By the same author
|© Copyright 2003-2009 K S Mulholland|
Chapter 7 - Well! What did happen next?
Priscilla did have a dream. But it was not one that she was expecting. In it she saw Missey, her Shetland sheep dog, running across a lawn towards her. Priscilla was overwhelmed. Great sobs of joy erupted from somewhere inside her breast as she spread out her arms to welcome her beloved pet. The dog bounded over the grass, its long sable coat flying on the wind, its one intention to be with Priscilla again. Somewhere above, a jagged bolt of lightning flickered, followed by the rumble of thunder. Sheets of rain began to fall, blotting out the vision of the dog as if it was being swirled away into a mist...
A voice was calling out to her. Was it Missey? No, it couldn't be. Dogs can't talk. The mist began to lift. Sunlight slowly washed over her face and was obliterated by a dark, looming shadow.
'Priscilla! Are you alright? Please wake up. It is only a bad dream...a bad dream...'
Priscilla opened her eyes to find Monique peering down at her. 'You have been crying in your sleep,' she said, wiping her fingers across Priscilla's flushed cheek. 'Was it such a terrible dream?'
'I thought...I thought that Missey had come back to me. I thought that I had my dog again, that she hadn't died...' Priscilla felt embarrassed and very vulnerable, lying there against the pillows with tears staining her face. She made to brush them away and to rise on one elbow.
'This Missey, she was very precious to you? Yes of course, you do not have to tell me. I am a fool for asking. Would you like to talk about it? It is still early. I could not sleep...The birds and the sunshine woke me. I saw how restless you were, and then you began to cry. I will go back to bed if you do not wish...'
'No! No...Sit by me, here,' Priscilla patted the edge of her bed and Monique settled there, perched like a sparrow on a ledge. 'I had Missey all my life, up until a couple of weeks ago. She was my dog.' Priscilla said this in such a proud, almost defiantly proud, way that Monique momentarily was nonplussed. 'And I was her mistress. She knew all my secret thoughts. She knew all my faults and my silly ways...and she didn't care...she loved me anyway...and...' Priscilla was again reduced to a sob, 'and...ohh...I miss her so much...I just want her back with me...And I know that can't be...But in my mind...and in my heart...I want it so very badly...' She started to cry once more, and Monique could do nothing other than to place her arm comfortingly around Priscilla's shoulders and allow the tears to fall.
After a few minutes Priscilla ceased her crying and looked up at Monique through misty eyes. 'Ohh, I'm such a baby! And there you are with a really big worry. My Missey is gone, but you don't know whatever has happened to your Mum and Dad...' she faltered, grappling for words to express her sorrow at Monique's silent, unspoken fears.
Monique stared into Priscilla's eyes. It was then, perhaps, that the bond began to form between them. Priscilla lifted her hand and touched Monique's cheek. On that instant Monique began to cry, the tears welling, even as she squeezed her eyelids closed, and her shoulders shook with an uncontrollable sorrow. The two girls threw their arms about each other and for some time remained, locked together in mutual consolation.
When at last they withdrew, wiping each other's faces and stifling the last of their sobs, Priscilla reached for a box of tissues from her bedside table and together they cleaned themselves up, blowing noses and dabbing eyes. 'I'll bet we both look so stupid. Lucky my Brothers can't see us now,' said Priscilla, casting an anxious look toward the bedroom door. The boys however did not appear.
'I suppose we had better go and have our showers and dress, before your Grandmother comes to get us up,' said Monique, 'at least we can forestall that much as a beginning to the day.'
Priscilla grinned. 'Granny Black isn't really such an ogre. She's just a stickler for routine, as long as it's her routine. She has all our best interests in mind, and considering that Mother is always so busy with acting and stuff, Granny seems to have almost become a second mother to us.'
'You should be thankful for that, of course,' Monique replied, and seeing Priscilla's sudden realization of what she had just said about mothers, hurried on, 'and we do not want to cause Granny any trouble on such a beautiful day. The birds are singing, the sun is shining. Shall I go and see if the bathroom is available?'
'Yes...yes, you go first. I want to spend a few minutes writing in my diary. If you're lucky, my Brothers wont be up yet.'
