City Of Discoveries — Episode 47

“Harold,” she whispered. “Are they in Sydney?”

She snatched the letter from the pile and studied the postmark, but it was hard to decipher.

“Harold!” Wilma expostulated. “Tell the dear child whether or not her parents are in town.”

He kneeled in front of Elspeth’s chair.

“Your father and mother agreed to take ship sooner than they told you and have been recuperating from the voyage in a hotel for two nights.

“They will join us here in the Gardens this morning.”

He drew her up and enfolded her in his arms.

“Don’t cry, my darling girl. They are both well and looking forward to being here with us all.”

“Oh, Harold!” She sobbed. “I’m so happy.”

“But the expedition?” Wilma asked.

“The expedition is in no danger, Mother. Mr and Mrs Cowie have plans for the time we’re away.

“As you know, most Scottish people can find relatives to visit in our young country.”

Harold kissed the top of Elspeth’s head.

“Besides, I suspect your papa, at least, may wish to ride with the group for part of the first week.”

“I hear horses!” Elspeth exclaimed as she freed herself from Harold’s embrace and ran through the front hall.

A hired carriage stopped in front of the house and the porter leaped off the box to open the door and let down some steps.

Elspeth pushed through the screens and raced across the gravel into her mother’s arms.

“Oh, Elspeth, lass, I’ve missed you so.”

*  *  *  *

Hetty Wilson watched the porters stagger down the path in front of the house, her big trunk strung on a pole between them.

They loaded it on to the back of their cart and set off for the docks.

She’d see it next in her temporary lodgings, which were with Thomas’s sister in her Edinburgh home.

“It’s done, then, miss,” Agnes said at her elbow. “It seems no time since you agreed to Mr Webster’s plan. And you leave tomorrow!”

“I do,” Hetty said. “Agnes, I couldn’t have been so organised without your help.” She led the way back into the house.

“Come into the breakfast parlour.”

She had spent some time choosing suitable presents to leave with the staff, and had eventually come up with one for each.

They lay wrapped on the table, ready to be distributed.

“It’s a relief to me that you’ve agreed to stay on and help Mrs Bryce Wilson settle in.

“I know she worries about the different way a house is run here, as there are so many servants in an Indian establishment.”

Hetty smiled. Anna’s confusion when she discovered the household would comprise Agnes, a cook and a man for heavy work and gardening three times a week had been amusing.

She said her household in Calcutta could number 60 when everyone’s relatives came to stay.

“I send the laundry out,” Hetty had said, feeling the need to explain why there were so few servants.

“Laundry.” Anna nodded. “It will be such a relief not to watch it drying on scrubby bushes.”

Hetty raised an eyebrow.

“On scrubby bushes?”

“Yes. It often blew away and occasionally was eaten by the goats.”

Hetty studied the younger woman’s face, but couldn’t discover that she was making a joke.

“That must have been trying,” she said at last.

“Particularly when you had so many servants, who should perhaps have been watching both the goats and the laundry.”

She dragged her thoughts back to the present and Agnes’s gift. It was a silk shawl.

A grand gift for a servant, but Hetty knew how much she owed to the girl’s hard work and diligence.

Besides, didn’t everyone deserve a little spoiling now and again?

“I hope you enjoy it,” she said as she handed it over.

Agnes bobbed a curtsey and, lifting a hand to cover her mouth, ran from the room.

Hetty, too, felt a little tearful, but she took a deep breath and began collecting the other parcels into her bag.

Outside, the trees were in full leaf and Hetty ducked as a blackbird whizzed past her head on its way to the nest in the ivy.

She paid her last visit to the cottage occupied by Ina and Mrs Marsden, then set off down the Hawkhill.

She had seen Jennet Marshall yesterday in the suffrage office, but she had a particular present to leave with her: one she had not wished to hand over in front of the others.

Would Jennet accept it?

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”.