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Tales from the Moonstone Inn

Michael Dwyer stood near Parliament House in Macquarie Street, gazing up at a large complex of flats opposite. Somewhere within that building, the girl he loved acted as a secretary to a literary lady. Yes, he loved her, and he had good reason to believe that she loved him, though for some inexplicable reason, the saucy baggage had upon three occasions refused to marry him. The Post Office clock chimed six and a few minutes later, a slight, girlish figure stood for a second poised on the top of the broad white steps that led to the street. Presently, she ran down them and commenced to walk briskly towards the Quay.

The impatient lover, regardless of passing motors, darted across the road in pursuit. He had just reached the opposite pavement when he saw, to his intense indignation, a middle-aged gentleman bear down upon his lady love with his right hand extended. To make matters worse, he had to suffer the mortification of seeing his beloved one return the handshake and, as if to add insult to injury, smile up into the stranger's face.

So, she was after old moneybags. All the hard things he had heard and read about women were right. They were all cut from the same cloth. You couldn't trust 'em. With these bitter thoughts in his mind, the young man strode past the couple unnoticed. He walked at a furious pace until he reached the public library. There, he halted and took his stand at the Macquarie Street side of the entrance.

As he did so, his right foot collided with a small object on the pavement. The exasperated lover kicked it viciously with his foot and sent it hurtling into the gutter. However, something about the thing attracted his attention and he walked to the edge of the kerb and picked it up. It proved to be a small piece of wood cunningly carved so that it was a miniature of one of those hideous images that adorn eastern temples. It was a curiosity anyhow, and Michael slipped it into his pocket.

He had scarcely done so when an elderly gentleman bustled round the corner from Bent Street and began to fossick about the pavement and then to examine the contents of the gutter.

"Lost something?" asked Michael.

"Yes, indeed! Yes indeed!"

"Anything of value?"

"Well, it is and it isn't, if you get my meaning," replied the gentleman, straightening himself up and walking over to the young man.

"The fact of the matter is it's a small piece of wood carved to represent an eastern god. I bought it from a half-drunken sailor outside a hotel on Circular Quay on Armistice Night. He said he was stony broke, so I gave him half a crown for it. He said it was the god of luck."

"And has it brought you any luck?" asked Michael, smiling.

"Well, when I bought it, I was an eastern suburb shopkeeper on the verge of bankruptcy. Today, I'm fairly prosperous, my name is Brimage."

"Brimage!" gasped Michael. "Not the Brimage, surely? The owner of the chain of stores?"

"Since you make the accusation, young man, I must plead guilty to the soft impeachment. I am the Brimage, and such is fame."

"Fairly prosperous," repeated Michael, "I should think you are, sir. Why you must be a millionaire."

"Well, I don't carry my bankbook about for all the world to see, but I'll admit I'm fairly comfortable. Suppose we let it go at that? As for the god of luck, let us hope some poor devil who is down on his luck has picked it up and that it'll do him a bit of good."

Brimage took a pair of pince-nez glasses from his nose and began to polish them with his handkerchief.

Michael watched him with an uncomfortable feeling of guilt. His conscience said to return what he had found to its owner, but self interest whispered for him to keep it for a day or so and to see what would happen and then return it. Self interest won the day.

"Well," said Brimage, replacing the glasses on the bridge of his nose at a rather jaunty angle, "I must be getting along."

As he said the words, a small boy ran round the corner and collided with him and the glasses fell to the pavement, shattering into a thousand pieces. The boy fled for his life.

"There you are," said Brimage, "I haven't lost that image many minutes - and you see what's happened.

He walked a few paces away, then turned about and walked back.

"If it's not a rude question," he said, "what might your occupation or profession be?"

"Mine?" replied Michael, surprised. "Oh! I'm a clerk in a second-rate shipping office, with poor pay and no prospects."

"You look a smart and reliable young fellow," said Brimage, "and I'm always on the lookout for smart, ambitious men. If the idea commends itself to you, I'd like to have an interview with you sometime. What's your lunch hour tomorrow?"

"From one till two, sir."

"Well, how about popping in at my office tomorrow between one and two and we'll have a chat. I may be able to offer you something worthwhile. There's plenty of scope for a smart young fellow in Brimage's Limited."

"I shall be pleased, sir. Thank you."

"Very well then, I shall expect you."

With a wave of his hand, the Napoleon of Sydney's retail trade disappeared down Bent Street.

Michael now glanced up the street and saw the middle-aged gentleman raise his hat and Mildred, or Middy as he called her, wave her hand to the silly old fool. The next moment and the foolish girl came tripping down the street, but for all his vexation of spirit, he darted across the street to meet her.

"Why, Michael!" cried Middy, as she clutched his arm. "You're the one person in all the world I was most anxious to meet at this very minute."

"Oh! Indeed, and what about the old money bags you've just parted from?"

