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Chapter XIII. The Prosperity and Fall of Jenkins.

ANTHONY VANDYKE JENKINS was in clover. He lived in the most sumptuous of apartments, and dined as a lord is supposed to do, all the days of the week. He drove about the city in the handsomest of carriages, and dressed himself in a fresh suit twice and thrice daily. His pockets were filled with sovereigns, while he got pretty well all he desired on credit.

All day long it was a case of buying and selling, his profits were enormous, so also were his liabilities, but these he did not consider; when a bill fell due, he raised money from the banks to meet part of it, while he renewed the rest, and to meet the needful expenses and careless extravagances, he and his brother directors made calls on the shareholders who could pay, and gave those who could not, credit—as they were getting themselves on all sides.

It seemed so easy to rake in money now, that he wondered he had ever been so spiritless as to work for his living. The companies that he had floated were of course responsible for all liabilities, that is, the shareholders and those brother directors who were solid enough to be responsible for anything. Anthony, and those brother sharks who had taught

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him the lucrative business of the stock exchange, having no household gods to risk, sailed along gaily and plunged with giddy recklessness into the rapids, pledging themselves and their shareholders as if they had the exhaustless coffers of Monte Christo in the cellars of their city offices. They were using the milk of their cows for themselves, and buying the grass to feed them with the money which their customers were foolish enough to pay beforehand.

Of course it became a strict necessity for the swindlers to be dressy and flash in their personal adornments, for this display imparted confidence to the flock who came to be shorn. The love of finery and ostentation which had been the weakness of Anthony in his sign-writing days, became his strength now that he was a board director and company promoter. His passion for airing his opinions made him valuable to his less eloquent partners. Public dinners could not be dispensed with, and the oftener he showed himself at race-courses, theatres, fashionable drinking bars, and clubs, the more he was respected and run after, by the moneyed gulls who were needful for the continuance of this lively existence.

He became an honoured member of the Athenæum and other clubs. At Tattersall's, the Marble Hall and the “Australian” bar, most of his richest fish were caught, for he had won the reputation of being a lucky guide to follow, and that was everything in his new business. Educated men and gentlemen forgave his palpable ignorance

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and objectionable manners, and eagerly invited the inflated little cad to their private houses, introducing him to their wives, sons and daughters, all to have a slice of the fortune that seemed to be following him.

On his part, being a native of the city, he knew where to look for the victims who would be able to give solidity to his floating concerns, and so he cultivated their friendship assiduously, and being now amongst the set he had aspired to, he cast his conquering glances round for a suitable wife, and at last fixed upon one whom he considered would do credit to his position and artistic taste.

Sir Timothy Gumsucker, K.C.M.G., was one of the most notable veterans in the colony, having served Parliament and his country in many capacities. He was a strong protectionist, and had been extremely popular with the democratic section before he had weakly consented to receive the honour of knighthood. He owned a good deal of property and had accumulated a considerable fortune by extensive jobbery during his different terms of office. However, neither this nor his bare-faced swindling of tradesmen interfered with his being respected by his constituents and party, for he had only done what every other public character did in this colony, and the people would have regarded him as a fool, if he had not improved his opportunities.

He had been married five times and was blessed with eight daughters, three of whom were as yet unmarried. It was the youngest of these charming

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damsels that Antony Vandyke Jenkins fixed his ambitious fancy upon, a fair girl of about twenty-three, and as the honourable and venerable K.C.M.G. regarded the little cad as a person of influence and fortune, he gave every encouragement to his pretensions. The young lady also received her suitor with amiability and accepted his presents, so that it looked as if he was going to be as successful in love as he appeared to be in financial matters.

His impudence and overweening colonial conceit as I have already shown, were unbounded, and it is amazing how some foolish girls are impressed and attracted by these qualities in a man. He had been smart enough to draw the father into the boom, or rather the unscrupulous politician's own insatiable rapacity had driven him into the web, so that it was not so wonderful that Anthony's flashy impudence and bold confidence should have caught the maiden.

To calm and dispassionate people like us, it will appear a foolish action on the part of Anthony to inveigle his intended father-in-law into the vortex in which himself and so many were madly whirling. A little forethought and common sense might have suggested the reserving of that fortune for the bursting of the whirlwind, as something to soften the tumble. But common sense and forethought were the two qualities that were utterly wanting in every colonial during that period. Sir Timothy Gumsucker was as infatuated and reasonless as his neighbours, and no persuasion on earth

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could have kept him out of the gang. Anthony also never had a doubt about the reality of his fabulous paper fortune. How it was to be realised never troubled him for a second. The shares were rising by bounds every day. The public confidence and enthusiasm were increasing. The Auction Marts were thronged, while land and property every day rose in value. Earth, sand, stones and mortar were already more precious than gold-dust, and everyone considered the limit was a long way ahead.

