EDNA STAEBLER January 22 1966


EDNA STAEBLER January 22 1966

'We shareholders really got took"

THE SHOCKING DISCOVERY that British Mortgage And Trust Company was threatened with foreclosure brought a kind of drama to Stratford, Ontario, that could never be acted on the stage of its Shakespearean theatre. The charming little city of twenty-two thousand was in real trouble.

While Festival playgoers wiped away tears of laughter at the antics of Falstaff, citizens of Stratford wept. Thousands of depositors and holders of Guaranteed Investment Certificates feared they might lose their life’s savings. Six hundred Stratford shareholders were distraught because their cherished investment had suddenly been almost wiped out: many widows and spinsters would have to live in less comfort; British Mortgage employees who had borrowed to buy stock in the company were in debt and threatened with loss of their jobs; several anxious old people were hospitalized; money saved for a child’s education was lost. The confidence of all Stratford was shaken when its most honored citizen was suspected of making the unwise decisions that brought financial calamity to British Mortgage.

To anyone driving into Stratford — as I did on several fine days in the summer — the city seemed to be doing business as usual: motels flashed No Vacancy signs; restaurants were crowded. Playgoers filing into the theatres, tourists dawdling in gift shops, itinerant, barefooted beatniks, were all unaware of Stratford’s dilemma.

Concern but no panic

There was no sign of panic but wherever two or more Stratford people came together they talked about British Mortgage. Businessmen met to speculate on the undisclosed sums BM&T had lost in mortgages and in loans to a bankrupt finance company. Women shoppers compared rumors about British Mortgage as they trundled carts in the supermarkets. Neighbors recalled long-past local scandals brought to mind by gossip about BM&T. In Stratford’s clubs, pubs, and armories, wherever men came for a drink or a game, there was nothing but talk of British Mortgage. Celebrities, including Lynda Bird Johnson, the U.S. president’s daughter, came to the Festival unnoticed by Stratford's preoccupied residents.

Worried and bewildered people kept asking.

Why had BM&T shares gone down? How much money did the company actually lose? Was Wilfrid Gregory, its president and managing director, responsible lor its failure? Did the board of directors not know there were unwise investments? Was there no government supervision?

Could nothing save British Mortgage?

No one could imagine Stratford without British Mortgage. No other institution had done so much for the community. Nelson Monteith, a share-

T thought having its stock was like owning gold, "declares Mrs. Theo Parker. "Now I've lost everything. "


Nothing in this town was surer than British Mortgage. Then suddenly it failed


holder who had lost heavily, likened the company to a good rich maiden aunt who supported anything cultural, charitable, or educational. He said, “British Mortgage seemed to have the welfare of the community in its heart; it always gave generously. The people at the head of it were always the very finest, leaders in federal, provincial and municipal affairs; they were all local people who cared about Stratford.” Since 1877 British Mortgage had been Stratford’s leading financial institution. The company had more savings depositors than all the banks in the city combined. No other trust companies had an office in Stratford. British Mortgage And Trust was a byword in all Perth County.

British Mortgage's prosperity in recent years had been spectacular. Stratford people said Wilfrid Gregory undoubtedly was a wizard. Since 1960 BM&T had established fifteen branches and moved its head office from an old building on a side street to a two-million-dollar glass-and-granite showplace on Stratford’s most imposing intersection. Five-dollar par shares had reached an amazing high of forty-four dollars. The latest financial statement of the company showed that assets had jumped from twenty million dollars in 1954 to a prodigious one hundred and twenty million dollars in 1965.

Some of the old shareholders thought maybe the company was expanding too fast, spending too much money in all those fine buildings. They said the old head office on Albert Street might have been crowded, but the bulk of the customers felt more comfortable there than they did in the luxurious new place with all the paintings that seemed to have no right side up. A person couldn t find his favorite teller along that spacious hexagon counter. And the bearded Amishmen coming in off the farms with manure on their boots couldn’t feel at home on those whiteterrazzo floors. But there was no denying that the dividends were going up. Maybe Wilfrid was right when he said expansion meant progress.

Wilfrid P. Gregory, QC, fifty-three years old, was greatly respected in Stratford. A captain in the army overseas in World War II, a graduate of the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall, he had a successful law practice in his native city until 1957 when his father, W. H. Gregory, retired as managing director of British Mortgage and Wilfrid was appointed in his place. In 1963 Wilfrid also succeeded his father as president.

