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Below are two stories from Friday 15 July meeting on the theme:
“The man stood up and thumped the table. “No! No!”
By Barbara Gurney
The noise of the branches of the Hawthorn bushes as they scratched their way across the large window irritated Hugh. With each glare of lightening he noticed another worn patch on the carpet. He turned up the collar of his jacket, leaned back into the lumpy chair and anticipated the next assault of thunder.
The day had been arduous with the funeral of his Father being drawn out by those who wanted to pay their respects. He had allowed the servants the remainder of the day off, but Hugh was annoyed that there was no-one to tend to his evening meal.
He shivered as he left the study.
‘Ah! Thank goodness.’ He lifted the lid from a large iron pot and poked his finger into the generous stew. ‘Still warm. It’ll have to do.’ He ate the inadequate meal and poured himself a port.
He returned to the study and paced around the cold room. Running his fingers over the back of the leather couchhe cursed when his thumb caught against a torn patch. Several books were taken down and flicked open, only to be returned to the dusty shelf with impatience.
‘Damn you, Newton. You should’ve been here by now.’
Hugh peered out into the rain, trying to see if his older brother was in sight. The long driveway was empty; every creature was trying to avoid the ghastly weather.
Hugh was awakened by the door slamming. He wiped the dribble of sleep from his lip and straightened his cravat. He shuddered as a bedraggled figure lurched into the room.
‘About time,’ Hugh said as he tugged at his beard.
‘Been waiting for me, have you?’ Newton leaned over the desk, dripping water from his hat, and stared at his brother.
Wiping the water away with his sleeve, Hugh forced himself to look into the cold brown eyes. ‘You could have had the decency to return home at a respectable hour.’
‘Home! It’s not my bloody home. Remember – It’s all yours. Not mine at all.’ Newton waggled his fore-finger in Hugh’s florid face. ‘It was to be mine, but you - you bastard! How did you get Father to change his will?’
Hugh stood up and shoved the hand away. ‘See here Newton. You can’t blame me. What could you have done with this old place?’
Newton fought to remove his wet cloak and tugged at the reluctant sleeve with his teeth. He stumbled as his arm came loose, but managed to clutch the edge of the desk before shouting at Hugh.
‘It was to be mine. You’re nothing – you’re the young wipper snapper. I’m the heir. You bastard.’
He fell against the wall, striking his elbow which made him yell in pain.
Hugh sat down and put his head in his hands pausing before looking up at his brother. ‘You haven’t been here for the last eight months. You’ve been in France having a good time. And all at Father’s expense. I’m the one who has had to oversee everything. ‘
Newton tried to stand up straight. ‘Wriggling into Father’s affection. Probably telling lies about me.’
‘I did nothing of the sort. If you really want to know, it’s been difficult since Mother died. Father let everything go. I was trying to sort it out.’
Newton stumbled towards the desk and smirked, ‘To your own advantage, obviously.’
Ignoring the insult Hugh said,‘Well, things will be better once I’m married.’
Swinging around quickly, Newton almost lost his balance. ‘Aren’t you the lucky one? A rich young thing who’s willing to marry you.’
Hugh sighed and picked at his fingernail. ‘Yes, I’m most fortunate Miss Warren-Smith is prepared to marry me and live here. We can repair the roof and make the rooms presentable. You and I have to talk about the future. You’re welcome to stay. Father would have wanted that.’
An angry scream filled the large room. Hugh looked up to see a gun pointed at him. Newton was thumping the table and yelling, ’No! No! It’s mine. You’ll not take my home from me.’
‘Don’t be stupid Newton. There’s nothing to fight about.’
The shot hit Hugh in the ribs and he died trying to open the drawer of the desk.
Newton found his brother’s gun lying amongst papers from their lawyers. He took the gun, crouched down at the height of a sitting man and fired a shot which clipped the top of the desk and crashed through the window. He grabbed the papers and scrunched them into his pocket.
The local newspaper thought the story worthy of the front page. Newton Worthington had shot his brother in self-defence after an argument over the contents of their Father’s Will. Apparently, so the report said, Hugh had not wanted to share the estate with his older brother who had been shocked to find himself disinherited.
However, that was far from the truth. If Hugh had lived, his wife would have provided the wealth to re-build the Manor. The debts had been too large for Father and Newton had only added to those debts with his expensive life-style in Paris. Newton had no prospects, and the re-writing of the will had been the only way to save the family home.
