City Of Discoveries — Episode 41

Harold Sutherland’s work was bound up in the greenhouses of Sydney’s Botanic Gardens, and his reaction to something his assistant had just told him made his wife, Elspeth, gather up her long skirts and run after them.

Harold and Mr Wilkins were already out of sight, and she dreaded what they would find in the greenhouses which were just hidden from view by the end of their house.

Behind her, a carriage rumbled across the gravel and she registered the probable arrival home of her mother-in-law.

“No!” Harold’s anguished cry tore at her heart.

Elspeth drew a few deep breaths before she climbed to the door of the greenhouse.

She could see Harold’s arm stretched above his head. Dangling from his hand was a dead rabbit.

“It wasn’t here this morning!” Harold said.

“No, sir, nor at the start of the dinner hour when I locked up,” Wilkins added. “Funny thing is, I don’t see any damage.”

“That can’t be right, Wilkins. No rabbit would pass up a free meal like this one,” Harold said shortly, and Elspeth winced.

She cast an eye around the raised beds. She could see no damage.

“Harold, I think Mr Wilkins may be right, my dear,” she said and touched Harold soothingly on the arm.

He snapped his head round and Elspeth had to stand her ground before the misery and fury of his expression.

“I think Mr Wilkins is right,” she repeated. “The beds look undisturbed.”

Harold set the dead rabbit on the floor and together the three of them walked up and down the rows.

There was no sign the rabbit had eaten any of the precious seedlings, but there was a sizeable depression in one of the beds.

Elspeth looked up to the glass-house roof.

“Do you think . . .”

She hesitated because it was such a fanciful notion, but decided to try again.

“Do you think someone threw that rabbit in here?”

The men glanced at her flushed face and then looked up to the panes above them.

There was a ventilator which Wilkins operated to allow air and insects to circulate. If it were opened to its fullest extent then, perhaps, a determined person with a very good aim might manage to throw a rabbit into the greenhouse.

“Mrs Sutherland could be right, sir,” Wilkins said. He went quickly along the rows and came back with the rabbit.

“I think this was dead before it came into the greenhouse.”

Harold looked at the beast again.

“It has a cord around its neck,” he said in distaste. “Someone trapped it.”

An idea was forming in Elspeth’s mind but she hardly dared to mention it.

Grizel Stewart had made a suggestion about letting the king parrots into the greenhouses and had been told off.

While Elspeth was agonising over saying anything, her mother-in-law rushed into the greenhouse.

“Harold, that demented young woman – oh, no, my dear, has it done any damage?”

Wilma stopped and stared around her at the green shoots.

“What demented young woman?”

“Grizel Stewart, of course! Do we know any others?” Wilma snapped.

Elspeth was taken aback by the strength of her anger.

“To think that I favoured that young woman for so long. I must have been blinkered.”

“Why are you connecting Grizel with this, Mother?” Harold asked wearily.

He lifted a bit of sacking and wrapped the dead beast up in it.

“Because she was boasting about it, that’s why! I stopped off at the hotel on Argyle Street to take luncheon with your older sister.

“Grizel was seated a table or so away from us, though concealed by those enormous planters they favour.”

Wilma looked to the others to agree with her.

Wilkins nodded.

“My wife went there twice last year, Mrs Sutherland, and she was overwhelmed by the amount of greenery. It made her sneeze.”

“I’m not surprised. Grizel was with two of her bosom friends and they were discussing the morning tea when she told them she’d found a couple of lads ripe for a lark.”

“Her friend would be Abigail, I think,” Elspeth suggested.

“Yes, one of them was called Abi. She seemed to be a quite sensible person because she asked Grizel whether she’d done something stupid.

“Grizel replied that it wasn’t stupid, but would serve ‘that stuck-up Harold Sutherland’ well for making a fool of her,” Wilma said, before bursting into tears.

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”.