City Of Discoveries — Episode 24

Elspeth Sutherland glanced round the sitting area and sighed with relief.

Everything looked burnished to perfection, and Harold had brought in armfuls of local foliage for her to set into some of the glassware they’d been given as wedding presents.

Through the partly closed divider that split up their huge ground-floor room, she could see the girls had laid the table for dinner with more of their wedding gifts.

Tonight was Elspeth’s first opportunity to entertain her mother-in-law in the new house.

Following the argument with Harold the previous week, she was keen to get everything just so.

Mrs Sutherland had been in Tasmania for nearly four months. As she was unable to return to her own house for a month or more, because of damage to its roof, she would be living with Elspeth and Harold.

Hooves clattering on to the gravel out front alerted Elspeth to her visitor’s arrival, and she moved into the hall.

She caught sight of her reflection and wondered anew at the bleaching of her blonde hair and the darkening of her pale skin, brought about by the strong Australian sun.

“Elspeth, my dear girl, you look so well,” Wilma Sutherland said as she flowed through the door from the front verandah.

Harold came after with the first of what would be a pile of baggage.

“You have been out and about sketching, haven’t you? I am looking forward to seeing all the sketches you’ve mentioned in your letters. Did you really find platypuses?”

If Wilma Sutherland noticed the way her son and daughter-in-law stiffened at the mention of platypuses, she didn’t mention it, but waited for Elspeth to answer.

“Hello, Mrs Sutherland.”

“Wilma, please, Wilma. I’m feeling my age over this new baby Tammy has presented me with, so I think I must take a stand of sorts.”

“Wilma it shall be,” Elspeth said and hugged her mother-in-law warmly. “I’m afraid there were no platypuses, but I have found many other interesting subjects.”

“No platypuses. Oh, well, it is some years since there were verified sightings. Sydney has become built up compared with even twenty years ago. I have heard it said that one or two . . .”

“Mother, please do not encourage my wife in her tendency to wander,” Harold said, and Elspeth turned away.

She had hoped they’d laid the subject of Johnson’s Creek to rest, but evidently her husband thought otherwise.

“Harold!” Wilma said forcefully. “I spent thirty years being interrupted by your papa before I was able to get to the end of any of my sentences. I will not stand for it in my children.

“What I wanted to say, Elspeth, was that a traveller needs to go to the north of this vast country in order to be sure of a sighting.”

“Well, thank you, Mother, but Elspeth will not be travelling to the north in the near future.” Harold snapped the words out as he finished directing the cab man who’d just unloaded the rest of Wilma’s luggage.

“And why might that be?” Wilma asked, trying not to look at Elspeth’s midriff, but not quite succeeding.

“Because this year’s expedition is to the Blue Mountains, and Elspeth has just become established here with friends. And you are in need of attention, too,” Harold said.

Elspeth noticed he did not say, “And because I won’t allow her to accompany me.”

“Really?” Wilma sounded puzzled. “I have lived without your papa for seven years now, my dear. You and your siblings have been attentive, of course, but not resident in my house for some time.

“Why would Elspeth need to stay here to look after me?”

Harold took a step back, as if his mother had slapped him rather than delivered a pointed verbal rebuke.

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”.