Wilfrid Gregory has held leading positions in the Canadian Bar Association, the Dominion Mortgage And Investments Association, and the Shakespearean Festival Foundation. He is a member of the Masonic Lodge and the Rotary Club. He has been a director of ten industrial and financial organizations, and chairman of the Stratford Industrial Commission and of the Ontario section of the Trust Companies’ Association. In 1965 he was made a member of The Canada Council.

It has often been said that Wilfrid Gregory has done more for Stratford than anyone else in the city’s history. His friends claim that if he hadn't had wealthy and influential out-of-town connections whom he involved in the Shakespearean Festival as directors and promoters, the whole idea would have remained Tom Patterson's dream. They say Gregory became Stratford's mayor in 1955 and 1956 for the sole purpose of getting action on the theatre and rousing interest in it among apathetic townspeople.

Good news, then alarm

Wilfrid Gregory also headed a committee for the improvement of Stratford. As a Parks Commissioner, he promoted a scheme to beautify the land along the Avon River and British Mortgage donated ten thousand dollars. At Wilfrid Gregory's instigation, BM&T contributed five thousand dollars for a redevelopment plan to make Stratford's main streets attractive with benches and trees.

When the Canadian National Railway shops closed and Stratford lost a major source of its income, Gregory, traveling at his own and BM&T’s expense, was personally responsible for bringing several large new industries to the city. In these many ways the president of British Mortgage implemented company policy of helping to build up its community: if Stratford’s people were prosperous and happy they would make BM&T prosperous and strong.

On June 7, 1965, Wilfrid Gregory reported in a quarterly letter to BM&T shareholders an increase of nine million dollars in assets, bringing the total

to over $120 million. He predicted that the splendid growth of the company would in the future become even greater.

Just over a week later the financial world was shaken by the announcement that Atlantic Acceptance Corporation, considered a successful finance company, had defaulted when it could not make payment on some short-term notes.

Wilfrid Gregory resigned from the board of directors of Atlantic and of Commodore Business Machines Limited, a company that has, reportedly, at times, been associated through interlocking directors with Atlantic. British Mortgage stock dropped one dollar a share on the unlisted market — for no reason that Stratford could see. BM&T shareholders were more concerned with the announcement in the local papers that Canada Trust had bought several buildings in the heart of Stratford and would immediately open an office.

For the next three weeks there was little change in the price of BM&T stock — and no talk about it. Stratford people were enjoying their summer visitors: they had picnics in the parks, rides in the paddle boats on the Avon River, glimpses of celebrities at the Festival theatre.

Then came the shock.

On the night of July 8 several people in Toronto who were connected with its business community phoned friends in Stratford and told them that Denison Mines Limited, which holds a uranium ore body at Elliot Lake, was negotiating with Wilfrid Gregory to buy control of British Mortgage And Trust.

Telephones in Stratford jangled all / continued

continued / through the night as dazed residents spread the news. Why would Wilfrid do that? they asked anxiously. Something must be wrong.

Next day everyone in Stratford was talking, telephoning, telling that British Mortgage shares had plunged from twenty-five to eight dollars. People couldn't believe it: BM&T stock had always been steady. What strange things were going on behind the scenes?

People who turned on their radios next morning heard the staggering announcement that British Mortgage held an undisclosed number of notes and shares in bankrupt Atlantic Acceptance. In the Toronto papers they read that Denison Mines was considering a six-million-dollar “transfusion into faltering British Mortgage.” The Stratford Beacon-Herald informed them as well that Wilfrid Gregory had said British Mortgage was not in any financial difficulty whatever and any rumors to the contrary were “vicious and untrue.”

Stratford people were stunned. They didn’t know what to think or what to do. Jimmie Lumsden, manager of the city’s only stock-brokerage office, was besieged with calls from shareholders wanting advice. Most concerned were the small investors who had put all their savings into Guaranteed Investment Certificates, which could not be withdrawn until they were due. Savings depositors, looking shamefaced, came and w-aited in little groups at the hexagon counter in the office of BM&T to withdraw their accounts; one woman asked for fifty thousand dollars in cash; many apologized for deserting the company.

Stratford people were frantic for information about British Mortgage. They cleared the out-oftowm papers off the newsstands. They eagerly

picked up the daily Beacon-Herald and weekly Stratford Times to see if Wilfrid Gregory had made further statements — and always they were disappointed to find the local papers had published only news-agency dispatches from The Canadian Press and reprints of editorials from the Toronto papers, which were urging a royal commission investigation of Atlantic Acceptance and British Mortgage And Trust.

