City Of Discoveries — Episode 10

“Why, is that you, Mrs Sutherland?”

Elspeth dragged her mind back into the Sydney sunshine half an hour later as Grizel Stewart’s words broke her concentration.

“It is Mrs Sutherland.” Another young woman spoke. “And what a lovely sketch you’ve drawn of old Patty’s house.”

Abigail Fyffe came and stood at Elspeth’s shoulder to get a closer look and Elspeth shuffled along the rough board seat she’d perched on to allow the other to sit down.

“Good gracious, Abi, what are you thinking?” Grizel screeched. “It’s bound to be filthy, and there might be spiders or even a snake lurking out of sight.”

Elspeth felt the younger woman stiffen at her side, but she did stand up again, if slowly.

“You are right, dear Grizel, but perhaps Mrs Sutherland doesn’t want to be warned about our wildlife so dramatically?” Abigail spoke mildly while she adjusted her broad-brimmed hat and lifted her parasol to open it.

“We are proposing to walk to Bethany’s house, Mrs Sutherland, and I know she has invited you, so perhaps you’d grant us your company?”

Elspeth was still a little surprised by the formalities of life in Australia, when its vastness was empty of much beyond wooden houses outside the cities.

Fashion trailed the arrival of goods on the boats from home, of course, and maybe people put more effort into their appearance when they were away from the centre.

She could see the others were wearing tailored morning dresses with matching hats and gloves, and that they carried smart bags and very pretty parasols.

Among the inner circle of Harold’s friends at the garden there was no such pursuit of perfection.

Indeed, many of the women volunteered in the gardens and came suitably dressed to work on their hands and knees. Any fashion rivalry was down to the patterns stamped on their hessian aprons.

It was, however, more the manners Elspeth was taking so much time to adjust to.

In Dundee, any of her friends would have simply slipped an arm through hers and continued walking, had they overtaken her on the way to an event.

“That’s very thoughtful, Mrs Fyffe. I’m sure I would have taken a wrong turning before long. Maybe that’s why Harold won’t allow me to accompany him into the Blue Mountains on his field trip.”

Abigail laughed, but Grizel frowned.

“I think it’s much more likely to be concern for your welfare,” Abigail said. “Field trips are notoriously dangerous.”

“Dangerous?” Elspeth asked.

“Well, Mrs Sutherland, a person must be hidden from the company for some purposes and at those moments one is very vulnerable,” Grizel said, her complexion flushed with embarrassment.

“Why, yes, I suppose one must. But surely, with so many people tramping around the camp site, any snakes will have slithered away to find peace?” Elspeth asked, and instantly regretted it.

Grizel was clearly afraid of creepy crawlies.

At home, Hetty Wilson would have told her off for her own trampling on another’s sensitivities. Oh, dear, and she would have been right, too.

“But perhaps you have the right of it. Harold is worried about my safety.”

They arrived at Bethany’s house and were welcomed in, to find a large gathering of young matrons and their unmarried sisters and cousins.

Elspeth recognised a few of the ladies now and was soon deep in conversation with Bethany and her neighbour.

They were standing, with their china teacups, towards the open windows at the back of the room when they heard Grizel’s voice raised a little as if she were addressing someone who was a trifle deaf.

“Of course, that little mouse thinks her husband is keeping her in Sydney because of the snakes,” Grizel said. “But everyone knows it has so much more to do with the lady he visits out there.”

Bethany squeaked in outrage and slammed the window down.

“That woman! I do beg your pardon, Elspeth. I would not invite her, but her papa is Teddy’s boss, you know, and in this small society . . .”

Elspeth took pity on her friend’s confusion.

“Goodness, Bethany, Grizel’s tongue has run away with her. I cannot blame you.”

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”.