Sir Timothy, like an old spider, was waiting and still buying in, and during his long career of state duplicity he had acquired a confidence in his own wisdom that nothing could shake. Of course he knew that the moment to sell out would arrive sooner or later, for he had been too long in the colonies not to know the real value of property and land; but with Anthony in his hands, he considered that he had his finger on the pulse of the market, and therefore was content to wait and watch.

Anthony likewise had a profound faith in the astuteness of the great Gumsucker. While he held on, everything was safe, so the knaves blindly trusted each other, and no man dared to sell out entirely.

As a proof of the confidence of Anthony in the soundness of his position, he presented, as a salve for the wounded affections of his former flame, Mary the dressmaker, a number of shares, for her to keep or dispose of as she liked.

True, Mary had not suffered her wrongs silently, for of late she troubled the young man a good

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deal, threatening him with a breach of promise suit, and to drag him before that sympathetic judge of the divorce court, Jeffreys, who, although merciless enough where men were concerned, had a most indulgent and weak side for the ladies. It was, therefore, not altogether regret or generous shame for his ungallant conduct that made the little man yield his former sweetheart those shares, but rather from the laudable desire to purchase her silence.

Mary took the shares and gave Anthony his liberty and love-letters, but, being a woman of more common sense than imagination, she promptly placed her shares on the market, and sold them without difficulty to Sir Timothy for cash down. This money she locked up in her desk, and continued her dressmaking business quietly, considering a thousand pounds in gold to be more satisfactory than a verdict in her favour, and even the thousand pounds damages paid for in the famous bills of Anthony Vandyke Jenkins. Whether she was wise in her generation will be seen presently.

Meantime the love affairs of Anthony went on prosperously. Maud Blanche Gumsucker, who was a tall and finely-formed young lady, with a wealth of golden hair and china-blue eyes, liked her impudent little cavalier amazingly, and considered him quite a remarkable genius. He had bestowed upon her, with other more costly presents, a few of his past copies, from the Illustrated London News prints, in oil and water colours,

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magnificently framed, to decorate her bedroom; and although she could not but perceive that his education had been somewhat neglected, and that his manners were not all that might be expected at Government House, still he was not much worse than many of the other young sons of colonial grandees, while his easy pertness and caddish insolence eclipsed even the most audacious. When he uttered his opinion about any matter they were glad to side with him, for he had a pretty turn for delicate repartee, acquired from the Guillotine, that generally silenced opposition or dissent.

As a sign-writer, of course, the lady-like Maud Blanche would never have looked at him, or treated him otherwise than with the most supreme contempt, but as a prodigiously wealthy speculator and director, as well as an authority on Art, she considered him to be an adorable little darling.

Anthony, when Maud and he were standing together, only reached up to the young lady's shoulder, yet this did not interfere with her respect for him, for she was one of those tall girls who are rather ashamed of their own size; while as for him, he was perfectly satisfied with his stature, and disposed to jeer at those great awkward fellows who fill up rooms and knock down china; yet he liked to look at a fine-built woman so long as she had the good taste to admire his own graceful perfections. The conditions being favourable, in the present instance, the course of true love ran smoothly with this well-assorted couple.

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His long and extensive experience with the fair sex, as far as servants and dressmakers were concerned, had made him a master in the art of treating the tender lore. “Flattery, Fervour and Familiarity” were his policy and motto. Flattery to commence with, in plentiful and constant doses. Flattery with fervour combined, when the subject had grown interested in the operator, and, to use his own words, “The three F's without stint as quickly as possible. Don't give them time for consideration, and the victory is sure.”

And the little conqueror was right with Maud Blanche, as he had been with the housemaids. He kept at her without a pause, and gave her no time for thought, jibing at other suitors to their faces, and jeering at them after he had chased them from the field. He made her laugh at his rivals at the same time that he filled her ears with the most florid compliments about her own undoubted attractions. Being above all sense of the ridiculous and indifferent to being charged with plagiarism, he quoted the high-flown language of that favourite with colonials, Lord Lytton, and talked to her as the romantic hero Claude Melnotte did to Pauline, using the free actions that he had seen with actors on the stage, while she, who also had seen the drama personated and knew it well, “As the bee upon the flower, hung upon the eloquence of his tongue.”

