City Of Discoveries — Episode 34

The woman left and a silence settled on the office. Hetty wondered what Carrie would have done now. She stood up and heard the rustle of Thomas’s coat as he moved, too.

“Good evening, Mr Souter,” Hetty said.

Belatedly remembering his manners, Souter leaped to his feet.

As they left, he addressed the foremen.

“You two stay where you are. I need a word.”

On the mill floor, Hetty and Thomas found Jennet and Meggie comforting a woman with a gash on her cheek. Hetty wondered if this had to do with the noise they’d heard earlier.

“Thank you, miss,” Meggie Young said and dropped a slight curtsey. “I sair need my work.”

“Of course you do, Miss Young. Do you have any idea how these coins came to be in your bag?”

“Oh, I’ve an idea, all right.” She glanced at her sister.

“This is Torie Young, Meggie’s sister. She’s been suspended for two days because she and the girls that Mr Fleming favours got in a fight,” Jennet said. “They’re suspended, too.”

“Hetty,” Thomas said at her side, “I think you’ve helped as much as you can, and we have an appointment to keep.”

“So we do, Thomas,” Hetty replied. “Thank you for fetching me, Jennet. Would you be good enough to accompany us to the door, please?”

As soon as they were out of sight of the Young sisters and the few workers lingering in the building now the matter was resolved, Hetty dug into the pocket of her jacket.

She thought there might be loose coins in there, and sure enough her fingers closed around one that was gratifyingly heavy.

She pulled it out.

“Jennet, please take this half-sovereign –” She stopped as Jennet was gazing at her in confusion, but gathered determination and continued.

“I think two days without wages will be a strain on the Misses Young. It may be the money they earn looks after others, and I hope you can find a way to ease this for them.”

“They willna like charity,” Jennet said, and Hetty felt her heart constrict.

She knew how Carrie made huge efforts to work in a roundabout manner, but she herself might not have time to do that if her plans came to fruition.

“I know, Jennet. I also know that you are a person of considerable resource and you will think of a way to use the money without giving offence. Please?”

Hetty smiled at this lovely young woman who had captivated Carrie and Mr Lochead with her passion to learn.

“Thank you, miss.” Jennet slipped the coin into her shawl. “I ken a way.”

*  *  *  *

Elspeth watched as her mother-in-law tucked a stray lock of hair into her pins before smoothing the front of her cotton skirt.

The bright florals of her outfit were a happy choice for morning tea in the Botanic Gardens.

They had arranged the gathering in part to show off Harold and Elspeth’s modern house to Elspeth’s new friends, but also to introduce Harold to those ladies en masse.

Catching a glance at the hall mirror, Elspeth was pleased with her own light brown silk skirt and blouse in caramel and buttermilk.

She fingered the ropes of amber Harold had given her as a wedding present when she saw him watching her through the mirror.

She answered his cheeky wink with a smile. His love would give her the confidence she needed for this major social event.

“I trust the ladies will be told they can only glance into the greenhouses and not enter them,” Harold said, “when you take them out into the gardens.”

He fixed a severe look on his mother.

“Harold! Do you think I’ve learned nothing over the years about disease and pest control?”

“I think that, when the pests in question are the wives and daughters of eminent people, it can be difficult. I’ve instructed Wilkins to allow no-one through the doors.”

“That sounds like a carriage arriving now,” Elspeth said, anxious to avoid mother and son becoming embattled.

She suspected Wilma wanted to show off the trays of thriving cereal seedlings that were the tangible result of her son’s efforts, and was frustrated by his instructions.

The carriages arrived and soon the house was full of swishing skirts and soaring voices.

Elspeth was glad to get out into the grounds with a group of ladies.

She was disconcerted to discover a former rival for Harold’s affections, Grizel Stewart, and her mother were in her party.

Grizel kept wandering away, which slowed down their progress in the climbing temperature.

“I understand you hope to travel around the less-civilised parts of the country with Harold,” Mrs Stewart observed as they stopped to admire a young plantation of native gum trees.

“Possibly living in Scotland has blunted you to the sensibilities of genteel practices.

“Had Harold chosen a bride from among the well-brought-up young ladies of Sydney, he would not be faced with such outlandishness.”

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”.