Tomorrow Newton was expected to attend the auction of Manton Manor. He cringed as he thought of the many people from the area who would be ready to watch his descent from luxury to poverty.
Newton picked at the stale bread and sloshed the disgusting liquid around in his bowl. He sat on the edge of the sagging bed and took a quick mouthful of soup. He spat it across the floor and wiped the dampness from his mouth.
He heard laughter as other boarders made their way up the stairs outside his small room. He turned his lip up at the dirty curtains and the floor covering that curled up at all four corners. Standing up, he heaved the bowl across the floor where it broke against the unpainted door frame.
It took him two hours to reach Manton Manor. He tied the stolen horse to the front gate and ran up the drive. A handful of stones crashed through the French windows and he forced the rest of the glass from the frame with his bare hand. Ignoring the blood that dripped across the wooden floor he reached the study and sank into the chair behind the desk.
‘What have I done?’ He pulled at his stiff collar, bursting the button from its thread. ‘I’m so sorry, Hugh. You should have told me.’
When he stopped sobbing, he pulled the gun from his pocket and shot himself.
Cheese and Cucumber Sandwiches by Marie Allison
The wind had a biting edge to it and its icy fingers had no trouble creeping in between the boards in the walls of the crudely built house on the edge of the western plain. Seth Baker had done the best he could for his young family, but resources were scarce in the infant colony. A fire, smoldering in the open fireplace filled the room with a smoky haze. A man and a woman sat facing each other across one end of a long rough-hewn table consisting of boards resting on top of two sewn off logs at each end. The chairs on which they sat were in sharp contrast to the table. They were sturdy and well-made, a present form Holly Baker’s grandfather, a cabinet maker in England. They had recently arrived on the Pandora under the command of Captain Charles Cobb.
The couple spoke in low voices, careful not to wake the baby sleeping in a home-made cradle in the corner near the fireplace, nor to startle the little girl sitting on the floor playing with a rag doll.
The man stood up and thumped the table. ‘No! No! he shouted. “I will not give up this land! We are not going to America!’
Holly got up from her chair, went to her husband and clasped her arms around his waist.
‘No, of course not, not if you don’t wish it, but … but … Seth darling … think of the children … I hear the opportunities there are enormous … and we could get passage on the Pandora … Captain Cobb is sailing for San Francisco soon taking passengers who want to go out to the goldfields …
The man didn’t answer but took her hand and led her across the room to the window which had no glass in it. He pulled aside the grimy smoke-stained curtain.
‘Look!’ He pointed to where the brown sun-baked paddocks rolled away to the foot of some low hills. ‘This land is my land … and yours … and our children’s and their children’s after them, and one day it will be awash with golden wheat – the wheat which will feed the nation which will grow here. No Holly, we are not going to America – our future is here.’
‘But Seth, you haven’t even planted any wheat yet, and I get so lonely when you’re away droving ….’
‘The droving’s only until I have enough money for the seed and the wages for a man to help with the sowing. This will be the last time I’ll be going Holly. I’ll have enough to start planting after the next rain.’
Holly said no more about America but she thought of it often. When Seth set out to take a herd of cattle up to Sydney Town she suggested he might at least enquire as to the availability of passages on the Pandora. In silence he accepted the packet of sandwiches she had prepared for his lunch, consisting of the little pickled cucumbers her mother had put up for her and the cheese she had churned herself, between thick slices of homemade bread.
Would Holly give up her idea of going to America? I wondered as, regretfully, I closed the book and put it in my bag.
For a while I sat there on the flat rock still warm from the sun and ate the remains of the cheese and cucumber sandwiches, a bit soggy now, which my mother had put up for me for lunch. The little wavelets which splashed against the rocks at the water’s edge were tinged with red and the setting sun cast a pinkish glow over the Harbour. A big ship loomed up out of the mist on its way down the Heads and I picked up my bag and made my way across the rocks to the beach.
At the top of the steps I turned and looked out across the water, past Dobroyd Point, past Bradley’s Head to where the City towers, just visible through the haze, dwarfed the Harbour Bridge.
This was the last day of the summer holidays; tomorrow it was back to school. I put on my shoes and turned for home.
Oh, well, I thought, there’s always next summer!
Holly’s story might or might not end with her going to America but for me the golden summers would never end.
I was very young, you see.