Looks can be deceiving.
Take Bernard for example.
He looks small and cute, and his mistress is French.
You might think that he lives in a handbag and eats paté all day, but no, he doesn’t. Okay, so he does eat the occasional croissant, and he once licked paté off the floor where some French bloke dropped it while talking to his mistress, but I don’t think that counts.
He does eat snails, but that is a whole other story.
Bernard is special.
All dogs are special, of course, but what I mean to say is that Bernard is especially talented.
You already know that dogs have amazing senses, and the sense of smell is particularly acute.
I sound like I know what I’m talking about, but to be truthful, I only discovered this because my mistress was doing research for a story.
It all started after I caught the murderer in the country house. It was one of my very first adventures. My mistress was very proud of me, and she wondered how I did it. I didn’t think much about it at the time; I just did what dogs do — I sniffed it out. I thought everyone could do it, but apparently not.
My mistress said that some dogs could detect individual ingredients in a pasta sauce. I could have told her that. It drives her crazy that her girlfriend makes a particularly good Napoli sauce, and she is not sure what the secret ingredient is. It’s Turmeric. A very tiny amount. I tried pointing at it in the spice rack using my nose, but she told me off for climbing on a chair. Humans can be very annoying.
Bernard, on the other hand, never gets told off for climbing on chairs. He is treated like a king — a small hairy king, but a king none the less.
His unique skill is finding things.
Rich people pay his mistress large amounts of money to find things that have been lost inside their huge houses, but more importantly, Bernard is asked to find things that are hidden in the houses of wealthy deceased persons — usually by greedy relatives who are sure that their dead uncle has stashed away a fortune.
Bernard comes to visit at least once a year.
His mistress and my mistress have been friends since my mistress was a student in France. She stayed with her friend’s parents for a year, and she says it was one of the best years of her life.
I was expecting Bernard to be a bit ‘up himself’, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was a very down-to-earth dog.
Appearances can be deceiving.
He likes watching soccer on TV, and he enjoys walks in the rain, but his mistress won’t let him. I splashed water on him one time so that he would know what it felt like. He was very appreciative.
I took him down to the local Butcher Shop, just to show him the sights and he had a splendid time. He got dusty, and some sand got stuck between his toes and he said it made him feel like one of those free range dogs. He was kidding himself of course. He wouldn’t last five minutes in the wild, but I let him have his dream. Who am I to step on anyone’s dream?
He told me about life in Paris, and it sounded pretty good.
French dogs are allowed into cafés, but I like it here. I’m too old to learn the French words for ‘walk’ and ‘treat’ and ‘get off the chair’.
I asked Bernard what was the most interesting thing he was asked to find, and he said that it was hard to choose, but it was probably a lost toy.
The toy belonged to a little old lady. She was very old and sick. She believed that she was going to die soon and she had been thinking a lot about her childhood. She had a favourite little doll.
She used to tell it her secrets.
One day, while playing hide and seek with her brothers and sisters, she put the doll down and forgot where she put it. She searched and searched, but to no avail.
She wanted to hold that little doll one last time before she died.
Bernard said that she offered a huge reward, but it would only be paid if he could find the doll.
His mistress brought him to meet the old lady, and they got on very well indeed. Bernard gave her a good sniffing and set off through the large old Chateau in search of the little doll. It helped that he is small because it stood to reason that the doll would be in a small hiding place just big enough to hide a little girl.
Bernard searched all day, and he was beginning to wonder if he might have to come back another day, but just as the light was failing, he wandered into a small room attached to the huge kitchen. It was full of dusty old boxes, and it looked like no one had been in there for a long time. To start with, nothing in the room seemed to smell like the little old lady had touched it, but after pushing a few boxes aside with his nose, he got a faint whiff.
The little doll had been nibbled on by moths and was very dusty, but she was in one piece, and she was exactly as the old woman had described her.
Bernard said that it was very strange, but he was sure that the little doll was calling out to him. He followed the scent and the sound directly to where the doll was lying, but when he got there, the doll stopped talking to him.
He gently carried the little doll back to the old lady. She was sleeping and woke as he jumped up on her bed. She didn’t care that the doll was dusty and moth-eaten. She hugged it and cried. Bernard knew enough about female humans to know that there was a chance that this little old lady was happy and not sad.
I asked him what happened to the doll and the little old lady, and he said that he was not sure. He heard his mistress talking about her a few times, but he did not know what her words meant. He did say that they got paid a lot of money because of his find and they went on a holiday to Trieste, and as a special treat, he got a ride on the famous funicular tramway. Bernard loves trams, and he and his mistress are going to visit Melbourne next year because they have the most extensive system of tramways anywhere in the world, not to mention the longest continuous piece of tram track.
Bernard loves trams.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but appearances can be deceiving.
I loved her the first time I saw her, and that’s all you need to know.
She had hair the colour of rich Belgian chocolate, and recently cut it shorter but would grow it longer again, just for me. A short stay in hospital had left her looking a little pale, and her lack of makeup was not disguising her beautiful complexion. She smiled at me and spoke enthusiastically about different coloured foods. She didn’t see me, not really, and I was determined to change that. Nothing was more important in my life. She was wearing an exquisite gown that showed the curves of her petite body to perfection. She left early with her friends, and I sat in a daze, wondering what had just happened.
