Authors: Eleanor Dark
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Eleanor Dark was born in 1901 and educated in Sydney. She is one of Australia's most highly regarded writers of the 1930s and '40s.
Dark began writing in her childhood and contributed verse, short stories and articles to various magazines. Her first novel,
, was published in 1932. A further nine novels followed:
Prelude to Christopher
Return to Coolami
Sun Across the Sky
The Little Company
(1959), and the trilogy of historical novels
The Timeless Land
Storm of Time
Dark also wrote short fiction, essays, radio scripts and poetry. She was married to Eric Dark, a medical doctor and leftist social thinker. She died in 1985, and Varuna, her house in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, is now a writers' centre.
This edition published by Allen & Unwin House of Books in 2012
First published by William Collins Publishers, London, in 1936
Copyright Â© Eleanor Dark 1936
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian
Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.
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ISBN 978 1 74331 203 2 (pbk)
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came out of his wife's room carrying her two suitcases and went slowly down the stairs. He was alarmed at his own anger.
Anger, he assured himself, stung by the memory of Susan's white face, not so much at her as at the grotesque and impossible situation in which they were both struggling. Anger that with all his efforts at decency, at forbearance, with all her fierce and determined honesty they hadn't managed to do better than thisâ
Well, anyhow she was coming home. It might be, as she had half admitted last night, that this long absence of hers, these months which had amounted, really, to a kind of artificial return to her unmarried life, had been a mistake. And yet it had seemed reasonable enough at the time. Their brief marriage had, so far, been pretty awful, and after the baby died she was naturally run down, nervy, at the end of her physical and emotional strength. He hadn't forgotten the look of almost frantic appeal in her eyes when he went to see her in the hospital. “I'd like to stay at home for a while, Bret â for a couple of months or so â I â I don't want to go back yet â to Coolamiâ”
The “at home” he realised, was illuminating. Coolami, to her, was not a home but a place where she was working out, with a courage that he couldn't but
admire, a dreary, heartbreaking expiation. Well, if she felt like thatâ
So he'd gone home next day, alone. Of this visit of his to bring her back, he didn't want to think any more than he could help. He stopped dead on the landing and stared absently in front of him, his face a queer mixture of amusement and despair. For tragic and impossible as the situation was when you were one of its chief actors, it had, undoubtedly, if you could sufficiently detach yourself to see it, a funny side. Susan, thank heaven, had an invincible sense of humour, and only her glimmer of a smile answering his through the murkiness of their problem as the lights of one ship might signal through a fog to another, had preserved for them a fragment at least of mutual respect and reliance. He had discovered it, he remembered, in the early days of their marriage. They'd come one night when they were travelling by car to a small country hotel where Bret's demand for a room with twin beds had met with no success. He had found Susan in the room looking pale and exhausted, and he had said, eyeing the vast white bed ruefully:
“I should have a drawn sword to lay between us â but I'm sorry I've nothing better than a mashie-niblick.”
Her little spurt of laughter had relieved and reassured him. You could do a lot of patching, he thought grimly, going on down the stairs, with a joke or two!
But there were times of course when you didn't feel like joking â times like last night when the tangle you were in became unbearable, when you fought it, quite hopelessly because it was woven of subtle and incomprehensible things within yourself â of anger, of resentment, of aching desire, of an obscure sense of
loyalty to Jim, of pity for Susan, of a vague disgust for the whole business, of a bewildered conviction of beauty to be grasped in it â somewhere â somehowâ
All those warring impulses â and in Susan how many more, poor infant that she was, after allâ
He paused in the hall to put down a suitcase, jam his hat on his head and pick it up again. He saw his own face in the mirror and stopped, suddenly remembering her desperate cry: “If you weren't so
him, Bret!” That had surprised him. He hadn't ever thought that there had been more than a family resemblance between himself and Jim. He could see now, searching for it, that the likeness was there â in the shape of the nose and mouth, and in the rather aggressively straight eyebrows. But his own eyes were of that light grey which looks so surprising in a sunburnt face, and Jim's had been dark; Jim had been young, moving like quicksilver; Jimâ
He turned sharply away from the mirror and went out through the front door, his shoulders sagging a little under the weight of the suitcase.
