City Of Discoveries — Episode 35

Elspeth had to bite back her first response.

“Why, Mrs Stewart,” she said, “we Scots have always relished travel. Your own family name is surely evidence of that.”

“My husband’s family were Scottish, but are now happily settled. Besides, the point is not that people once travelled, but that they should be content when their family have arrived in excellent surroundings.”

“I think Elspeth is right to want to travel,” Bethany Davis said, and Elspeth turned gratefully to her friend. “Women are interested in the wider world, too.

“Do you not find doing the same things every day very boring?”

“No, young lady, I find strength and security in doing the same things every day.” Mrs Stewart fixed a haughty glare on Bethany.

“Remind me. Is your husband the Teddy Davis whose ideas frequently keep mine awake through the night?”

“Mama!” Grizel, coming up to them, interrupted her mother. “The assistant says we cannot enter the greenhouses where the plants Harold spoke about are being grown.

“Oh, you’re here, Elspeth. Tell him to stand to one side.”

“I think not, Grizel. Harold did say in his little speech how vulnerable the plants are at this stage.”

“I’m not deaf, I heard every word.

“It cannot be the case, though, that he meant we were to be excluded. My parents and Harold’s are long-established friends.”

Elspeth was furious at these pompous women talking down to her.

“Does that mean that your boots aren’t harbouring plant disease picked up in your own garden?” she asked, more forcefully than she might have without provocation.

“My garden is not full of diseased plants, Mrs Sutherland,” Mrs Stewart said.

“In fact, it was unbeaten in the city’s recent Sydney in Bloom competitions.”

“I am very pleased for you, Mrs Stewart. It must be gratifying to have your choices and effort rewarded,” Elspeth replied, while thinking it was unlikely Mrs Stewart got earth under her nails.

She probably won on the strength of her gardener’s talents.

“However, Harold was very clear. None of us may enter the greenhouses.”

Perhaps her mother-in-law had sensed something was wrong because she chose that moment to call over from the other group.

“Elspeth, do bring your ladies here. We have seen a wonderful group of birds – king parrots, I think.”

“I expect the birds would enjoy a trip through Harold’s precious greenhouses,” Grizel muttered to her friend, but Elspeth noticed her fiery blush when that young lady told her not to be childish.

*  *  *  *

Elspeth was very well pleased with the day. She and Wilma had come up with the event as part of their campaign to change Harold’s mind about taking Elspeth into the Blue Mountains.

He received very few questions of substance after his talk about growing food and fodder for the emerging nation and that suited their purpose.

Surely, now, he would see how restricted the society his wife moved in had become.

It was a couple of days before Harold raised the subject. Wilma was out visiting her own house to see how the repair work was going on.

Harold ran a finger around his collar and stretched his long legs in front of his chair.

“I’ve been thinking about the morning tea,” he began. “I wonder at the lack of sensible questions I received and I do see how dispiriting it must be for you, my dear.”

“Do you, Harold?” Elspeth asked, conscious of her increasing pulse. “Bethany asked a sensible question.”

“She did, but I could see the others were a little bored and much more interested in the gossip I might have brought back from Britain.”

He sighed.

“I suppose my mother thought this ploy up to convince me you should be allowed to travel with my autumn expedition?”

“Oh, Harold, how can you think such a thing?”

“Long years of watching her manipulate my father.”

Harold stood up and, crossing the verandah, pulled Elspeth to her feet. He kissed her and then set her away from him a little.

“You may come with me, my dear, but only if you can persuade a sensible lady to accompany you.”

“Thank you, Harold. I will ask Bethany. Her nanny is very competent to look after her little boy while she is away.”

Elspeth smiled warmly at her husband. This was such an exciting thing.

Just as she was going to ask him about the journey, Mr Wilkins appeared by the verandah railing.

“Mr Sutherland, sir, the greenhouses . . .!”

Harold must have seen something in Wilkins’s expression because he set a hand on the verandah rail and vaulted over it.

Elspeth followed more sedately down the steps.

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”.