Should they wait or sell?

Squads of auditors from Denison Mines and the Ontario Registrar of Loan and Trust Companies moved into Stratford to make an appraisal of BM&T's finances. The price of its stock continued to sag — as low as $4.75. Most Stratford shareholders decided to hang on and hope that the company would recover; a few sold out. The chartered banks were busy opening new accounts for BM&T depositors who came with bulging purses and paper bags full of money.

The newspapers of July 27 and 28 gave Stratford three more surprises: 1. With a picture of Wilfrid Gregory in the Beacon-Herald was a brief announcement that he had resigned from his position with British Mortgage at a meeting of the board of directors. 2. A proposal to merge British Mortgage with Victoria And Grey Trust Company of Lindsay, Ontario, was featured. 3. The Ontario government gave the suggested merger approval by offering to make money available to maintain BM&T's liquid position for payment of depositors and holders of the company's Guaranteed Investment Certificates.

Relieved by the government's promise, some British Mortgage depositors who had withdrawn

their money reopened accounts with the company.

A letter from BM&T’s directors, informing shareholders of a meeting on September 14, strongly advised that at that time, as the only alternative to suspending the company’s operation, they support the merger agreement which would give them one share of the amalgamated company for six shares of BM&T — a drop to about $2.35 a share. “They’re stealing our company,” shareholders told me, “selling us out.” After the letter came silence, a time of suspense and suspicion. No further information, reports, or interviews were given by British Mortgage; I was told, politely, that if any company employees talked to me they would be fired.

But the people of Stratford weren't silent. They wanted to know what was going on and where they stood. I spoke with stenographers, office managers, storekeepers, factory workers and owners, a lawyer, farmers, clerks, teachers — all of them BM&T depositors, shareholders, or investors in Guaranteed Investment Certificates. All were guessing, wondering, gossiping, trying to figure things out. All repeated the same bits of doubtful information and all asked not to be named — all except Mrs. Theodore Parker, a widow, who said what was happening to British Mortgage should have publicity so something would be done to prevent further catastrophes. “It burns me up,” she said. “We shareholders really got took. My stock was bought in 1898 hy my husband’s grandfather and I thought it was like owning gold. I depended on those dividend cheques for my bread and butter but now I’ve lost everything.”

No one spoke long without mentioning Wilfrid Gregory. “Why did Wilfrid resign? Why didn’t he make some kind of statement instead of just leaving?” many wanted to know. A querulous little spinster said, “If Wilfrid had told us not to worry, we’d get through this all right, we would have had confidence; but the way he just left made you wonder if there was no hope at all and he hadn’t the heart to say so.”

In a shoe store a clerk and car salesman were talking: “A lot of big companies invested millions in Atlantic,” the clerk said. “Nothing wrong with British Mortgage being in, too, I guess — but they must have got in awful deep.”

“They lost a lot of money on mortgages, too,” said the car salesman. “Look at all the properties they foreclosed around here — some just holes in the ground. They had a reputation for lending money to contractors that no other company would touch. They’d charge twelve percent interest and more. You just don’t make money that fast without taking some risk.”

"British Mortgage never used to take chances,” the clerk said turning to me. “It used to be just a little one-horse outfit. They never gave money on industrial loans. It's only since Wilfrid took over that things have been skyrocketing.”

One day I called at a farm on the edge of

Stratford. A purposeful

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little grey-haired woman wearing blue woolen sox was on her way down the lane to pick up the Beacon-Herald to read the latest news about BM&T. “Drat it," she said, scanning the front pages quickly, “there’s nothing in it.” She told me her family had lost more than one hundred thousand dollars. “We’ll miss it,” she said. “But we’re not crying over it. I guess half the shareholders in Stratford inherited their stock and are in the same boat.”

“British Mortgage was in trouble before and got over it,” she went on, showing me a treasured twenty-first birthday souvenir of BM&T published in 1898, which told of an unnamed promotor who had swindled the young company of half a million dollars. The directors of the time were tempted to give up, but to save the shareholders’ money they had worked hard and made a fresh start.

