City Of Discoveries — Episode 15

Elspeth reviewed what she had written with distaste. It was so dull.

Harold is engaged most evenings in his greenhouse, conducting an experiment based on some advice he picked up while at the Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh last year.

He and his Edinburgh advisors are excited about the prospect of finding cereals that will survive in the Australian climate.

She feared this looked like criticism of Harold, but decided Mrs Sutherland would perfectly understand as her own late husband had been an academic, too.

She would probably have been surprised if Harold had not been devoting his attention to the growth of those trays of seedlings.

Due to the way the population was increasing, finding fodder plants for the animals and cereals for the humans was imperative for Australian botanists.

I have been befriended by a charming young woman whose family is from Wales. She is called Bethany Davis. Mr Davis works on the transport systems of Sydney.

He talks, ponderously but knowledgeably, about the mixture of transport systems needed in this sprawling place. He can tell one how to get anywhere by tram, train, horse-drawn buggy or boat.

Personally, I prefer to walk as much as I can with my sketchbook.

Mention of her sketchbook caused Elspeth to glance behind her.

The clock showed four p.m. and she considered heading out and finding the creek where one of the under-gardeners had seen some platypuses.

Did these shy creatures still exist in the Sydney area, or had the man seen something else swimming in the creek?

Elspeth finished her letter and sealed it. If she was going to see any platypuses then she must go at the time when they were known to be active.

The horse-drawn cab set Elspeth, well pleased with her trip, outside the house three hours later. She paid off the driver and went into the house.

“Elspeth!” Harold said from the stairs. “Where have you been and why aren’t you changed?”

Changed? Why did she need to change? They weren’t entertaining this evening, were they?

“Oh, Harold, I’ve had the most enjoyable afternoon. You remember that young man who claimed to have seen some platypuses . . .”

“Platypuses! For the love of the Almighty, woman, have you been at Johnson’s Creek on your own?”

Harold’s fury triggered a memory in Elspeth’s head. They weren’t entertaining, but being entertained.

Harold’s professor and his wife had arranged a formal dinner for a few overseas visitors, a bishop and a renowned sea captain. How could she have forgotten?

She put her sketchbook and bag on to a chair and moved past her husband.

“I won’t keep you waiting, my dear. Why don’t you have a drink? It’ll take the edge off an evening with all those crusty dignitaries.”

Harold’s fingers clamped around Elspeth’s arm and brought her to a halt. She turned towards him and was shocked by the severity of his expression.

Anger simmered in the depths of those eyes, usually so full of love.

“Answer my question. Have you been along Johnson’s Creek alone?”

The tone of his question baffled Elspeth. The creek was little more than any well-filled burn in the Angus countryside. What was causing such annoyance?

“Not exactly. There were a French couple and three students from the university. Bethany Davis, who might have come with me, was taking her little boy to the physician.

“What is this about, Harold? You are not going to suggest I need your permission to go on sketching expeditions?”

Elspeth spoke robustly, although she was feeling on less secure ground than before.

“Your fingers are pinching.”

Harold released her and then had to catch her as she toppled slightly. He set her back on to her feet before answering her.

“My dear, I do not expect you to ask permission to go on simple sketching expeditions, but I expect you to consult me about some of the less-frequented destinations.

“Johnson’s Creek is a known haunt of men who’ve jumped ship. They wait there to meet with gangers who will take them inland to the cattle stations.”

“Oh,” she said weakly.

Had there been any such folk lurking among the thickly growing shrubs? She was downcast. Her day was spoiled and her husband was angry with her.

“You seem to have difficulty concentrating on things that really matter,” Harold said.

“Mama never let Papa down over public appearances and yet here we are, a year into our marriage, and I am having to go alone to a formal dinner and offer my wife’s apologies.”

“Harold!” Elspeth was horrified. “I can be ready in fifteen minutes!”

He ignored this plea.

“I will not tell our hosts that you were preoccupied with finding platypuses, but that the heat has taken its toll on your Scottish metabolism.”

“Harold,” Elspeth began, but burst into tears.

She sank on to the stairs and dropped her head into her hands. She was aware of Harold striding away. The screen door clanged into its frame.

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”.