"Old money bags? Oh, you mean Mr. Todd! He's mother's solicitor. Why, Michael, I believe you're jealous of poor Mr. Todd! It's too delicious for words. Why, you poor boob. He used to joggle me on his knees when I was a kiddie, and he was so glad to be the first to tell me the good news."

"So he brought you good news, eh?"

"Well, perhaps I shouldn't so regard it, but mother's eldest sister has died in a place called Coombe in England and left a little over forty thousand pounds to be shared between mother and we three girls."

"Bully for you."

"And what about you? You silly old duffer! You know very well, Michael, that the only reason why I wouldn't marry you was because it would be madness to start married life on your miserable salary. It occurs to me though that I think we might venture to start housekeeping on ten thousand pounds. Don't you, Michael?"

"Middy!" cried the young man, coming to a standstill in the middle of the pavement. "Do you mean that?"

"Of course I do. Why, I wouldn't marry anyone else! No, not if you were the only man in the world."

"Well, that's a bit of Irish, alright," said Michael, laughing.

"Have I said something silly?"

"Oh, you can say any old thing you like, Middy, so long as you marry me! Nothing else matters."

"Michael!" said Middy, after a quick glance about her. "Kiss me, darling! Kiss me, quickly, before someone comes!"

"With all my heart, dear," replied Michael, "but I'm going to kiss something else first."

To the girl's amazement, he took from his pocket a graven image and kissed the god of luck.

At this point, there came a diversion and the couple became aware that something alarming was happening not far away. Crowds of excited people were surging along the street in one direction and the clamour of passing fire engines awoke them from love's young dream.

"What's the matter, laddie?" Michael asked of a boy who had stopped to tie up his boot lace on a doorstep.

"Brimage's Store is on fire in Pitt Street," said the boy.

"Come on, Middy!" said Michael, "We're in this."

Seizing the hand of the bewildered girl, they joined the crowd converging on the famous retailers. When they reached Martin Place, they saw a dense cloud of smoke ahead, a vast concourse of people and beyond them, the brass helmets of a small army of firemen. Michael elbowed his way through the crowd and saw Brimage standing by a fire engine, talking to an inspector of police.

"I've an urgent message for Mr. Brimage," Michael said to the constable who barred his way. Something in his manner must have suggested that his motives were genuine, for he was allowed through and was guided to the storekeeper.

"Hulloa, young man!" said Brimage. "This is a bad business. It's all very well for people to talk about insurance, but it doesn't recoup a man for loss of trade and prestige."

"I found this outside the Public Library, sir," said Michael, pushing the god of luck into the elderly man's hand.

"Oh that!" said Brimage, "I'd forgotten all about it."

He had just thrust it into a pocket of his coat when the chief of the Fire Brigade approached him.

"It's not so serious as we supposed, sir," he reported. "More smoke than fire. Not much damage done so far as I can see. We've got it well under control now and in another hour's time, everything will be OK."

"Don't forget to call and see me tomorrow, as we arranged, young man!" called Brimage, as Michael, having wished the storekeeper goodnight, was moving away.

I very much doubt whether this story would ever have been written had it not been for the fact that a few nights ago, I had the good fortune to dine with the Dwyers at their charming home at Lindfield. As we sat after dinner before the fire in their cosy drawing room, Michael on my right with his favourite briar between his teeth and his long legs stretched out to the blaze, and Mrs. Michael on my left, with Michael the second on her lap, my mind, for some reason or other, reverted to the god of luck.

"It's a few years ago now, Michael," I said, "since you picked up that god of luck outside the Public Library."

"It's a strange thing," replied Michael, taking the pipe from his mouth and smiling, "the wife and I were talking about it at breakfast this morning. It was seven years ago last Tuesday."

"And now," I said, "you're managing director of Brimages Ltd., you've got a charming wife and you've got a son and heir of whom any man can be proud."

Mrs. Michael acknowledged the compliment directed at her and angled her son's head in a nod with the palm of her hand, so he may have been said to have vicariously done likewise.

"And you have a delightful home. What more can a man ask of providence?"

"Yes," agreed Michael. "I've been exceptionally fortunate. Did I tell you that Brimage gave me the image a few months before he died? Like to see it?"

"There is nothing on this earth," I answered, and I spoke the truth, "that I'm more curious to see."

Michael went to a cabinet and took out a small glass case. Within it, resting on a velvet cushion, was the god of luck. It had a most hideous countenance, and about its lips there seemed to lurk a mocking smile.

"It's not much to look at," I said, "but you take great care of it."

"Too right," said Michael.

He pointed to his son and heir with the stem of his pipe.

"And when that young shaver comes to years of discretion, I shall hand it over to him and it shall be a heirloom forever in the Dwyer family."

"Amen!" said Mrs. Michael.

And with that, she lifted up her son, so that his face was level with her own, and imprinted a fond kiss on little lips that were as red as ripe cherries.

Francis W. Strapp, 2012

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