March 7, 1874
Rebecca hefted a large branch onto a pile of burning debris. Using the back of her hand, she brushed hair away from her face and glanced around at the blackened earth. It was all so sad, everything lost in a matter of minutes. Memories of the hungry fire that had devoured her home rolled through her mind. She could feel the heat, smell the smoke, and taste the powerlessness. Rebecca's heart raced, and she felt the familiar tightening in her stomach.
She tried to shut out the images, but the terror became real. Again Rebecca felt the anguish of searching for Joseph and Callie --- searching and praying.
"That's the last of it," Daniel said. "At least for today." He rested an arm across Rebecca's shoulders. "I'd say we've made good progress."
Rebecca blinked back tears and tried to focus on Daniel. "What? What did you say?"
"We're done for today."
"It's still early."
"Right. But I've got to go to town. And I don't want you working too hard."
"We've still so much left to do." Rebecca studied a pile of rubble that had once been a cabin. "And I was hoping we could have a chat this afternoon."
"We will. When I get back." Daniel looked more closely at Rebecca. "You all right, luv?"
"Fine. Just tired." She leaned against her husband. "It's disheartening --- burning what's already been burned, things we held dear."
"Right. But I keep thinking about Joseph and you and Mum. We could have lost so much more." He hugged her. "I'm thankful for our lives." His eyes scanned the charred earth where their home had stood and the wreckage that had been the barn. "God will see to us."
"I know you're right." Rebecca sighed. The more work she did, the more she felt the weight of all that had been lost. Each passing day, believing and trusting became more difficult.
Willa joined the couple, Joseph in tow. "He's right about what?"
"That God will take care of us." Rebecca couldn't keep from looking at the ruins of the once grand house. Her insides churned. What could God do now?
"Don't look so forlorn, dear. It will all be put right." Willa looked at Daniel. "Isn't that right, son?"
Rebecca studied Daniel. His words were optimistic, but she could see the weariness in the set of his shoulders and the worry in his eyes. And she knew that her news would only make life more difficult for him.
"Don't have all the details worked out yet." Daniel smiled. "But I'm going to speak to Charles Oxley about a loan. Planned on going into town today."
"Don't get your hopes up," Rebecca said in a snide tone. "He may very well be the stingiest banker ever."
"He's careful with the bank's money, but he's always done right by us. I'm sure we'll be able to work out something." Daniel glanced at a row of tents. Their sides expanded and collapsed in the breeze as if they were breathing. "It's time we started building a new house. And a barn too. Need to get the barn up right away. The corral will do for now, but I don't like the horses being unprotected.
"I better be on my way." He kissed Rebecca. "I'll be back in time for dinner." He glanced at Lily, who was bent over a pot suspended above a cooking fire. "Glad to have you back, Lily. Even your outdoor cooking is grand."
Lily offered him an open smile. "Do the best I can, Mr. Thornton."
Daniel lifted his hat and repositioned it on his head, then walked toward the corral.
Daniel scuffed the toe of his boot on the back of his pant leg, then took off his hat and walked into the Thornton Creek Bank. The small room smelled of dust and ink. A woman stood at the only clerk's window. When she'd finished her transaction, she turned and walked toward the front door, nodding at Daniel as she moved past him.
"G'day," he said to her and then stepped up to the window. "Morning, Mr. Oxley. Fine day, eh?"
"Right fine. What can I do for you, Daniel?" He peered out from beneath heavy eyebrows.
"Well, as you know, we've been hard done by with the drought and the fire. I was hoping to have a word with you about a loan." Daniel's heart hammered against his ribs. As Rebecca had said, Mr. Oxley hadn't been the most generous man in Thornton Creek. In fact, he had a reputation for being tough in business.
The banker stared at Daniel, then glanced at the door as if hoping someone would walk in. No one did. "Right, then. Well, why don't you come in 'ere and we'll talk." He opened a waist-high swinging door that led to the back half of the room. Sitting at a cherrywood desk, he motioned for Daniel to sit in a wooden chair.
