"Your cousin Alexander has written for a wife," said James Drummond, looking up from a sheet of paper.
The summons to see her father in the front parlor had fallen on Elizabeth like a blow; such formality meant a lecture for transgression, followed by a punishment appropriate for the offense. Well, she knew what she had done -- over-salted this morning's porridge -- and knew too what her punishment was bound to be -- to eat unsalted porridge for the rest of the year. Father was careful with his money, he'd not spend it on a grain more salt than he had to.
So, hands behind her back, Elizabeth stood in front of the shabby wing chair, her mouth dropped open at this amazing news.
"He asks for Jean, which is daft -- does he think time stands still?" James brandished the letter indignantly, then transferred his gaze from it to this youngest child, light from the window pouring over her while he sat concealed by shadows. "You're made like any other female, so it will have to be you."
"Are you deaf, girl? Aye, you. Who else is there?"
"But Father! If he asks for Jean, he'll not want me."
"Any respectable, decently brought-up young woman will do, judging by the state of affairs in the place he writes from."
"Where does he write from?" she asked, knowing that she wouldn't be allowed to read the letter.
"New South Wales." James grunted, a satisfied sound. "It seems your cousin Alexander has done well for himself -- made a wee fortune on the goldfields." His brow wrinkled. "Or," he temporized, "at least has made enough to afford a wife."
Her first shock was dissipating, to be replaced by dismay. "Wouldn't it be simpler for him to find a wife there, Father?"
"In New South Wales? It's naught but harlots, ex-convicts and English snobs when it comes to women, he says. Nay, he saw Jeannie when he was last home, and took a strong fancy to her. Asked for her hand then. I refused -- well, why would I have taken a shiftless boilermaker's apprentice living in the Glasgow stews for Jeannie, and her barely sixteen? Your age, girl. That's why I'm sure you'll do for him -- he likes them young. What he's after is a Scots wife whose virtue is above reproach, whose blood he shares and can trust. That's what he says, at any rate." James Drummond rose to his feet, brushed past his daughter and marched into the kitchen. "Make me some tea."
Out came the whisky bottle while Elizabeth threw tea leaves into the warmed pot and poured boiling water on top of them. Father was a presbyter -- an elder of the kirk -- so was not a drinker, let alone a drunkard. If he poured a dollop of whisky into his teacup, it was only upon the receipt of splendid news, like the birth of a grandson. Yet why was this such splendid news? What would he do, with no daughter to look after him?
What was really in that letter? Perhaps, thought Elizabeth, accelerating the steeping of the tea by stirring it with a spoon, the whisky would provide some answers. Father when slightly befuddled was actually talkative. He might betray its secrets.
"Does my cousin Alexander have anything else to say?" she ventured as soon as the first cup was down and the second poured.
"Not very much. He's no fonder of words than any other of the Drummond ilk." Came a snort. "Drummond, indeed! It's not his name anymore, if you can believe that. He changed it to Kinross when he was in America. So you won't be Mrs. Alexander Drummond, you'll be Mrs. Alexander Kinross."
It did not occur to Elizabeth that she might dispute this arbitrary decision about her destiny, either at that moment or much later, when enough time had passed to see the thing clearly. The very thought of disobeying Father in such an important matter was more terrifying than anything she could imagine except a scolding from the Reverend Dr. Murray. Not that Elizabeth Drummond lacked courage or spirit; more that, as the motherless youngest, she had spent all her little life being tyrannized by two terrible old men, her father and his minister of religion.
"Kinross is the name of our town and county, not the name of a clan," she said.
"I daresay he had his reasons for changing," said James with unusual tolerance, sipping at his second tipple.
"Some sort of crime, Father?"
"I doubt that, or he'd not be so open now. Alexander was always headstrong, always too big for his boots. Your uncle Duncan tried, but couldn't manage him." James heaved a huge, happy sigh. "Alastair and Mary can move in with me. They'll come into a tidy sum when I'm six feet under."
"A tidy sum?"
"Aye. Your husband-to-be has sent a bank draft to cover the cost of sending you out to New South Wales. A thousand pounds."
She gaped. "A thousand pounds?"
"You heard me. But don't get your head turned around, girl. You can have twenty pounds to fill your glory box and five for your wedding finery. He says you're to be sent first-class and with a maid -- well, I'll not countenance such extravagance! Och, awful! First thing tomorrow I'll write to the Edinburgh and Glasgow newspapers to post an advertisement." Down came his spiky sandy lashes, a sign of deep thought. "What I want is a respectable married couple belonging to the kirk who are planning to emigrate to New South Wales. If they're willing to take you along, I'll pay them fifty pounds." His lids lifted to reveal his bright blue eyes. "They'll grab at it. And I'll put nine hundred and twenty-five pounds in my purse. A tidy sum."
"But will Alastair and Mary be willing to move in, Father?"
"If they're not, I'll leave my tidy sum to Robbie and Bella or Angus and Ophelia," said James Drummond smugly.
Having served him two thick bacon sandwiches for his Sunday supper, Elizabeth threw her plaid around her shoulders and escaped on the pretext that she'd better see if the cow had come home.
The house wherein James Drummond had brought up his large family lay on the outskirts of Kinross, a village dignified with the status of market-town because it was the capital of Kinross County. At twelve by ten miles, Kinross was the second-smallest county in Scotland, but made up for its lack of size by some slight degree of prosperity.
The woollen mill, the two flour mills and the brewery were belching black smoke, for no mill owner let his boilers go out just because it was a Sunday; cheaper than stoking from scratch on Mondays. There was sufficient coal in the southern part of the county to permit of these modest local industries, and thanks to them James Drummond had not suffered the fate of so many Scotsmen, forced to leave their native land in order to find work and live, or else subsist in the squalor of a reeking city slum. Like his elder brother, Duncan, who was Alexander's father, James had worked his fifty-five years at the woollen mill, turning out lengths of checkered cloth for the Sassenachs after the Queen had brought tartan into fashion.
