The Sacred Secret
Chapter 9 - Let's Get Physical
'...up on the woof...up on the wo-oof, oh come on ba-by! Let's go up on the
'Are we there yet?!' shouted Priscilla, her fingers in both ears and her eyes
squeezed almost shut. 'No wonder he and Henry get along so well, they sing about
'And I also do a karaoke version of Hey Dude, ya know, the Beatles hit
'Monsieur Harry! Even I am aware that it was called "Hey Jude,"'
laughed Monique, attempting to free Priscilla's fingers so that they could get
ready to leave the Black Eagle, where it now hovered three stories up, alongside
the eaves of Hopewell Halls' Administration building.
The sun was newly risen in the sky, yet already there was activity below.
Across the Quad a number of students dressed in casual gear were hanging about
the entrance to Queasies, which was the only cafe that opened for breakfast on
the weekends, and there were also one or two garden staff pottering about,
watering flower beds and emptying bins into mobile refuse containers.
'This is going to be a really surreal experience,' said Monique, preparing to
step out of the Black Eagle's open hatch.
'"Really surreal," might be considered a contradictory statement,
Mademoiselle Monique,' said Harry. 'Anyway you won't be needing my further
input, so I'll just take the Black Eagle home now, and don't panic, you're both
covered until you get back inside your dorm. No one can see or hear you, and
I'll switch off all the other sense controls. I look forward to seeing you both
for pats and...umm...well, maybe walkies?'
'Walkies!' said Priscilla, stunned. 'You want "walkies" after what
we've just been through! If you're fortunate, you might get a bath, and maybe
survive. As Henry would say in his pirate-speak, "Them's that dies'll be
the lucky ones." Think about that!'
'Miss Monique's parents are almost out of Customs, think about that,'
returned Harry. 'Besides, if you wannna talk to me sometime through the weekend,
your safest bet is out in a park where people always talk to their dogs. Best
you get on with your day and find what has to be found. In the words of an old
'Ruff-ruff yourself!' called Priscilla whilst the two girls lifted, as if on
some waft of non-existent breeze, before coming to rest, the toes of their
joggers delicately touching the lichen-encrusted tiles of the building. Behind
them, the Black Eagle rose silently, and as they turned toward it they both had
a swift glimpse of a ramshackle kids' cubby house, rickety timbers threatening
to fall off and plummet to the ground below, before it suddenly wheeled away and
vanished from sight.
'What now Sherlock?' said Priscilla, teetering forward a little and
stretching out her arms sideways in an effort to regain her equilibrium.
'Sherlock? Oh yes, Holmes is the Sherlock you are meaning. I have read
an...um...how do you say it? Ah yes, French!...an Omnibus of stories about this
famous detective...but wait, look here in the gutter...some rolled up pieces of
'Well it hasn't rained in the last couple of days, so I suppose they're bits
of the masking tape that were used to tie up Boofhead, erm Roseanne, the other
night,' said Priscilla, unconcernedly, before she added, 'Gee, I wonder if this
was reported to the Police?'
'If Miss Poe had reported it, it is my guess that they have not yet
attended,' said Monique, bending to poke at the balled-up scraps of tape, before
straightening and gazing back over the sloping roof tiles. 'These bits of tape
would be what was left after she managed to get her hands free and rip them off
her feet and mouth...'
'O.K. So you've had a look. This is where they brought her, trussed up like a
Christmas turkey, and dumped her in front of the flagpole down there where she
spat on the Koorie flag. Pretty fair justice. I reckon she deserved what she got
'Even though it has caused trouble between some of the aboriginal students
and other white pupils?' asked Monique, continuing to study the roof line.
A dove cooed. It was perching on the top of an ancient brick chimney a short
'Perhaps,' said Monique, allowing herself to drift toward it, 'we will see.'
The height of the chimney was no more than could be achieved by a student
standing on the tiles and reaching up, but of course Monique was able to elevate
above that and peer down inside the blackened, charcoal-coated, long unused
shaft. With an intake of breath, she slid her arm down into the chimney and
slowly withdrew a crumpled, brown paper bag. Carefully opening it, she peered
'Come on Moni, found a clue to solve the crime?' came Priscilla's almost
'Yes, ma petite Watson. We have a possible solution!'