The little woman told me that when she was a girl a man who owned a large block of stock was made a director of British Mortgage and he worked for the company. “It wasn’t his job,” she explained, “just his responsibility. Directors took a real interest then. My father was one and he evaluated farm properties. The president, Mr. Davidson, was like a father to customers, but he got his son-in-law W. H. Gregory in — and he was all right till he got his son Wilfrid in and the company became a family affair with no one else having much to say about running it.”

From a number of people in Stratford I heard criticism of the one-man operation of British Mortgage. They said the board of directors had dwindled in number and influence; until a few months ago, when two more were added, there were only four men besides those employed by the company. “They were all extra-fine honorable men,” a civic employee told me, “but they’d probably go to the board meetings and say, ‘Whatever you say is okay, Wilf. You’re the one who knows, Will'. You’ve got the connections.’ And Wilfrid would make all the decisions.”

“You couldn’t say no to Wilfrid Gregory,” the manager of a Stratford industry said. “Everything had to go his way. Yet we liked the guy.”

“Wilfrid, while he rose to the top of the heap and got pretty important, would still recognize you on the street,” a farmer-shareholder told me. “But I guess he was a pretty high flyer with his big friends and big ambitions.”

The farmer’s wife interrupted, “They say he kept a beautiful suite in Toronto for entertaining the big shots.”

“I guess he won't do it now,” the farmer said. "They say he lost more than anybody.”

“I don’t feel sorry for him. Through him we lost all our nest egg," the wife said bitterly. “Sometimes I get so mad I could shake the -”

“Now, now. Mother,” the man said quietly, as if he had calmed her before. “He trusted and we trusted. It was just a mistake.”

"A great big mistake, and we all got sucked in.”

Other people who had lost money said Wilfrid was overconfident, greedy

and arrogant. “Where is Wilfrid Gregory now?” they demanded angrily until it was known that he was with his family at their summer cottage near Grand Bend on Lake Huron and that he was working three days a week in a law office of a friend in Sarnia.

Wild rumors kept circulating in Stratford. People would say secretively, “Did you know the two Gregory Cadillacs have been impounded.” People also kept telling me there was a security guard at all times at Wilfrid Gregory’s house in Stratford. I drove up to the white-brick mansion where the Gregorys had lavishly entertained friends and famous Festival visitors. Its five acres of flower beds and lawns sloping toward the Avon were well tended. Plastic covers over the finely wrought-iron furniture on the broad porches were all that suggested desertion. But no one answered my knock — and there was no guard.

I was told frequently that some shareholders had had to sell their homes or their cars because of their losses; that some were sick or out of their minds with anxiety; that trips to Europe had had to be canceled; that valuable jewelry would have to be sold by people who desperately needed money. But when I asked who these unfortunate shareholders were, people looked vague and said, “I think they feel too bad to speak about their trouble.” And no one would tell me their names.

On August 20 one avenue of Stratford’s speculation was closed when Denison Mines relinquished its option on BM&T.

As the time for the shareholders’ meeting on September 14 neared, tension tightened in Stratford’s drama. Many shareholders refused to send in their proxies; they wanted to attend the meeting themselves, to ask the questions that had plagued them all summer. They didn't want their company to be swallowed by another. If the amalgamation took place, the BM&T office in Stratford would he

They waited tensely for the most vital drama ever performed in Stratford

just a branch of Victoria And Grey. Would the luxurious British Mortgage building be sold?

More people spoke regretfully of BM&T’s loss to the community than of their personal losses. They feared that all the fine things British Mortgage had done for the rural and urban community might be dropped. What would Stratford do without BM&T's Community Room, loaned freely for meetings of local clubs, boards and commissions? Would Victoria And Grey every year give a sixteen-hundred-dollar scholarship to a student going on to university? Or open fivedel lar bank accounts for grade-twelve pupils who made honors in their exams? BM&T had always given generously when Stratford teams or bands wanted uniforms. The company always presented prizes for music festivals, 4H clubs, fall fairs, plowing matches, seed fairs, and Junior Farmers’ projects. Would all that be stopped? And what about the contest for beautifying rural school grounds that British Mortgage had sponsored for seventeen years? Would Victoria And Grey executives way up in Lindsay care if Perth County farm kids planted flowers and tended the grass?

"With a breaking heart . . .”

Four days before the decisive meeting, shareholders received notice that the meeting would take place in the Avon Theatre. That meant they were expecting a crowd, people said, and excitement grew more intense.