She was wooed and won easily, and after he had knelt before her, amongst the exotics in the conservatory, in the orthodox style, and she had stooped over him and leaned her fair head upon

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his breast, he sought her father, and they discussed business together and arranged terms, and then the marriage was fixed to take place at an early date.

“Will you realize before or after the wedding?” enquired Sir Timothy blandly, as he gave his consent.

“Oh, hang it, no, the time isn't nearly ripe yet,” replied the bold and confident young financier. “I've got cash enough for all our expenses, and if more is required, we can have another call, or borrow from the bank on our securities.”

“I think you are right, Anthony; your mansion is almost ready, and will be quite in order before you get over the honeymoon. Where do you intend to enjoy that?”

“Oh, Coogee Bay, or the Blue Mountains,” answered the younger man. “I must be within touch of the market.”

“Right again, my boy. You will have to go into Parliament, after you are settled.”

The catastrophe came with the suddenness of a thunderbolt. Speculators and shareholders went to sleep, filled with confidence and security, and woke up next morning, dishonoured paupers.

It happened just two days before the day which had been fixed for the wedding. Maud Blanche was ready with her trousseau. Sir Timothy had made elaborate preparations for a gorgeous breakfast, and Anthony was feasting his host of bachelor friends like a Sardanapalus.

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I fancy the crash occurred first in Victoria, but if so, the telegraphic wires spread the thunderclap almost immediately over the colonies.

Anthony had read somewhere that it was the correct thing for an accepted lover to make a clean breast of all his former weakness and frailties to his chosen one before marriage, and, as this was an agreeable task to him, he went through the programme like a man, making Maud think what a treasure she had stolen from her despairing sex.

“You are done with all that now though, aren't you—you won't break any more hearts, will you, Anthony?” she said, with tearful eyes.

“I am done with my free, wild days, Maud, my beloved, and will be faithful till death,” answered Anthony nobly, while he kissed and comforted his betrothed.

He had spent nearly all his ready money on his preparations, and went with confidence to his bank to borrow more, and was astonished when the manager informed him that there was no cash to spare. From the bank he proceeded to a board meeting, and it was while they were discussing matters that the appalling tidings reached them. Three of the needy directors promptly took their departure, but were captured and brought back with the loot they were carrying off, and put in prison as defaulters. Another director shot himself, and after this the trouble commenced.

The banks suspended payment one after the other in rapid succession. Builders and tradesmen

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failed right and left, and the workmen were thrown out of employment and left to starve. Men who had bought the houses to live in, were turned out without the slightest possibility of getting the instalments they had paid back again. Shareholders who had money were held responsible for those who had not, and stripped bare.

No one escaped, except those who had nothing, for the paper transactions were so complicated that no satisfactions could be got out of them.

The original owners claimed the houses and land; but as many of these owners were also involved, these rights became a curse to them. The country was in a state of bankruptcy and not a shilling could be raised. It was a total collapse and a ruined people. Consternation, despair and death, reigned supreme. The pluck was completely taken out of the Australians.

Sir Timothy Gumsucker was worse off than he had been when he came to the colony fifty years before, for besides losing all that he possessed, he had made himself responsible for such sums that he could never raise his head again. There was no inducement for any one to struggle, they were all hopelessly submerged.

Anthony Vandyke Jenkins escaped prison only by his insignificance. The wardrobe which he had bought on credit was seized, as was the trousseau of his intended bride, and both were left with what they had on their persons in the shape of clothing. Of course, beggars, as they were, could not think

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about marriage, therefore the engagement was ended by mutual consent.

Jenkins' high spirits had left him for the time, yet his luck did not quite desert him, for Mary, the dressmaker, came to his rescue in his hour of need, forgave him so far for his lapse of fidelity as to marry him and make him her servant. She kept the business open, although there was little trade doing, yet the thousand pounds carried them over the crisis. She looked strictly after it and him, while he settled down contentedly with his subordinate position, doing what most of the other married men do in Sydney, that is, running errands, looking after the house and garden, with an occasional saunter in the domain, which is called seeking for work, and living like tame tom-cats on what their wives have, or are able to make.

His jauntiness was gone, his Alpine hat and velveteen coat had grown rusty and frayed, his trousers were patched and baggy, his boots heelless, and all that was left to him of his former pride were his moustache, long hair, and atheistic opinions. Mrs. Jenkins permitted him to retain those, so long as he did not bounce about them, for being mistress of the position, she put her foot firmly down and meant to remain mistress.

“Such, gentlemen, is the edifying history of Jenkins in the past. What he may become in the future I am not clairvoyant enough to prognosticate, yet, at the present, he is piling up the dimes and making cigar lights of five-pound notes.”