Even though they had only just done the same thing at the airport, it still
amazed the girls how they could simply drift from the rooftop down to the quad
below and then waft along into the building until they reached their dorm room
without being observed by anybody. Once safely inside, they were abruptly
brought back to earth, both literally and figuratively, by a sharp cracking
sound. Both beds were now empty and looked very inviting. 'Don't even think
about sleep Moni, come on, grab your things and let's get down to the Palace for
a quick spruce up. We might be able to buy a roll and some juice over at
Queasies, and what's in the paper bag anyway Sherlock?' asked Priscilla, hefting
her own carry bag over her shoulder and heading for the door.
'Yes, that is a good idea,' Monique agreed, ' we can have them on the tram
and I will show you what I found. But I can hardly think about that now. Oh
Cilla! Mother and Father are here in Melbourne! I am so excited. You will meet
them for the first time soon!'
'Well, officially, anyway,' said Priscilla, opening the door and giggling.
'Mother and Father, I should like to introduce you both to my dear new friend
Priscilla. Since I have been here in Melbourne and staying with the Black family
she has become almost as a Sister to me...'
'Aw Monique, she can't have been all that bad!' joked Priscilla's younger
brother Henry, who was hefting the black dog on his hip so that Harry's head
hung over his shoulder, both paws around the boy's neck.
Looks so cute and cuddly, yeah, thought Priscilla. If only Henry knew he was
holding an alien from Wasat or where ever, he'd freak...Then again, it's
Henry...Probably end up in some karaoke song contest billed as the flat-toned
boy and his off-key alien....
'...both so very pleased and thankful to you Priscilla for your kindness to
Monique,' Monique's father, Jean-Michele, was saying. 'It can't have been easy
to share your room with a stranger from another country. Especially when...'
'When she's black,' said Priscilla gaily, before realising exactly what it
was she'd just said. 'Oh no, I didn't mean to...that is...I...' She stared in
horror at the faces all now trained upon her: Granny Black, looking fit to
implode, Louis, rubbing his reddening cheek in mute shock, Rachael, fiddling
with her coffee cup and Monique's parents, somehow caught in stop-motion,
staring back at Priscilla's gaping mouth.
'Ah well, as I was about to say, "when she didn't know whether we were
alive or dead,"' added Jean-Michele, filling in the long, embarrassing
silence. He tilted his head to and fro, pursed his lips, raised his eyebrows and
shrugged his shoulders. 'So, but then, you of course did notice that Monique is
black, as is my beautiful wife Monica here. Voila! Well observed Priscilla!'
Monica Bateleur began to chuckle. It was so infectious that almost at once
the tension disolved and Priscilla found herself slumping forward in relief
while Monique's arm wrapped around her shoulders. Looking up, Priscilla gazed
into the broad grins of mother and daughter. There was an audible chorus of
sighs from the rest of the Black family.
'My dearest Cilla,' said Monique, 'Mother and Father have no... how do you
say it? Oh oiu... hang-ups about colour. And maybe that is why you all might be
wondering about Father's tan.'
'Erm, well it's sure a good one,' offered Louis, tentatively.
'Ever heard of Martinique?' said Jean-Michele, looking around hopefully for
another cup of coffee.
Granny Black, her antenna pricking up, nudged Rachael who was nearest the
pot. 'A top-up for our guests, and perhaps Louis and Henry, you might like to
bring out some more biscuits, although I'm sure we don't want to fill you folk
up too much. Big roast dinner tonight. And with any luck Mathew might get in
from Tasmania to join us. Now as you were saying Mister Bateleur...'
Jean-Michele waved a hand, as if to deflect the comment, 'Please Missus...
that is... Amelia, let us dispense with such formal things as titles. And as for
Martinique, that is where my Father met my Mother, on the island of Martinique;
a French possession in the West Indies. You might know it as the Caribbean. Some
call that area, "The Breezy Islands." My Father is French, but my
Mother is a native of that isle.'
'Oh, so that explains your... um, tan,' said Priscilla a little weakly, yet
eager to redeem her situation.
'And that is why my daughter is as black as I am,' said Monica Bateleur
proudly. 'It runs through the lines. She is a product of France and Africa, with
a strong dash of Martinique. That is how we came to name her; Monica and
'And what would you have called your child if it had been a boy?' asked
Rachael, pouring steaming coffee.
'Probably they'd have got a big surprise and called him Martin-eeek!'
suggested Henry, who, for his trouble, got a push behind the ear from his bigger
brother. Harry added a couple of barks.