On the afternoon of September 14 more than half of BM&T’s one thousand shareholders, most of them over sixty and many much older, registered in the lobby of the theatre. Unlike the Avon’s usual clientele, which all through the summer had waited gaily for the curtain to rise on Mahagonny and The Marriage Of Figaro, the shareholders — men wnth the ruddy faces of farmers; women fashionably dressed and others very plain; sharp sophisticated businessmen — sat tensely in their seats, alert, angry, and part of the most vital drama ever performed in Stratford.

Harold R. Lawson, of Toronto, a director of BM&T for just a few' months, described himself as a “caretaker president” who would address the shareholders only on this one sad occasion. He claimed to have much in common with everyone at the meeting since he, too, had lost heavily. He said he would try to answer the questions all Stratford was asking, and tell why the troubles of British Mortgage had been kept secret.

When Atlantic defaulted on its obli-

gations on June 15. none of the directors of BM&T thought their company was involved; they believed what was later confirmed by the company in a letter to its branch managers — that Gregory’s association with Atlantic bore “no direct relationship to BM&T.” It wasn’t until two weeks later, at a board meeting where W. H.

Gregory, the chairman of the board, presided, that there was any indication that Atlantic's foreclosure might have affected British Mortgage.

“Following the meeting 1 felt it my duty to look into the books of the company.” Lawson said. “1 was appalled at the amount invested in Atlantic and in companies associated

with it. Our shares were still selling for thirty dollars and this was all wrong — with such losses of our assets.”

The first obligation of a director is to notify the shareholders of losses, Lawson informed his audience, but in a trust company’s operation the depositors above all must be protected:

if BM&T directors had told the shareholders the appalling truth, the depositors would have become alarmed and withdrawn their accounts. British Mortgage couldn’t stand a run on the bank; its doors would have been closed and panic might have spread to all the perfectly sound trust companies across Canada.

Lawson told how he and Senator Wallace McCutcheon went to "one of the biggest banks” for a guarantee to protect the depositors, and were turned down. They appealed to trust companies, through their association, but were refused again. “You can imagine our despair,” Lawson said. "1 can tell you I didn’t sleep nights.” Then came the meeting with Denison Mines and its option to invest six million dollars in BM&T stock. But within a few days Denison’s auditors at British Mortgage hinted that not all the trouble was in Atlantic investments, Lawson recalled; there were heavy losses in mortgages as well. It seemed unlikely that Denison would pick up the option.

“The only company that rallied round us in our predicament was Victoria And Ci rey. A merger was suggested,” Lawson said, “but we still couldn’t reveal our full losses because the board of Victoria And Grey didn’t assure us until last Saturday that they would ask their shareholders to ratify the merger agreement.” Lawson held up a paper on which was a handwritten list. “Only now', for the first time, I feel safe in telling the whole story.”

Throughout Lawson’s speech the shareholders had listened silently. When he started to read the long list of BM&T losses, all through the audience there were exclamations, grunts, groans of incredulity, muttered remarks: “Terrible!” “Unbelievable!”

“Why that much?” Behind me someone said loudly, “How in the name of jumping Jesus could they get into such a mess?” When Lawson read out the personal loan of $650.000 to Powell Morgan, Atlantic's ex-president, there was a concerted gasp of astonishment from the audience.

Besides the $8,700,000 or so losses incurred through the collapse of Atlantic Acceptance, Lawson informed his listeners. British Mortgage had realestate “situations,” arrears in payments on mortgages and investments in doubtful mortgages that added up to $10,185.000.

Lawson concluded that the total book value of the losses in securities and mortgages on his list was approximately enough to wipe out the capital funds of the company.

This final announcement left BM&T shareholders limp. They sat with grim faces, despairing, some weeping. The worst, they knew now. was far more disastrous than any of them had imagined.

The only hope of salvaging anything was to amalgamate with Victoria And Grey, Lawson told them earnestly. And this could come about only — and there was still doubt — if the shareholders of Victoria And Grey, meeting at the same time in Lindsay, would consent to such a merger.

As if timed to arrive at that dramatic moment, a telegram was brought to the stage. Lawson opened the sealed envelope and read that Victoria And Grey shareholders had ratified the

merger. British Mortgage shareholders received the announcement with gloomy silence.

l.awson read a letter from Wilfrid Gregory to a stunned audience. Gregory wrote that he deeply regretted the losses suffered by shareholders, family and friends; that until recently he had been the largest holder of shares but he had borrowed heavily from the bank to buy them, and the bank had now taken them over. The confidence he had in Powell Morgan and in Atlantic Acceptance was shared by many of the largest financial institutions in Canada and United States, he went on; that Atlantic could default was incredible. but it came about because of an unfortunate combination of circumstances.