Monique collected her toilet bag and went to the door. Then she paused, turning about, 'Priscilla.'
Priscilla, who had tossed back the sheets and swung her legs out of bed, said, 'What is it?'
'You have such a beautiful smile. You must learn to use it often.'
'Psst, Cilla!' It was Henry, ambushing Priscilla from the crack of his bedroom door as she returned after showering.
'Henry! What are you up to? Granny has breakfast on the go, you'd better hurry up if you want some. Louis and Monique have already gone down.'
'Can you come in for a second, got something to show you,' Henry whispered furtively.
'Oh alright, but it better be good,' Priscilla muttered, wiping at her hair with a towel.
Henry opened the door and ushered her inside. 'There! What do ya think?' He threw his arms wide in a theatrical gesture that revealed a kind of pinned-together banner that he had strung up over his bed head and that of his brother's. It read, "To Monique. From Us Kids. Her New Friends. Welcome To Our Home. Here In Melbourne. Australia." At one end he had drawn a kangaroo, and at the other, an elephant.
Priscilla studied it for a few moments, then she said, 'Henry, that's very nice of you. Have you been working on it for long?'
'I started it yesterday, after I found Gizzard. Do you think she'll like it? I thought you might help me to put it up somewhere in your room so that she can see it whenever she comes in.'
Priscilla fought back the urge to hug her younger brother. 'Henry, sometimes you can be such a darling!'
Henry coughed, and seemed as if he might be about to throw up. 'Hey Sis, it's just from all of us! No big deal. It's not like it's only from me!'
Priscilla smiled, and was at once reminded of Monique's words about her smiling, 'I know that, silly boy. You're very kind. Although...' she was looking closely at the end of the banner, 'I'm not sure what the little skull and crossbones are meant to be?'
'Oh that,' said Henry, somewhat defensively, 'that's just my tag. You know, kinder like a signature. I think I'll sign all my drawings with it from now on.'
'Especially after watching that old movie on T.V. last night?'
'Captain Blood? Hey! How good was Errol Flynn? Let's keelhaul the mizzenmast, me hearties!' shouted Henry, obviously delighted that his sister approved of his artwork. 'C'mon Sis, give me a hand to put it into your room!'
Together they carefully took up the banner so as not to disturb the sticky-taped segments, and just as Priscilla was following Henry out of the room, her eyes fell upon an object, (or at least two objects that had once been joined) that lay inside Gizzard's new plastic container home. The lizard was 'in', basking on one of the objects in a ray of sunlight cast from the window.
'What's Gizzard sitting on?' Priscilla asked, staring down at the tiny creature.
'That? Oh yeah, that,' said Henry, suddenly subdued, 'well, see, it sorta came from the attic...'
'Sorta came, did it? Kind of appeared without you doing anything to make it jump into Gizzard's play-pen. Henry...'
'O.K. Cilla. I found it when I was up in...'
'When were you in the attic?'
'Yesterday, while you and Monique were out and Louis was tinkering in the gara...' The shrill of a power saw starting up below drowned his last words.
'And you sneaked up there on those rickety steps after Dad told us not to until he made them safe?'
Henry just couldn't lie to his sister, 'Yeah, I figured that I was the lightest of us all, and that I should test them to see if it was safe...or something...' He pursed his lips in that comical, endearing way he had and Priscilla couldn't help but grin.
'You idiot! And what is the woodwork and metal all about?'
'I dunno, the wood's broken, looks like it rotted, but I think the metal was torn apart. Wait a minute, let me show you.' He put down his end of the banner and reached into the container. Gizzard, somewhat annoyed at this intrusion, scuttled away in a huff and vanished beneath some broken pottery that Henry had installed. Meanwhile, Henry extracted the two sections and turned both face upward for Priscilla's inspection. The timber was old and weathered and to each section a portion of metal plate was still attached. Although it was green and tarnished, Priscilla guessed the metal to probably be brass.
'R.O.' she read on the first section, and then, wiping some of the grime from the piece that Henry had placed face down in Gizzard's pen, 'W.E.L.L.' Priscilla lifted her fingers to her nose, 'Phew! Rank! This wood is pretty off! What do you think it is Henry?'
