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AIDAN DE BRUNE

MARY'S FLEECE

Cover Image

Cover design by Terry Walker



First published in Smith's Weekly, Sydney, NSW, 15 July 1933

This e-book edition
Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-11-19
Produced by Terry Walker, Colin Choat and Roy Glashan.

The text of this book is in the public domain in Australia.
All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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THIS book is a product of a collaborative effort undertaken by Project Gutenberg Australia, Roy Glashan's Library and the bibliophile Terry Walker to collect, edit and publish the works of Aidan de Brune, a colourful and prolific Australian writer whose opus is well worth saving from oblivion.



Illustration

IXTEEN pounds is not a fortune—even in these days of financial depression. Yet Mary Cronig felt herself rich. It was her fortune and she regarded it as promise of a brighter future. If the world contained sixteen pounds then might it not contain sixty—or even six hundred.

Her brain whirled under the magic figures. Clothes! Mary looked into the wobbly mirror. Clothes she must have, for in the half-world she would walk clothes meant much.

But clothes—and sixteen pounds! Yet clothes, and good ones, must be obtained. Sixteen pounds crowded into the mouth of a purse discreetly stuffed with tissue paper makes a great showing. Her clothes were old but dainty; her hat had lost chic.

Mary decided that she had arrived in Sydney from the country—having inherited a fortune. That would be almost true. Sydney loves a country cousin—with money. A fashionable hotel was elected to house Mary long before she drove up to its portals surrounded by suitcases. In her luxurious room she totalled her bills. She had spent forty-three pounds—and had still four notes left. Great is the elasticity of sixteen pounds when aided by the power a famous novelist named "IT."


LORD John Fitzgalbyn caught his breath as the lithe, slim damsel in green chiffon georgette floated into the Winter Garden. Here was one of Australia's loveliest daughters, heiress, no doubt, to broad acres and countless sheep. Sheep meant fleeces and fleeces meant gold. For aeons gold had ceased to shower on the Fitzgalbyn family.

Mary passed through the lounge and, purely by accident, her gossamer handkerchief fell almost at the Fitzgalbyn feet. Lord John was nothing lacking. He brought the dainty trifle to Mary.

"My handkerchief! How good of you!" Her eyes were calmly indifferent.

"A handkerchief may break a—a fleece."

"A fleece?"

"How stupid of me. A heart, I mean."

Lord John had been occupied in dividing fleeces into green chiffon georgette.

"May I?" He subsided into a chair.

"Really, Mr—"

"John. Lord John Fitzgalbyn, Miss—err—"

"Mary Cronig—" she hesitated, then, his reference to fleeces giving her a clue, she added: "...of Yandaloo."

"Not the daughter of Peter Cronig, of Yandaloo? Why, I have an introduction to him. From Admiral Neldon, y'know. Great old fellow. Remember him, Miss Cronig? Commanded on the Australian Station in—er—But you were quite a child then. Told me he and your father were great cobbers."

Mary gurgled. She pictured a sturdy British Admiral and Jim Cronig, wharf labourer and Communist, hobnobbing.

"Why, dad will be pleased!" she gasped.

"Jove, there's Mrs. Entwhistle. Came out on the same boat. Great little lady. Wife of Entwhistle—the Tom Entwhistle, y'know. You must meet her. Excuse me!"

In a few moments Lord John returned, escorting a tall, very fashionably-gowned lady. Mary acknowledged the introduction demurely. As she raised her eyes she saw Sam Cleek watching her. For the moment her heart missed a beat. What would he say—or do? With a toss of her head she beckoned to him.

"Lord John, be careful!" she whispered. "Sam Cleek—my cousin. Next run to ours—horribly rich." She turned to Cleek. "Didn't expect to see me in Sydney, Sam? But I just had to have some new clothes. May I, Mrs. Entwhistle. My cousin, Mr. Cleek, of Bylanby. The next station to my home."

"Lord John Fitzgalbyn—Mr. Sam Cleek." Sam was puzzled at her reception of him, but his wits were keen. He guessed Mary was playing some game. Well, he would join in on her invitation until... He had an account to settle with the little lady.

"Beastly bore these Australian notes—and so dirty." Lord John waxed confidential to his new acquaintances. "Went in a shop today and, believe me, I had to put on my gloves before I dare handle the notes they gave me. Now, our Bank of England notes—always clean—"

"I haven't changed my English money yet," interrupted Mrs. Entwhistle. "How do I do it, Mr.—er—Cleek?"

"But your letter of credit, dear lady?" expostulated Lord John.

"Haven't one," The Englishwoman laughed. "Tom will bring his next boat. I have my money in nice, new, crisp, notes. Four hundred pounds."