“Criticisms will undoubtedly be expressed of certain management decisions,” Lawson read, “all made with the expectation that loans could and would be repaid when due. We were keeping investments on short terms as we anticipated a rise in interest rates. Then disaster struck from an unexpected quarter.

“There is not much use in looking back and reflecting on what other decisions should have been made. I have been doing this for three months and it is futile. Shareholders must decide whether British Mortgage should merge with Victoria And Grey on a one-for-six basis. The terms seem stiff but British Mortgage is in no bargaining position.”

When the meeting was thrown open to questions there was a buzz of comment all through the theatre. Two greatly agitated women kept standing up, listening intently, and sitting down again. Men rose to ask questions through microphones in the aisles.

“Who was responsible for the bad investments of the company?” a shareholder demanded. Lawson replied that would be disclosed by the royal commission that had been appointed by the government to investigate the affairs of Atlantic and British Mortgage.

Another shareholder asked, “What is the total of customers' withdrawals?” The answer was fifteen and a half million dollars, sixty-eight percent of BM&T’s total deposits.

“Could British Mortgage go on another six months before it is committed to the merger?” The answer was a blunt no.

A shareholder who had waited some time for a microphone asked, “What would we shareholders get if British Mortgage went bankrupt?”

“Nothing,” was the answer.

“Then 1 say go bankrupt,” the shareholder said bitterly and stomped back to his seat.

A man from L,ondon asked about the propriety of BM&T investments in Atlantic and was told they complied with the terms of the provincial trust companies act. A shareholder from Oshawa was emphatic about the need for government action to prevent the

type of crisis into which BM&T had fallen. Lawson agreed.

When the meeting had gone on for almost four hours a Stratford man said, “I think Victoria And Grey are stealing British Mortgage, but let's quit the talking and vote.”

Ballots were passed and collected, a recess was declared for the tabulation of votes. Shareholders moved to the theatre lobby; some of their faces were tear-stained. “It’s worst for the old people — they can’t earn any more.” I heard one woman say. Two whitehaired men behind me were talking: “I guess Morgan wined him and dined him and made him feel like a big shot,” one said. The other added, “And Wilfrid just handed it over.”

The meeting was again called to order. Lawson announced that a substantial majority of shareholders had voted for the merger with Victoria And Grey. After September, Stratford’s beloved eighty-eight-year-old British Mortgage And Trust Company would no longer exist.

About two months after the meeting, I drove back to Stratford. As always in the fall, the motels had vacancies, the Black Swan restaurant was closed, the Festival theatre was deserted. The flowers had frozen around the building of British Mortgage And Trust Company. The name, carved in granite on the front of the building, was still there, but inside the main door there was a printed sign that said Victoria And Grey Trust Company.

The staff of British Mortgage was gradually dwindling; several executives had left to accept other positions, several BM&T clerks were staffing the newly opened Canada Trust office. No one seemed to know if BM&T’s generous image-making projects, rural and urban, would be continued.

Wilfrid Gregory had returned to Stratford to open a law office. His wife, Ann, was going to night school and doing supply teaching in Stratford’s public schools. Their mansion had been sold and they had rented actor Douglas Campbell’s cottage with its portico fashioned like the stage of the Festival theatre.

When I called on the little woman in the blue wool sox, she greeted me heartily with the news that she was managing on the money she had left. “Most of the people I know seem to be doing the same,” she said. “Gordon Rankin dropped quite a bundle — fifty thousand dollars I heard — but he's still living in the penthouse of that fancy new tenement building. Mrs. Ballentyne and Mrs. Bradshaw are selling their homes since they lost their money, but they’re both widows and might not have kept up their big places anyhow.” She thought for a moment then added, “In the summer, people said the old maids down the road were wiped out clean, but they’ve both got new fall hats and seem to be gallivanting to church bazaars just the same as they used to.”

In Stratford the feverish talk about British Mortgage had died down. But people were still asking questions. Where could all that money have disappeared? Who was responsible for it? What would the royal commission investigation disclose?

Stratford was waiting. The last act of its drama was yet to be played. ★