'You're such a dill at times, Squirt,' said Louis, grinning. And changing the
subject he added, 'Can I ask a practical question?'
'Why Louis, of course you may,' said Rachael, preening. 'What is it Dear?'
Louis assumed his 'serious look', as Henry would have termed it. 'Well I was
just wondering, since Mister and Missus Bateleur are here straight from the
airport, and only have a small amount of hand-luggage, where will we put them
Jean-Michele raised a hand as if to wave away the issue. 'But of course we
could not impose ourselves upon you. We will find an hotel somewhere about...'
'Not blood... not likely,' said Amelia in the voice of authority that took
charge of any domestic situation. 'You are both staying here. Mathew would never
forgive me, us, if we let you do anything else.'
'Absolutely!' said Rachael. 'And that's final! Now... erm, Granny Black, how
have you got this organised?'
Amelia Black set her cup aside and stood, so that she had elevation on her
side. 'I've got it all worked out. Louis can bunk in with Henry upstairs on a
camp bed, Priscilla and Monique will have their bedroom as usual, Monica and
Jean-Michele will take the front bedroom downstairs and you, Rachael, can sleep
in Louis' bed... '
'What about Matt, when he gets in from Tasmania?' said Rachael.
'Why Rachael Dearest, he'll be happy to take a makeshift bed with you of
course,' replied Granny, ingratiatingly. After all, we can't allow these folk to
go off alone into the wilds of Melbourne on their first night in Australia.'
'No, of course not, ' Rachael murmured, somewhat deflated.
At that moment the front doorbell chimed. 'I'll get it!' yelled Henry off and
running, with Harry bounding away, before anyone else could make a move.
'Bet it's Dad!' shouted Louis, leaping after his brother and the dog.
It was Mathew, and that Saturday afternoon was made all the better for his
arrival. The big man lumbered down the entrance hall into the living room and
was immediately swamped by his family and his two, long-time friends, Monica and
Jean-Michele Bateleur. Genuinely, they all embraced, tears springing to their
eyes. Even the youngsters were effected, the boys both beaming away whilst
Priscilla and Monique dabbed their cheeks with hankies.
'Look at you two, Monica, Jean-Michele! I'm really glad to see you both here
safe and well... Although you do look pretty strung out. It must have been a
'Made much worse by not knowing what had become of our daughter,' said
Monica, her hand on Monique's shoulder.
'Oiu, we thought that those people had abducted her, at least that is what
they wanted us to think. We could not know that she was safe in your care
Mathew, bon ami,' said Jean-Michele, pumping Mathew's hand vigorously and
'Monique has been well looked after here at the Black house, don't worry
about that mate, and she's even had an adventure herself. She and Priscilla
saved a little girl from drowning.'
'Is that true? Monique you must tell us everything. What happened?' asked
Jean-Michele, somewhat concerned.
'All in good time mate,' said Mathew, grinning broadly. 'Listen, it's getting
warm out there, what say we open a bottle of wine for the ladies, a couple of
good old Aussie beers for us and take a stroll in the garden?
That night at dinner the conversation was far from exhausted. After hearing
all about the events in Africa and what had been happening to Monique since last
seeing her parents, the talk turned to Matthew's upcoming project in Tasmania.
'I want you both with me on this one, if you think you're up to it. It's
going to be tricky getting both sides of the story down there. People aren't
interested in talking to outsiders, and there's always tension, bordering on
open hostility, between the loggers and the greens who are prepared to do some
pretty dangerous things in order to sabotage the clear-felling of the old-growth
forests. Over the years there's been a dust-up or two'
'Well, I am willing to come straight away mon ami, however I think that
Monica must take some rest. She is very tired after all that has befallen us and
I am sure she should like to be with Monique for awhile.'
'I shall mostly be at Hopewell Hall, Father,' said Monique, who was sitting
next to Priscilla at the table.
'And I won't be here very much either. We're about to begin shooting on
location around Melbourne,' added Rachael, pouring water from a cut-glass carafe
into several crystal glasses and passing them around. 'We're doing school scenes
and the car-park at the shopping centre this coming week.'
'Never mind,' Amelia said gently, 'I'll still be here and I'd welcome the
company and no, Monica, you won't have to do anything but rest and recover. We
have a cleaning whirlwind by the name of Irish Mollie, Mollie Maeve, who brooms
her way through every week.'
'You make Mollie sound like a witch!' said Rachael, smiling.