It was Scarlett Holmyard who triggered my fitful imagination. It was Scarlett Holmyard who gave my life meaning when things were at their darkest.
I still have the souvenirs. Random memories that, if you put them all together would look like the remnants of a shredded photo album. Fragments of photographs are floating on the water or stuffed down the side of a sofa. Each piece tells a story of adventure, close encounters, triumphs and pure excitement.
I cannot explain the feelings I have when recalling them — the frustration, the hope, the confusion, the anger. Scarlett is the most important person in my life, but I don’t know that yet. She’s that person that you catch sight of out of the corner of your eye. She’s the one whose name you struggle to remember, the torn photograph with not enough detail. She is my nameless champion, my never wavering hero, and I’m the one who is doggedly searching for her.
illustration by Jack Vettriano
This story follows on from this story — https://araneus1.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/georgina-finds-herself/
Coming back is not the same as coming home.
Too much has happened for home to feel the same as it did. Which is probably just as well.
My time at Oxford had taught me several things, not the least of which was true friendship. Who else would sail halfway around the world just to save me? Harriet would not phrase it that way, but that is exactly what she did — she saved me.
I also learned that there are going to be times when I don’t have all the answers — this realisation did not sit well with me at first. I like to think that I have the strength and drive to solve any problem — meet any challenge.
Harriet was never as lucky, never as smart and certainly never as strong as me, and yet there she was, scooping up what was left of me and bringing me home. So calm, so sure of what to do.
Picking up my studies again here at home was relatively easy. Having spent a year and a half at Oxford tends to open doors. Melbourne University has always considered itself to be the most prestigious Australian hall of learning, so from snobbery alone, I was assured of a place.
Harriet found us a little flat near the Flagstaff Gardens. She obtained employment at a cafe on Flinders Lane, and I meet her every night after work. Lectures during the day and study in the library until it was time to jump on a tram and travel into the City.
Harriet is always tired after her long day, but apart from her first sentence after I ask her how her day went, “My feet are killing me” there is no further mention of how difficult her working life is. Instead, I am regaled with stories of strange and unusual characters who visit her cafe.
There are the regulars like Mr Johnston who always orders half a fried chicken and a coke. Harriett believes that he thinks he is a character in The Blues Brothers. Mrs Wilkins, who orders porridge no matter what time she comes in, “the cook never complains.” Harriett gets along with them all — you could almost say that she loves them — she has that ability. She can make herself larger. She seems to be able to find more love and deliver it wherever it is needed.
The cafe staff feed her during the day, but at night we usually eat at home. Our budget is tight. Her wages pays the rent on our flat, but there is only a little bit left over after we pay for the utilities. My parents give me what they can afford, but it barely covers my studies and expenses. Despite all this, there are days when customers at Harriett’s cafe are particularly generous, and her share of the tips sends us off on a wild night of dancing and boys. The boys always gallantly offer to buy us drinks which is just as well because fancy, dizzy, fizzy drinks are not within our budget. It’s true that when we are out and about, we are difficult to separate, but we see this as a necessary degree of difficulty for our enthusiastic suitors. “It makes them work a little harder and that way we separate the lions from the cubs.” Harriett’s comments reflect her practical streak.
Having said that, we always leave the dance hall together, never with a man. There is often a deal of pleading and cajoling, but on this point, we stand firm. That is not to say that a man is forbidden from calling one of us and arranging to meet at a later date. We don’t have a phone of our own. “Not going to happen Georgina. Forget it. I like eating, and it is a choice between a phone and food.” I quickly weighed up the options. “We could get boys to bring us food?” I knew it was a long shot.
The little old lady who lives in the flat closest to the stairs used to be young once. “You can give the boys my phone number, and I’ll vet them for you. Failing that, you give me a list of the ones I’m supposed to say yes to, and I’ll take down the details.”
Mrs Cuthbert has been a widow for a long time, and she always smiled at us when we ran into her on the stairs or when she popped around to deliver the good news about a man who had rung. “I liked this one. Said his name was Matthew. Had a sweet voice. I gave him the third degree, and he stood up well under questioning.” Then we got her patented smile, which meant that she was kidding. She loved this game. She loved being needed. “I don’t work anymore, and apart from my dog and you girls, no one needs me. It’s nice to be needed.” I nodded in agreement. Harriett needs me, and I need her.
Sunday is our favourite day.
If we are particularly low on funds, we take a blanket and picnic basket, and we picnic in the park, which is about a dozen steps from our front door. It isn’t one of the more popular parks in Melbourne, so there is always lots of space. We live in an upmarket part of Melbourne where the parks are well maintained. We lie on the blanket and stare up at the huge old trees, and we dream as all young girls have dreamed since the beginning of time. These are patient dreams, not the frantic send a Prince charming to save me sort of dream, but gentle hoping dreams. We love our life together. We love the gentle rhythm and the unexpected twists and turns, and throughout it all, there is a bond that ties us together. Georgina and Harriett — many mistake us for sisters, and in a real way we are.
The men who will inevitably catch our eye will have to live with the fact that we will want to live close to each other bringing up our families together and sharing our lives until the lights grow dim. They will understand that it has to be this way — we will not be separated.
The Chinese believe that if you save a person’s life, you are responsible for that person for the remainder of their existence. Harriett saved me and in a real sense, I saved her right back.
Neither of us has any Chinese blood in our veins, but we know that we are responsible for each other, and it will always be so.