City Of Discoveries — Episode 09

“I remember. You and Mistress Wightman hope her nephew can get Jennet’s man into Keiller’s for the marmalade season,” Hetty said.

“Perhaps we’ll see some of the oranges being unloaded,” Thomas said. “Crombie and I are heading out to look at the docks.”

He pushed back his chair.

“That was a delightful breakfast, Hetty. “You must tell me when a trip to the Servants’ Registry would most suit you.”

Hetty led the way out of the room as Carrie addressed John Crombie.

“You must not think I couldn’t survive without indoor servants, Mr Crombie. If I knew someone capable enough to take over my responsibilities here in the new suffrage office, travelling somewhere remote would be a priority.”

It was, Hetty thought, a most interesting remark from her young cousin, whose life so far had shown no inclination to do without indoor servants.

She allowed herself a small smile before turning her attention back to Thomas. Perhaps agreeing to accept gentlemen guests would have benefits she could not have foreseen.

*  *  *  *

Elspeth Sutherland studied the closed expression on her husband’s face. He clearly had no idea of the strength of her wish – she might even say need – to travel in this exciting young country to which he’d brought her.

Elspeth decided she must marshal her facts before jumping into an argument she might not win, and which might cause Harold to retreat to a position from which he could not be moved without loss of face.

Years of watching Mama’s careful handling of Papa were not to be wasted on a ding-dong argument, no matter how satisfying a wife might find that.

She retired to her bedroom to dress for breakfast. Sitting around while the servants were arranging things out of sight in the kitchen quarters and the ground-floor room was one thing.

Appearing at the breakfast table in her nightgown and a wrapper was another entirely.

She had been in this new house for nearly a month and it was easily the best-designed one she’d experienced since landing in Australia in March.

The whole building was surrounded by a wide verandah that allowed access to every ground-floor room.

All of the windows comprised glass panes with insect mesh and louvered shutters so a constant breeze might be achieved when there was any available.

In the absence of a natural breeze, Harold had had the builders install ceiling fans.

One end of the building was a single-storey laboratory and greenhouse where Harold grew plant samples, stored his plant specimens and worked most days if he wasn’t in discussions with visiting academics from Europe or America in the main building.

It wasn’t unusual for him to pop into the house to have luncheon with her if she wasn’t going out to a morning tea or on a trip with some of her new friends.

Elspeth washed and dressed in a loose-fitting blouse over an ankle-length cotton skirt. The pale green suited her complexion, which was gradually darkening as the weeks under Australia’s hot sun passed.

She took a final glance into her cheval mirror and thought how shocked her Dundee friends would be that her delicate northern skin had turned the lightest brown.

After breakfast, Elspeth gathered up her sketching materials and headed out of the botanical garden towards the city.

She’d seen an interesting older house on a street corner a couple of days before and meant to make a sketch or two on her way to take morning tea at her friend Bethany Davis’s house.

Sitting with her sketch book and a pencil in her hand would allow her to calm her mind before meeting up with the ladies.

What was she to do about Harold’s tight-lipped refusal to take her with him when he went into the Blue Mountains?

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.