The Queenslander, Brisbane, Australia, 12 Feb 1921

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-11-18

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"STOP! Stop! Please stop!"

Bob Aylmer reined his horse upon its haunches. He had been cantering easily along the sunlit sandy road when heard the breathless cry. Turning, he saw a girl running desperately towards him.

"I'm coming," he cried, and swinging his pony off the track, rode towards her.

When he reached her she was leaning with one hand against a tree, the other to her side. Her breath was coming in great gasps. Her cheeks were perfectly white.

"My father!" she panted, then stopped.

With a good sense that did him credit, he asked one question and one only.

"Where?"

She pointed, and Bob, looking in the direction indicated, caught a glimpse of a house in the distance.

"All right," he said. "I'll go. You follow quietly."

"By the stable." She gasped out. "He was thrown—hurt."

"I'll find him," said Bob, and was off.

A track led to an open gate. He swung through it, raced up a weed-grown drive through a grove of gnarled old orange trees, and passing the house reached a large open space between it and a range of dilapidated stabling.

A great live oak grew in the centre of this space, and in the shade, flat on his back on the yellow sand, lay the motionless figure of an elderly man.

Bob leaped off, and dropped on his knees beside the man. He lifted him gently. The grey head sagged helplessly.

"Neck broken," muttered Bob. "Poor old chap! And she doesn't know."

He looked round. The girl was not yet in sight. He glanced at the dead man. The latter was tall out of the common, but mere skin and bone.

He got both arms round him, and using all his strength, lifted him and staggered towards the house. The back door was open, and passing through a kitchen, he reached a large airy living-room, and laid his burden on a thread-bare couch.

"He is better? Is he better?"

Bob was still panting with his effort when he heard the girl's voice.

"I—I'm dreadfully sorry for you," he stammered.

"He's not dead? Oh, don't say he's dead!"

"I'm afraid he is," he said. "You see—you see his neck is broken."

With a wail the girl flung herself down beside the couch and buried her face in her hands. Bob turned away and went out on the verandah, leaving her alone with her dead. He tied up his pony, went back to the sitting-room, and spoke to the girl.

"I didn't want to disturb you, but is there no one else here?"

"No one at all. Daddy and I were quite alone."

"Would—would you like anyone? We—we ought to have a doctor. I could ride into Pinelake you know."

"Would you—please?"

"I'll be back soon," was all he said.


HE thanked his lucky stars that his pony was still fresh, for he hated the idea of leaving her alone. The gallant little beast was sweating when he drew rein at Dr. Boyce's door in Pinelake.

Boyce was at home. He was an old, old friend of Bob's, a stocky, sensible man of forty.

"You, Bob! I thought you were half-way to Saw Grass by now."

"So I should have been. But I was stopped. There's been an accident—a man killed."

Boyce listened to his story without a word.

"I don't even know their name," Bob ended.

"It's Atherton," Boyce said. "A fine old fellow he was. I knew him well. A Southerner of the ancient type. Poor and proud. And his daughter's name is Georgina, and it's Georgina we've got to think of. I'll get old Becky, and bring her out in my buggy. She can do what is necessary, and stay with Georgina till after the funeral. You had better ride straight back. It won't do to leave that girl alone."

"Thanks," said Bob and was off.


HE found Georgia Atherton sitting beside her dead father, and the look on her face brought a lump to his throat. He told her what he had done, and she thanked him very sweetly.

"How did it happen?" Bob asked softly.

"I hardly know. There had been a man here wanting to buy the place, and daddy was going into Pinelake to see him. I was in the house when I heard a noise and ran out. The horse was plunging, and before I could do anything, daddy was thrown."

"I'll go and find the horse," Bob said.

The horse was grazing in the grove, and submitted quietly to be caught and stabled. As Bob came back to the house Boyce drove up, accompanied by Becky.

The latter was an elderly coloured woman, a regular Southern auntie, strong, kindly and capable. She took charge at once, and led Georgia away while Boyce examined the dead man.

"Yes, neck broken," he said gravely. "At any rate he did not suffer." He turned to Bob.

"What about you, Bob? Are you going to push on?"

"I—I'd like to stay and see her through," he said.

"What about your job at Saw Grass?"

"Truth is, doctor, I haven't got one. I was only going to look for one. So a day or two more or less won't make much odds."

"Bob, I believe you're in a hole."

"I'm broke to the wide," replied Bob. "Dowson has foreclosed on me, You see I couldn't pay the interest on the mortgage."