Daniel settled on the chair. He felt awkward and didn't know what to do with his hands or his feet. He'd never been in a situation like this before.
"Might as well get right to it, then. Like I said, with times the way they are, and with the fire, I'm in need of funds. There's a lot of rebuilding to do."
"You lost everything?" Mr. Oxley picked up a pen and took a piece of paper out of a tray on his desk.
"Right. Pretty much."
"Including the house and the main barn?"
Mr. Oxley dipped the pen in ink and scratched a note on the paper. "And what about the servants' quarters? Did they go as well?"
"Right." Inwardly Daniel squirmed. He had very few assets.
"What about the stock? How many head do you have?"
"Well, can't say for sure," Daniel hedged. "Before the fire, drought and sickness took a good number of them."
"So you'd say the herd is quite depleted?"
Mr. Oxley added more notes. Setting down the pen, he turned his chair so he faced Daniel. "So what do you have in the way of assets?"
Daniel thought. He'd been trying to come up with something, but there just wasn't much left. "Well, we've the cattle, of course. As I said, they're a bit down --- not much feed to be had. But they'll come back, given time. And we've several horses, a fine stallion and some good solid mares." Daniel studied his knuckles. They were red and rough. "I've got the land. It's worth a fair bit." He held out his hands. "And I've a strong back and hands that know how to work."
Mr. Oxley glanced at what he'd jotted down. He rested his elbow on the desk and rubbed his forehead before looking up and meeting Daniel's eyes. "I'd like to help you, Daniel, but with things the way they are, I just can't make deals willy-nilly. I'll need some good solid collateral, and the land's not enough. Not without water."
"You know it'll come. Droughts begin and they end. This one will too."
"Some have been known to stay a good long while though." Mr. Oxley's eyebrows peaked. "I just can't do it, lad. Sorry." He stood abruptly and held out his hand to shake Daniel's. "I wish you luck."
Daniel withheld his hand. "Just like that? You cast me aside with no thought? I've been 'ere my whole life, and my father before me. It was my grandfather who settled and built Douloo, and part of the town too. We've given this bank a lot over the years."
"I know that. And it pains me to turn you down." A man stepped through the door. Mr. Oxley tipped his head at the customer. "I'd like to help you, Daniel, but it's not possible."
Daniel pushed his hat onto his head. "Didn't figure you'd fail me. My father did business 'ere a good many years."
"True, but your father would have been the first to tell me how important it is to be a good businessman first and then a friend. The heart's important, but too much heart and a man will be out of business." He glanced at the customer. "I'll be right with you."
Lowering his voice, Mr. Oxley said, "I know of a man in Brisbane who . . . assists folks from time to time. Name's Robert Marshal. He's from America and runs an import business. Over the years he's built up a pile of money, and sometimes he helps people out of sticky situations." He grabbed the pen and a piece of paper and wrote down the man's name and address. Handing it to Daniel, he whispered, "Keep this to yourself."
Daniel stared at the paper.
"He might be able to lend a hand."
Daniel knew Marshal probably wasn't the type of man he'd normally do business with. "Will you vouch for him?"
Mr. Oxley didn't respond for a long moment. Then, his voice tight, he said, "No." He grabbed the paper he'd handed Daniel. "Never mind. Sorry I said anything." He crumpled the note and tossed it into the wastebasket.
Daniel's eyes followed it to the basket.
"'Ey, I 'aven't got all day," the man standing at the counter said.
"Right. Coming." Mr. Oxley hurried to the clerk's window.
Daniel studied the crumpled paper lying amid the trash. It most likely belonged there. On impulse he grabbed it and shoved it into his front pocket. Without another word he strode out of the bank.
Excerpted from WHEN THE STORM BREAKS (Queensland Chronicles) © Copyright 2011 by Bonnie Leon. Reprinted with permission by Revell, an imprint of Baker Publishing Group. All rights reserved.