'My guess is some kind of name plate, you know, like the kind that gets put on houses. Might have been the name for this house once.'
'But why would it be in the attic?'
'Fell down, got broken. Got put there with the other stuff...'
'What other stuff?'
'Aw, Sis, it was dark up there, I dunno, just boxes of books and papers. I saw these bits: the glint of metal in the gloom, and like, I thought of pirate plunder. The Black Spot and Jim Hawkins and hidden treasure...and I thought these would be good in Gizzard's home. I think he quite likes the smell of old rotted wood.'
Priscilla nodded absently, lifting the two sections and trying to join them. 'They don't seem to fit together.'
Henry nodded, 'Yeah, I noticed that, must be a bit in between that's missing.'
'So, Ro...well, what fits in there?'
Henry twisted his face, almost as if he were trying to fit it between the gap. 'How should I know? Rowell? No that can't be right, the pieces don't fit together. How about...How about...Rosewell! You know, like Camberwell, and...and Hartwell, just down the road...and Hopewell Hall too!' And for good measure to back up his claim he added, 'That could be right, just look at the old rose garden out the front. It must have been around for yonks, bet the people who first lived here started it and kept it going for a long time. Maybe the old people who built this house thought it would be a good name for it, if they were planning a rose garden.'
Priscilla nodded, 'Yeah, I suppose you're right, better put these back into Gizzard's pen and let's get your banner put up. Quick, otherwise breakfast will be off before we get some.'
But mentally Priscilla made a note to explore the possibilities further.
Fifteen minutes later, when she came down to breakfast after hurriedly dressing, she found Monique and Louis busy washing dishes in the makeshift kitchen sink and Henry tucking into muffins and juice. Granny Black was busy bustling in and out of various rooms, attempting to organise an entire program of workmen, children and adults.
Rachael and Mathew Black seemed to have just emerged from their bedroom and were wandering aimlessly about, trying to wake up and make some sense of the day. 'Feel like I haven't slept at all,' said Rachael, stretching her slender arms, 'why does it seem like we're already into production when the Christmas break isn't even over?'
'Probably because you're already into it, and nobody else is,' answered Mathew, looking very tousled and woolly-headed. 'Now I know that there's so much pre-production to do, and everyone wants to get it right, but you can't just leap in and force the pace. Ralph will get these rehearsals sorted and all the cast can only do so many dry-runs. You haven't even been to the locations, and you want to start working out positions in an empty studio. Come on! Give everybody a break. It's a good commercial project. It's going to be a winner, and you, as the Mother who is finally forced to commit murder to save her own life and those of her children, will get all the viewer's commitment and sympathy.' He wandered over to some empty bowls and poured cornflakes out of a packet. 'Look Rachael, dear, slow down, I know this one is your baby and there are problems with the script, but all those things will get worked out. What you have to do, according to good old Spenser Tracy, is to "Remember your lines and don't trip over the furniture." The producer and director will handle the rest.'
'I wish that you were directing me,' Rachael said, smiling at Priscilla and blowing a kiss at Henry, who beamed, his mouth full of muffin.
Mathew shook a spoonful of sugar over his cornflakes, poured on milk, and sighed, 'You know I'm past directing this sort of thing. I want to do other work: things that rattle the establishment, projects that speak to a global people, issues around the world. Why do you think that I'm going into Tasmania? That's not the place for drama. That's the place to allow trees and rivers and ecology to die or survive. There are no actresses and actors, no pre-production, no post-production; only survival and preservation, and...' he halted in mid sentence, his eyes upon Monique, who kept her back to him as she dried cups and plates and placed them into a rack. 'And, we have a guest here who we are ignoring. Monique, I'm sorry, it's been a long twenty-four hours, and I know that Mum...that is Granny Black, must have told you what I found out about your folks. I know it isn't much. But that's all I have so far. Hang in there. I'm waiting on more information from all our sources. And I've also been speaking with people here in Australia about your situation...'
'Do you mean whether I am considered an illegal immigrant?' said Monique, slowly turning about, her hands clutching a soapy bowl.
'I...No...Well...Yes...I...' Mathew searched for words to fill the void.