She opened her vanity bag and showed a comfortable wad of English notes.

"Haven't changed mine, either." Lord John laughed. "But I have only a couple of hundred odd on me."

He opened a wallet and scattered Bank of England notes over the table.

"For goodness sake!" Mary exclaimed. "Put them away! Don't you know these hotels are filled with crooks?"

"Well, where do we change our money, Mr. Cleek." Mrs. Entwhistle turned to the confidence man. "Suppose you know your banknotes are at a premium out here?"

Cleek spoke diffidently. "You can change them for Australian notes at the Commonwealth Bank. Don't forget you should get about twenty-two or twenty-three shillings for each English pound. That's their idea of the rate of exchange; or—"

"Or, what?" Lord John Interjected as the crook paused. "Let me explain." Cleek leaned forward, confidentially. "The Commonwealth Bank will give you about twenty-two shillings, for each English pound. But you can get more than that."

"How?" asked Mrs. Entwhistle, eagerly.

"There are men who buy English banknotes. In England an Australian pound note is only worth fifteen or sixteen shillings. Understand?"

The new arrivals nodded.

"These men have big interests in England. It pays them to buy English notes in Australia at better than Commonwealth Bank exchange rates. They send them to England to pay their commitments there."

"Cute!" Lord John nodded. "Suppose you know these people well?"

"Very well. I will introduce you to them tomorrow."

"Good. I'll have to get change soon. Too late for the bank to-day, I suppose?"

"Yes." Cleek hesitated. "If you're pressed I can let you have a few pounds—but at Commonwealth Bank exchange rates, y'know."

"But I want some Australian money today," Mrs. Entwhistle almost wailed.

Mary started, suddenly. Someone had kicked her shin. She caught Cleek's eyes.

"I can let you have some, Mrs. Entwhistle, if you will come up to my room," she said.

"How dear of you!" The lady gushed. "I must accept if I lose by it. There's the darlingest frock you ever saw in a shop just opposite here. I tremble in case anyone gets there before me. Can you spare me ten pounds?"

Under the table eleven single notes slid Into Mary's hand. She nodded to Mrs. Entwhistle—and rose.


IN her room Mary accepted a ten-pound Bank of England note for eleven Australian pound notes. When Mrs. Entwhistle had departed on her shopping excursion, gallantly escorted by Lord John, Mary sought Cleek in the Winter Garden. She handed him the English banknote.

For some minutes he fingered it in silence, then wrote two words across the face and returned it to Mary. She glanced at it and gasped; then, without a word, tucked it into her bag.

"Thanks for the intros, Mary," Cleek laughed. "Congrats. Couldn't have done better myself. See you tomorrow."

Mary waited for Mrs. Entwhistle's return. She followed the jubilant lady to her room and duly admired the purchase.

"Have you known Lord John long, Mrs. Entwhistle?" she asked carelessly.

"My dear! All my life. We're relations, you know!"

"Relations and—partners!" Mary laughed. "He carries the—the notes and you pass them."

"What?" The Englishwoman gasped. "My dear girl, what do you mean?"

"Exactly what I have said." Mary spoke grimly. "Here is the banknote you passed on me. I guess you would like to buy it back—with my knowledge."

"My dear, of course. I thought—"

"The note is valuable." Mary's tones were significant. "Very—very, valuable."

"Ten pounds, I think," Mrs. Entwhistle spoke, stiffly.

"Three hundred pounds." Mary corrected. She placed her finger against the words Cleek had written on the banknote. "Counterfeit. The police take a serious view of that offence in this country—especially when committed by new arrivals."

Mrs. Entwhistle protested, but Mary was adamant. She knew Lord John had lied to her. She knew the woman and man were confederates; that if she had really been the little rich country girl she had pretended to be they would have looted her without mercy.


THE next morning Mary opened her first checking account with thirty crisp Bank of England notes for ten pounds each. One note she retained and over it held a whispered conference with the teller.

Some time later she met Sam Cleek in the Winter Garden.

"Well?" he asked.

"You were mistaken, Sam." Mary laughed gently. "That banknote was perfectly good."

"What happened?" The man's lips set angrily. "You've got eleven pounds of mine."

"And for it I give you this English banknote." The girl placed it gently on his knee. "Thanks awfully for the accommodation, Sam."

"You didn't take the dame down?" The crook spoke incredulously.

"I fined her—satisfactorily." Mary's eyes became dreamy. "You see, Sam, they thought I was the innocent daughter of a rich squatter and—and coveted my fleece. I—I merely protected myself."

She rose and sauntered to the elevator. As the door closed on her she smiled and waved gaily to the astounded crook.


THE END


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