‘What‘ll ya have, Seamus?’ Lonnie O’Sullivan asked the next man lined up to his bar.
‘A pint of your finest ale Mr O’Sullivan if you please.’
Lonnie surveyed his domain with satisfaction. The saloon was scattered with miners. The pall of smoke from pipes and hand-rolled cigarettes hung over the tables. Across the room, his wife, Sarah, played the piano. He smiled to himself, thinking how lucky he was as he took a moment to study her beautiful neck. Her red dress showed her milky shoulders and her dark blonde hair was piled on her head held with a pin and a feather. He resisted the urge to go over and caress that neck, kiss those lips and have those hazel eyes stare up at him.
A noise at the back stairs jerked him out of his revelry. Twelve-year-old Billy Smith was struggling with a keg. Lonnie grabbed the barrel and together they hauled the load into the bar.
‘Thank you sir,’ Billy said as he turned to continue his deliveries.
‘No trouble Billy, how’s your ma?’ Lonnie asked. ‘She’s fine thank you, sir’ said the boy.
Lonnie flipped him a shilling and called, ‘Here you go, lad.’
He knew the boy’s meagre income was helping to support his entire family since his father had died. The piano had stopped and Sarah was standing by the door. Constable Angus Macauley strode in, his red face showed that this was not the first establishment he’d called at. His hungry eyes devoured Sarah and he pulled her roughly to him.
‘You gonna be nice to me tonight?’ Sarah’s disgust was obvious in her voice as she told him ‘Leave off!’
Lonnie was at Sarah’s side. As he pulled the big man away from her, Macauley took a drunken swing at his head. The bar-keeper’s answering blow did not miss. The constable swore loudly and held his hands up to his bleeding nose.
‘You Irish bastard. I’ll get you for this.’
The raid, when it came, was over in minutes. Macauley and two of his cronies barged in, smashing furniture and bottles. Customers scattered and fled into the night. Two thugs held Lonnie as Macauley read aloud the summons. ‘Serving alcohol without a licence and running an illegal gambling den.’
As they dragged Lonnie out to the wagon, Macauley threw the paper at the weeping Sarah.
Lonnie woke coughing. The spittle he wiped with the back of his hand was streaked with blood. He had been in this damp cell for nearly a month now. Seventy-five pounds! That was the total of the fines that he had been given. That amount of money was far more than Sarah would find in the bank account. He hoped she really had taken the money and left town like Macauley took great pleasure in telling him. He could serve the eight months fine default in prison as long as he knew that she would be OK.
The sound of the door made him steel himself. But it was the portly bailiff James Wallace. As the guards helped Lonnie up the bailiff said, ‘your fine has been paid in full, you lucky Irishman.’
When Lonnie came out of the gaol house, young Billy was waiting with a horse and cart, clean clothes and a letter from Sarah.
My Love, she had written, forgive me for not being there but I fear my presence would have caused you more grief at the mercy of that horrid Scotsman, Macauley. We were ten pounds short after selling the mare and sulky. Forgive me, I had to sell your mother’s emerald necklace. Please don’t be angry, husband, with the extra money and the help of stalwart young Billy we were able to avoid Macauley and deliver the money to Mr Wallace directly and so procure your release. I have gone to find work at the new dam being built at Cateract, just as we discussed, and we shall start again. Come join me beloved. All my love, Sarah
Wet drops splashed onto the pages, as Lonnie dabbed at his eyes. Another cough tightened his heavy chest. They had spoken about the Cateract Dam as the most likely spot for another Working Men’s Club. For the briefest of moments he considered doing just that, joining his wife. But as his body shuddered with another cough, he knew he would not go. He knew that his persistent coughing meant Tuberculosis and he could not be such a man to burden Sarah with looking after an invalid.
His brother lived in his home town of Warrnambool. Augustus would take him in. He would rest and recover and make his fortune again, after all, he was lucky, wasn’t he? Then he would find her. They would be together again and this time he would give her the life she deserved.