Roy Glashan's Library.
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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.
MARY CRONIG sat on a seat in the Domain. In her lap lay a few coppers, amid which gleamed a solitary silver coin.
Alone again in the world, through the sudden deaths of her foster parents she had struggled for work until only a shilling remained. She had hunted work desperately—to find she was only one of too many. She was hungry, with the voracious appetite of a young animal. The pence she possessed would provide food of sorts, but she craved for stronger, more nourishing meats. Before her eyes was visioned the restaurants she had passed that day; the loaded tables, the well-dressed folk at them.
"What's the matter, lassie?" A drawling voice startled her. "Hard up?"
Mary turned to face the man. Young, well-dressed and self-possessed, his hard light blue eyes betrayed him to be of the predatory class. She had met men like him in past days when she had served behind counters—when she had robbed to avert a worse fate than prison.
"Hard up, no!" she laughed. "I've money to burn. I...I was only wondering which blade of grass I should pick to, cash at my bank."
"Hungry?" The man grinned. "So am I. Let's hunt a bite, eh, what?"
"Pommy?" She rose quickly. The invitation was too good to refuse.
"No. Not that I don't know the Old Land. Say, my name's Sam Creek. What's yours?"
"Mary," she answered.
"Good enough!" The man laughed. "Any particular fancy?"
"Porterhouse, fried onions and chips." She flushed. "Awful, ain't I? Should have said nightingale tongues and a thimble of nectar."
"Menu suits me." He fell into step. "What's your lay, Mary?"
"Trimming mugs." The girl's eyes danced. Again she was a Sydney gamine, living on her wits. "What's yours?"
"Con game." A twirl of his cane. "There's a good lay on."
"English boat due. Full of lads and lassies. Worked the con game, lassie?"
"Pal in with me?"
"And..." Mary paused, significantly. Creek did not reply. He looked down on her, appraisingly.
"You're a good looker, kid."
The girl held up a bag-mirror, and laughed. "What's the ritual, laddie?"
"Oh, hell!" His hard eyes lit. "Why shouldn't we team up? You've got tho goods."
"And you the price?"
"What do you think?"
"Porterhouse, onions and chips?"
The girl shook her head. "You speak next, Mr. Creek."
The man stopped at a restaurant door. Mary walked into the long, cool room, glancing appreciatively at tho snowy napery and gleaming silver. She chose her seat carefully.
"Have a look at that." Creek flipped a well-filled note-case into her lap. "That's the good word, ain't it?"
"Chicken-feed," Mary laughed. She saw the notes were only "pounders."
"Madame Alexandre would burn that on lingerie." Yet her heart beat faster at sight of the money. The man was a crook. Into her poise, her voice, she threw all her allurement. Creek ordered while Mary watched him closely. What was his game? She had met men predatory for girls careless or in trouble. This man spoke their language yet his eyes belied his words. She devoted herself to the food, answering his smooth flow of conversation vaguely.
The note-case lay on the table. Creek made no effort to retrieve it. She must have that money! Why did he leave it there? Had he other—larger—money on him?
"Well?" The crook spoke impatiently.
"Your answer." Mary glanced around the restaurant. Here eyes rested on a man seated nearby. A frown momentarily puckered her brow. Detective Tom Martin was watching her. She had known him in her respectable days. She grinned impishly. She could use him; play him against her crook.
"What's tho matter, lassie?" Creek looked round. "Come on, in or out?" Mary remained silent. Martin had finished hiss meal and was reaching for his hat. A light came in her eyes.
"You...you will be good to me?" She reached Impulsively across the table.
"'Course." The hard light almost faded from Creek's eyes. He made to catch her hand. She evaded his touch. His elbow pushed the note-case to the ground almost at Martin's feet. He picked it up.
"Yours, I believe." He spoke to Mary.
"Oh, thanks." Tho girl looked up, puzzled. "How careless of me. Why, it's Mr. Martin."
"And you, Miss Cronig." Martin shook hands warmly. "Haven't seen you for quite an age."
"I've wanted to see you." There was more than friendliness in the girl's tones. "Mr. Creek—Mr. Martin. Wait a moment, Tom. I'm coming with you. Good-bye, Mr. Creek. Thanks awfully!"
She caught Martin's arm and urged him to the door. For the moment Creek was bewildered, then made to follow them. A waiter with his bill delayed him. He hurried to overtake Mary.
"What's the game, kid?" He asked as he drew alongside.
"Mr. Creek?" Mary registered surprise.
"Your money? What do you mean?" The girl spoke indignantly.
"You've got my note-case and money. Twenty pounds. Want me to call a cop?"
"You..." The girl blazed. "Yes, call your policeman. No. Here's Detective Martin. He will serve your purpose, no doubt."
"What's the matter?" Martin was plainly bewildered. "This girl frisked my money. Twenty pounds in a note-case."
"Your note-case? Why, Mary..." The detective stared at the girl. "I picked up a note-case under your table and gave it to you."
"Yes." The girl nodded. "Going to charge me, Mr. Samuel Creek?"
"Yes. That is..." The man hesitated.
"Very well." Mary's lips were set. "Tom, see this through for me."
"Please, I must be searched...at once."
Taking Creek's arm and pressed rather close to his side, she walked to the station house. Creek and Martin waited while a woman searcher took Mary to another room. They returned and the woman shook her head.
"But where is it?" Creek was bewildered.
"You put a note-case in your bag, Mary." Martin spoke suspiciously. The girl held out her bag immediately. The note-case was not there.
"You owe me an apology, Sam Creek." Suddenly Mary dimpled. "I'll forgive you because of your nice lunch, I'm sorry about your money, but..." With a laugh she seized the crook's arm again. "Come! I think I understand." With a nod to the detective she led Creek to the restaurant.
"I put your note-case there, and knocked it down," she explained, standing by the table. "I must have swept it from the table again when I left—in a hurry."
The money was not under the table or in the restaurant. Chagrined, the crook parted from Mary, not renewing his proposals for a partnership.
In her room, an hour later, Mary emptied the note-case into her bag.
"The swindler!" she exclaimed, laughing. "Twenty pounds, and there's only sixteen here. Well...I suppose I must forgive him—for taking care of the money while I was searched."
Roy Glashan's Library.
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