'Look Monique dear, what Mat means is that for the time being you are here on a temporary visa. You can stay with us for as long as it takes to find out what happened to your...that is to say, to find your parents,' said Rachael, putting her fingers to her lips, before plunging into her breakfast cereal. Granny Black looked at Mathew over the top of Monique's head with a scowl that said, A good try, but tactfulness isn't Rachael's best feature.
'Yeah,' Mathew nodded, almost as if answering this unspoken comment, 'and when we locate them and get them on a flight here, they'll sort out the paperwork so that it will be alright for all of you to stay in Australia. But in the meantime,' he hurried on, 'we have to carry on as best we can. That's what they'd want us to do, isn't it? School's coming up in a couple of weeks, and nobody's even given a thought to books and uniforms yet. So I think it's about time to drag out your lists and go shopping down at Camberwell Junction. Monique can double up on Cilla's information sheets, because they'll mostly be the same except for sizes. And don't worry about the finance side Monique. That was all arranged before...' Mathew paused, sighed, then brightened, 'Rachael's got most of today free, haven't you dear, so after breakfast, she can take all of you there and get the ball rolling.' Mathew glanced sidelong at Rachael, whose eyes seemed to have crossed as she looked along the stem of the silver spoon protruding from her mouth, before popping it out and spluttering, 'Why? Why...yes...of course! Have to do the motherly thing and get you all organized. We can have lunch there and do a little window shopping. I'll ring for a taxi to be here in an hour.'
'Speaking of ringing, someone from the phone company should turn up late this afternoon to put in the second line for the internet. Have you dug out all the computer bits and pieces Louis?' asked Mathew.
'Oh great!' Louis grinned, 'Yes, I found them in the boxes marked "Dad's wine." '
'And the boxes that sloshed a lot were marked "Computer," and a lot of red liquid was dripp...'
'It was not!' shouted Louis, throwing a tea-towel at him. It was a good shot too, wrapping itself around Henry's neck like a kookaburra-patterned scarf.
Everybody laughed, even Granny Black, although Mathew looked slightly apprehensive. 'I hope that wine is "right way up" and travelled safely. It's not a big collection, but what there is pretty good stuff. Have you found the fold-up wine racks yet?'
'Nope, not yet Dad', Louis answered, catching the towel as it was flung back, 'but when I do I'll unpack the bottles and lay them down for you. Where do you want to put them?'
'Well, we do have this empty bomb-shelter that might just make an excellent wine cellar. Half the reason why we bought this house, right dear?'
'I rather thought it was the area and the lovely old rose garden out the front that caught our eye,' smiled Rachael, taking hold of Mathew's hand.
'Talking about the garden,' said Amelia, buttering some toast and reaching for the marmalade, 'I thought I might take a look in the local newspaper and see if there's a dog's body who knows something about roses and gardens in general. Those old trees need hard pruning and a spruce...' A hammer drill roared into life, completely drowning even Granny's strong voice, and everyone was reduced to nodding and shaking of heads, as they munched away. Cilla noticed that even Monique was smiling, and she caught her eye and gave her a radiant smile in return.
On the way out to the taxi, Cilla stopped to say goodbye to Mathew, who was about to drive into the city for a meeting with some film executives. 'See you tonight, sweetheart, shop until you drop,' Mathew said, giving her a hug.
'Will you be home late again Dad?' Cilla asked, her head on his shoulder.
'That depends, I want to try and get in contact with some folks in Durban and Cape Town again, so we'll see.'
'I hope you get some good news for Monique, she's really a nice girl. I'm happy to share with her for as long as she needs us.'
'You're kind of special that way,' Mathew whispered, squeezing that little bit harder.
'By the way Dad', Priscilla puffed as he let her go, 'I'd like to find out more about this house, you know, how old it is, who built it and lived here before us, stuff like that.'
Mathew frowned for a moment, 'Umm...well I can't help you much there. We saw it advertised, liked it and here we are. I suppose the real estate people might be the place to start. Their office is in Riversdale Road. I've got the address here,' he searched around in his wallet, flipping through a wad of business cards, 'Hildebrand and Sole. Mister Reginald Hildebrand is the man to see. He's the senior partner and I think he's been around since the year dot. He should know the history of this property if anybody does.'
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