"Why not? You've made some money lately."

"Oh another chap was in a hole," Bob said, with affected carelessness. "He had a note due, and I had to help him out."

"I know. It was young Godfrey Lowe. Another of Oliver Dowson's victims."

Boyce considered a moment.

"You'd better stay here to-night. Becky will be chaperone. I must get back, for I have several patients to see. But I will come out again to-morrow."

"What about the funeral?"

"I'll ask Georgia," Boyce answered, and went out.

He was back in a few minutes.

"She says that her father always wished to be buried on the place. In fact he chose the spot long ago. It is a little bluff among the pines above the lake. She will show you in the morning.

"If you will get a nigger from the settlement and see to the digging of the grave, I will attend to all the other arrangements. The funeral will be at twelve. I will send out the padre and come myself later.

"You needn't be afraid to stay," he added, "Georgia told me that she would be only too glad to have you. She is very grateful to you, Bob."


GEORGIA came down to supper, which Becky had laid in the kitchen.

"I wanted to tell you how grateful I am for all you have done, Mr. Aylmer. I only hope it has not interfered with your own business."

"Any one would have done as much," Bob answered gruffly, "and as for business, why I haven't got any. I was on my way down to Saw Grass city to hunt a job on the drainage works."

"It is very difficult to make things pay. Daddy tried so hard, and now—now I don't know how I shall carry on.

"You can't manage alone," Bob said. "You will have to sell, won't you?"

"Sell! I couldn't," she cried, "I was born here. Mother died here. I love the old place, and so did Daddy."

"Didn't you tell me that he had had an offer?" asked Bob.

"I won't make any secret of it, Mr. Aylmer. We are very, very badly off, and I think Daddy had an idea that he ought to sell for my sake. But he said that the price offered was a very small one. I told him I would do anything in the world rather than let our home go."

Never before had Bob longed so for money.

When at last she rose and said good-night, Bob's vague thoughts had crystallised. He had made up his mind that this was the one girl in the world for him.


IMMEDIATELY after breakfast next morning, Bob slipped quietly off to the settlement to find a man to dig the grave. He secured a quiet, elderly negro named Josh Ransome, brought him back and showed him the spot. When he returned to the house he found old Becky in a fine state of indignation.

"Dere's been a man here, sah, trying to see Miss Georgia. I asked him what for, and he said it was business. I told him de poor chile couldn't be bothered wid no business, an' ef you believe me he done tried to force his way in. So I deet slam de door in his face and he go off in a rage.

"Good for you, auntie!" said Bob. "Who was he?"

"He didn't gib no name, sah. He say he come back dis ebening."

She broke off short.

"Dah's de man wid de coffin. Marse Aylmer, you go out and stop Miss Georgia coming in. I don't want her round till we finished wid de poor gentleman."


BOB found Georgia in the garden, and stayed with her until the parson arrived. He came by himself, for Dr. Boyce had not been able to get away.

It was the simplest possible little funeral. As the burial place was at some distance from the house, the coffin was carried there in the waggon. The quiet old horse paced solemnly, and the wheels moved soundlessly over a thick carpet of pine needles.

Bob walked with Georgia. The parson and old Becky followed.

"It is a pretty place," whispered the girl to Bob as they went to it, and Bob, glancing round at the solemn pines and the sparkle of blue water below, nodded.

The solemn words of the service had never sounded more solemn than in that quiet spot. Bob whispered to the parson that he would stay and help to fill in the grave.

The sandy soil was easy to move, and he and Ransome made rapid progress. The work was nearly done when Bob's eyes fell upon a lump of grey chalky-looking stuff lying among the yellow sand, which they were shovelling. He stooped quickly, and picked it up. There came a voice at his elbow.

"What have you got there?"

"Phosphate," Bob said breathlessly.

Boyce examined the grey lump keenly.

"So it is!" he answered. "Good quality, too. Bob, there's a fortune under our feet."

"Then that fellow must have known."

"What fellow?"

"Some man who has been after the place. He was out here this morning. I don't know his name."

"But I do." Boyce's voice was suddenly sharp. "I passed Dowson driving in this direction as I rode out. Bob, you'd better get back to the house."

Bob was already yards away.

Dowson! The money-lending blackguard who had already finished him and young Lowe, and half-a-dozen others he could name in and around Pinelake. Nothing that was worth while ever escaped the fellow's cunning eyes and greedy paws.

True, Georgia had vowed she would not sell but she would be a child in Dowson's hands.

