City Of Discoveries — Episode 11


Later, in the cool of the evening, Elspeth and Harold sat companionably on the back verandah watching a group of young kangaroos in some waste ground beyond the garden boundary.

Elspeth remembered the cutting remark. She also remembered the horrid sinking sensation as the meaning of Grizel Stewart’s words became clear.

Despite being absolutely sure Harold had no such person in keeping, the shock was intense.

“Who is this woman you don’t want me to meet in the Blue Mountains, Harold?” she asked quietly.

It wasn’t the way she would have asked the question had she had any inkling Harold did have a mistress.

Harold’s reply was so prosaic, it had to be reassuring.

“There are no women in the Blue Mountains, my dear,” Harold said. “I have already made my thoughts plain, Elspeth, and I am not going to change my mind. I will not take you into danger.”

“Miss Stewart was informing the company this morning that you had a woman in keeping in the mountains and that was why you didn’t want to take me,” Elspeth said, refusing to be side-lined.

If she had to suffer the innuendo spread by this woman, why shouldn’t her husband learn of it, she thought.

“After all, a snake is not going to know whether the foot that traps its tail is a female foot or a male one. Is it?”

“Elspeth!”

“I think I shall retire now.” She gathered her fan and the novel she had been reading by lamplight.

At her side Harold rose and lifted both their lamps to carry them upstairs.

Although he said nothing more, she saw a frown creasing his forehead.

He made no answer to her assertion, though, and Elspeth was satisfied for the moment.

*  *  *  *

Jennet climbed the flight of stairs to the landing and dragged along to their door. She knocked lightly and William let her in, dropping the latch into place behind her.

He turned away to stir the pot hung over the fire and Jennet sensed he’d not had any luck that day, either.

How she missed his cheery whistle. It was weeks, if not months, since she’d heard it welcoming her home.

She thought perhaps it wasn’t a good time to tell him about Fleming’s accusation and felt a tiny niggle of resentment. She needed his support if she was to go on turning up to that cavernous building full of noise and people.

Jennet really missed her reading and the moments of quiet it provided.

They padded about. Jennet removed her outdoor boots and the two shawls she had wound around her. She saw a tear in one and knew she’d need to mend it before it ripped along and made the thing useless.

“That a rip?” William asked.

He hung her shawls on a hook beside the door and set her boots near the fire to dry out. Rain had started during the day and she’d walked back through deepening puddles.

Jennet struggled to get a breath. The fire was blowing back a bit and a swirl of coal smoke hung in the air. It moved in the draught from their ill-fitting window.

But it wasn’t only that, she knew. It was William’s determination to keep his pain close and shut her out of his desperation that robbed her of the ability to breathe easily.

“I picked up some nuggets o’ coal on ma way back frae the Keiller’s factory,” William said.

He nodded to a few lying among the logs and ends of wood he’d scavenged on his walks around the city.

“Waste o’ time otherwise.”

“Oh, William!” Jennet sobbed and threw herself into his arms.

He squeezed her briefly and set her apart. Jennet grabbed one of his hands and held it against her face, but he snatched it back and made a great play of sorting the stew.

“It’s mostly vegetables, lass, but I did get hold of a bone in that butcher’s along Hawkhill and into one of the pends.

“He’s got a sister in Carnoustie so I . . .” William stopped speaking and Jennet knew he was overcome.

Helpless, she turned to their table where he’d set out their bits of cutlery earlier and sorted them. There was a can of milk, too, and she took down a couple of horn tumblers.

At least William busied himself when she was at work and didn’t wait for her to come home and cook, like the husbands of some of her workmates.

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 aspiring tip to new writers is to “write from your imagination”.