The gravel of the path crunched rhythmically beneath his tread. Round the curve between the azalea bushes he saw his father-in-law's new tourer waiting outside the gate, its hood folded down, its luggage carrier laden, its green body shadowy, shining, like a mirror, like a limpid pool.
The sun, not yet over the tops of the camphor laurels, shot a stray gleam through them on to the polished nickel of Drew's new Madison. He himself, circling
round and round it with a piece of chamois leather in his hand, caught the dazzle of it from the corner of his eye, and smiled. The lustrous olive-green of the bonnet, satin-smooth, mirror-bright, held his glance for a pleasant moment; from there it passed with a shade of reluctance to the silver-plated effigy on the radiator-cap. Funny how he'd come to buy that thing. Saw it with a lot of others in old Waller's office â he'd been importing them â and felt suddenly that he had to own one for his new car. Something about itâ
Quite well done, probably, though he didn't know much about art. Cost enough, anyhow. But â fanciful. Unrestrained. Yes, that was it, he thought, pleased with his choice of a word, and looking, therefore, with increased severity at the little gleaming figure, unrestrained. To the solid opulence of the car it lent a note, incongruous enough but queerly exciting, of eagerness, of adventure. In the lines of it, of course, he told himself, eyeing it with what he hoped was critical detachment; in the perspective; and the pose. That lean, boyish-looking body â straining forward. The outstretched arm, the pointing hand, the lift of the head. A clever thing. Quite clever. But fanciful. That, after all, was the last word. You couldn't approve really of anything that was fanciful, and Lord alone knows what sudden impulse had made you buy it. But bought it was, with hard cash, for the radiator of your new car, and on the radiator of your new car it should stay. â¦
Footsteps on the gravel made him turn. Bret with two more suitcases. Well, they'd have to go in the back. The luggage carrier was full. Funny the things women had to cart around with them.
A good chap, Bret, even if you didn't quite know
what to make of him sometimes, or what to make of his attitude to Susan, or hers to him. Time, he thought ruefully, instead of unravelling a tangle had merely made turmoil of something which now, when you looked back at it, seemed to have been clear enough in spite of its distastefulness!
This “rest” of Susan's! Rubbish! Susan playing the invalid! Well, he wasn't going to interfere, it was women's business; let her mother handle it. But no one was going to tell him that Susan with her clear eyes and her clear skin, with her vitality and the lights that fairly crackled in her amazing hair, had to take four months' holiday to get over a perfectly normal childbirth. The child's death only a few days after its birth had upset her certainly â that was only natural. But it didn't make her stubborn and continued absence from her husband any more excusable.
Anyhow it was over now. She was going home to Coolami, and who had engineered that he supposed he would never know. Perhaps Millicent, whose gentle persistence was sometimes a match for even the steel and flame of her daughter's determination. Perhaps Margery. Perhaps, he thought, glancing at his son-in-law as he took the suitcases and stowed them in the back of the car â perhaps Bret? After all, he had his rights. After all, though neither Susan nor Margery nor Millicent nor Bret himself seemed to see it in that light, he'd been, in a way, magnanimous to marry her at all!
Stung by this thought as he had been for the past year whenever it obtruded itself, he said brusquely:
“She said five minutes.”
Drew said, “Good God!” in a resigned voice and
climbed into the front seat with an air of being prepared to wait an hour. Bret was walking round the car; Drew, catching sight of him in the driving mirror for a moment, found himself thinking for the hundredth time that you could always tell a countryman from his hat. Turned down and pulled forward over the eyes. Bret had a semicircle of unburned skin on his foreheadâ
He asked, without turning round:
“What do you think of her.”
“She looks great. Have you finished running her in?”