Bob arrived panting at the back door. The kitchen was empty.

He caught the sound of voices in the front room; sure enough one was Dowson's.

"Sign here, please, Miss Atherton." Bob heard the words distinctly.

All his blood was boiling as he leaped across the kitchen and flung the door open.

Georgia was seated at the table, pen in hand. Oliver Dowson, stout and sleek-headed, stood beside her, pointing to a spot at the foot of the document.

At Bob's sudden entrance he turned.

Bob did not hesitate. With one jump he reached the table, and snatching up the document from before Georgia's astonished eyes, tore it across and flung it on the floor.

"May I ask what you mean by that, Mr. Aylmer?" Dowson demanded.

"I mean that you are a common swindler, and the sooner you leave this place the better it will be for you."

"Common swindler," repeated Dowson, licking his thin lips. "That, in the presence of a witness is actionable. I shall prosecute you for libel. As for my leaving this place, it is mine, not yours, and it is you who will leave—and quickly, too."

"Is that true, Miss Atherton?" asked Bob of Georgia. "Have you signed away your home?"

"Oh, I don't know," Georgia answered in deep distress. "You see, he brought a letter from Daddy, saying that he would sell."

"May I see that letter, please?"

The letter was lying upon the table. Georgia picked it up quickly, and was handing it to him, when Dowson interposed.

"This is no business of yours, Mr. Aylmer," and tried to snatch the letter away.

"Stand back, Dowson!" Bob said, and there was something in his voice and eyes which made the stout money-lender pause.

Bob glanced through the letter. It looked genuine enough, though Bob of course, had never seen the handwriting of Georgia's father. It stated in plain terms that he, Randolph Atherton, was prepared to accept the sum of three thousand dollars for his property, known as Sylvan Lane, including house, orange grove and wild land.

For the moment Bob felt desperate. He knew that the wishes of her dead father would be absolutely sacred in Georgia's eyes, and that, if this latter were genuine, the place was as good as gone.

He glanced at Dowson. There was a queer expression in his shifty eyes.

Was it fear? And why had be tried to snatch away the letter? Why had he objected to a third party seeing it?

In a flash a possible solution came to Bob.

"This letter is a forgery," he said deliberately. "Your father never wrote this, Georgia."


IT was a shot in the dark, but next instant he knew that he had hit the mark, for Dowson was at him, grasping for the letter. Bob caught him by the collar and ran him out through the open door into the kitchen.

He waited till he had got him outside, and out of Georgia's sight before he got to work on him. Then holding him at arm's length he booted him all down the drive.

Dowson's yells woke the echoes. He screamed for mercy, but it was little he got. Then, with one last solid, well-directed kick, Bob propelled him into a patch of spiky saw-palmetto.

"Go and dig for phosphate in that," he told him, and leaving him to get out as best he might, walked straight back to tho house.


GEORGIA met him at the door.

"I'm dreadfully sorry—" he began.

"But I am not," she interrupted. "I think he deserved every bit of it."

"How did you know that the letter was a forgery?" she asked. "You have never seen Daddy's writing."

"I didn't," Bob, confessed. "It was a shot on my part. But I had to stop you from signing away a fortune."

"A fortune—what do you mean?"

"There is phosphate under the place," Bob explained. "We have just found it. You know what that means."

"Phosphate!" Georgia clasped her hands. Her gray eyes glowed. "Phosphate! Then I shall be able to go on living here."

"You will be able to live where you please. You will be a very rich woman."

"Me—rich!" She paused as if trying realise what he had told her.

"I don't think I want to be very rich," she said at last. "Rich people are often very lonely."

"Not a bit of it," declared Bob. "Rich people always find lots of friends."

"Surely such friends are not worth as much as those one has when one is poor!" she answered.

"I didn't mean that," replied Bob hastily. "But you need not worry. Rich or poor, you would always have friends."

"Rich or poor, I don't want to lose those I have already." As she spoke she raised her head, and their eyes met.

"Georgia!" he muttered thickly. "Georgia!"

"Bob," she whispered.

Even then Bob struggled to play the game.

"Remember, dear! I have nothing."

"And what should I have if it were not for you? Since you have found a fortune for me, surely the least that I can do is to share it with you."


A MINUTE later Dr. Boyce, coming up to the house with a great lump of phosphate in either hand, caught sight of the two standing together in the shade of the verandah.

"The very best thing that could have happened," he said to himself with a smile.


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.