'A pretty good description,' Louis interjected.
'Don't be so unkind to dear Mollie, young man,' said Granny reproachfully.
'Anyway, a quiet house with only me and that little black fellow over there on
his cushion... Here Harry, come on boy, would you like a bit of the doings? Yes,
well Henry will sort you out before night-nights, you'll love some roast lamby
leftovers. Good boy, just you wait..'
At the end of the evening as Priscilla and Monique were heading upstairs they
could hear Mathew saying, 'When Monica feels up to it, Amelia will take her down
to Camberwell and she can check out the Real Estate agents and what's available
to rent. Don't worry mate, I've organised things with the company. I had it all
sorted beforehand. Expenses for this assignment are part of the deal. Short term
accommodation will be fine, all Monica has to do is locate something suitable
for you, and you won't need to bring all your film gear over when we go, just
some selected items. You can round up whatever else you need here, but I don't
want to be too obvious about what we're doing. We don't need to spook the
locals. I just hope to head down south into the far end and see for myself
what's been happening. I've got a couple of campervans organized and stocked, so
before we do too much talking we can shoot some footage without anyone being the
'What if we are seen and confronted, mon ami?'
'We'll tell them we're filming a wild life doco. Actually the island has some
pretty interesting creatures, like the Tasmanian Devil, and there are still
persistent rumours and stories about the Thylacine.'
'The what? Thylacine? It sounds more like a disease than a living creature.
Is it a bird or an animal?'
'It's known as the Tasmanian Tiger, supposedly extinct since the nineteen
thirties, I'll show you my cover research tomorrow, it makes interesting
reading, and hey! Who knows,' said Mathew, switching off the hall lights, 'we
just might stumble over one or two. Great scientific discovery, we'll be on the
cover of Time yet! See you in the morning. Glad to have you both back in the
land of the living.'
'C'mon, throw the ball.'
'Better humour him,' said Priscilla, heaving a long sigh.
It was Sunday morning, the early sun was shining across Frog Hollow Reserve,
a small park bordering the railway line running between Willison and Hartwell
stations. The girls had already breakfasted and were out and about with Harry
for 'walkies'. He was sitting, expectantly at attention, his black tail slowly
sweeping the grass.
Monique, who had no idea what she was doing, bowled the tennis ball along the
'That's pathetic. This isn't soccer you know,' said Harry, after sharply
retrieving it. 'You gotta throw it, put some ommph into it!'
'We thought you were here to talk to us!' Priscilla hissed.
'It's all part of my front, look at that old lady with the pair of greyhounds
over there, and that rather pretty little poodle with the dozing guy on the
seat, I gotta be like a dog! Get with it!'
'Why couldn't we have just talked at home?' Priscilla complained.
'Yeah, right, when the whole family's buzzing and Miss Monique's parents are
there and...Oh shoot! It's just easier here, besides you both need the
'Us! this is your walkies!'
'No it isn't. When I mentioned walkies I meant you two. You need Physical!
Physical, I wanna get physical! Let me hear your doggy talk, your doggy talk,
'Throw the damn ball Monique, I feel a mutt song coming on,' muttered
'Anyway everything's worked out fine with your folks safe here and you
getting your mother's wedding ring into the crate at the airport and finding
what you needed out of that junk box in the garage. Lucky Louis is a bit of a
magpie and salvaged things from the old kitchen. Saved you a trip to the
hardware store. Throw the ball.'
Priscilla hurled it as far as she could. 'You'd reckon he'd be tuckered out
'What is this "tuckered out" Cilla?'
'Mit means mm-tired,' said Harry, spitting out the ball at Monique's feet.
'And you will be by the time we finish, and ready for lunch too, I'll bet. So I
suppose you both overheard your dads talking about Tasmania last night?'
'Are you accusing us of eavesdropping?' said Priscilla, feigning indignation.
'Yep! I just hope they don't get themselves into hot water. There are some
areas of Tasmania that it's best to keep out of.'
'Why?' asked Priscilla, becoming interested.
'Oh, this and that. Throw the ball.'
'What is he meaning Cilla, by this and that?' said Monique, looking puzzled.
Before she could hazard a guess, Harry was back, nosing the ball toward her
foot. 'Ever hear of The Sacred Secret?' he said, mysteriously.
'No,' the girls answered together.
'Good! Throw the ball.'
Chapter 10 [Next]