The strong Scottish winds blew the stack-smoke away like charcoal under an artist's thumb and opened the pale blue vault to near-infinity. In the distance were the Ochils and the Lomonds, purple with autumn heather, high wild mountains where crofter's cottages swung decayed doors on nothing, where soon the absentee landlords would come to shoot deer, fish the lochs. Of scant concern to Kinross County, in itself a fertile plain replete with cattle, horses, sheep. The cattle were destined to become the finest London roast beef, the horses were brood mares for saddle and carriage horses, the sheep produced wool for the tartan mill and mutton for local tables. There were crops too, for the mossy soil had been extensively drained fifty years ago.
In front of Kinross town was Loch Leven, a broad, ruffled mere of that steely blue peculiar to the Scottish lochs, fed by translucent amber peat streams. Elizabeth stood on the shore only yards from the house (she knew better than to disappear from sight of it) and looked across the loch to the verdant flatlands that lay between it and the Firth of Forth. Sometimes, if the wind blew from the east, she could smell the cold, fishy depths of the North Sea, but today the wind blew off the mountains, redolent with the tang of moldering leaves. On Lochleven Isle a castle reared, the one in which Mary Queen of Scots had been imprisoned for almost a year. What must it have been like, to be both sovereign and captive? A woman trying to rule a land of fierce, outspoken men? But she had tried to bring back the Roman faith, and Elizabeth Drummond was too carefully reared a Presbyterian to think well of her for that.
I am going to a place called New South Wales to marry a man I have never met, she thought. A man who asked for my sister, not for me. I am caught in a web of my father's making. What if, when I arrive, this Alexander Kinross doesn't like me? Surely, if he is an honorable man, he will send me home again! And he must be honorable, else he would not have sent for a Drummond bride. But I have read that these rude colonies so far from home do indeed suffer a scarcity of suitable wives, so I suppose he will marry me. Dear God in Heaven, make him like me! Make me like him!
She had gone to Dr. Murray's school for two years, long enough to learn to read and write, and she was well, if narrowly, read; writing was more difficult, since James refused to spend money on paper for silly girls to despoil. But provided she kept the house spotlessly clean, cooked her father's meals to his liking, didn't spend any money, or hobnob with other, equally silly girls, Elizabeth was free to read whatever books she could find. She had two sources: the texts in the library of Dr. Murray's manse and the drearily respectable novels that circulated among the feminine members of his massive congregation. No surprise, then, that she was more informed about theology than geology, and circumstance than romance.
That marriage would be her lot had never occurred to her, though she was just beginning to be old enough to wonder about its pleasures and perils, to look at her older siblings' unions with fascinated interest. Alastair and Mary, so different, always arguing, yet, she sensed, enjoying some deeper communion; Robert and Bella, perfectly matched in parsimony; Angus and his twittery Ophelia, who seemed determined to destroy each other; Catherine and her Robert, who lived in Kirkaldy because he was a fisherman; Mary and her James, Anne and her Angus, Margaret and William....And Jean, the oldest daughter, the family beauty, who at eighteen had married a Montgomery -- an enviable catch for a girl of good enough blood but absolutely no dowry. Her husband had removed her to a mansion in Princes Street, Edinburgh, and that was the last time the Drummonds in Kinross ever saw Jean.
"Ashamed of us," said James with contempt.
"Very canny," said Alastair, who had loved her and was loyal.
"Very selfish," said Mary, sneering.
Very lonely, thought Elizabeth, who remembered Jean only vaguely. But if Jean's loneliness became too much to bear, her family was a mere fifty miles away. Whereas I will never be able to come home, and home is all I know.
It had been decided after Margaret married that Elizabeth, the last of James's brood who lived, was to remain a spinster at least until her father died, which family superstition believed would not be for many years to come; he was as tough as old boots and as hard as the rock of Ben Lomond. Now all of it had changed, thanks to Alexander Kinross and a thousand pounds. Alastair, James's pride and joy after the death of his namesake, would override Mary and move her and his seven children into his father's house. It would go to him anyway in the fullness of time, for he had cemented his place in James's affections by succeeding his father as loom master at the mill. But Mary -- poor Mary, how she would suffer! Father deemed her a shocking spendthrift, between buying her children shoes to wear on Sundays and putting jam on the table for breakfast as well as for supper. Once she moved in with James, her children would wear boots and jam would appear only for Sunday supper.
The wind began to bluster; Elizabeth shivered, more from fear than the sudden chill. What had Father said of Alexander Kinross? "A shiftless boilermaker's apprentice living in the Glasgow stews." What did he mean by shiftless? That Alexander Kinross stuck to nothing? If he was shiftless, would he even be there to meet her at journey's end?
"Elizabeth, come inside!" James was shouting.
Obedient, Elizabeth ran.
As the days flew by they conspired to give Elizabeth little time for reflection; try as she did to stay awake in her bed and think about her fate, the moment she lay down, sleep claimed her. Every day saw quarrels between James and Mary; Alastair, away to the mill at dawn and not returning until after dark, was fortunate. All of Mary's own furniture had to be moved to her new residence, and took precedence over James's chipped, battered pieces. If Elizabeth wasn't running up and down the stairs with armloads of linens or clothing (including shoes) or on one end of the piano, the bureau, the chiffer-robe, she was outside with one of Mary's rugs spread over the clothesline, beating it within an inch of its life. Mary was a cousin on the Murray side, and had come to her marriage with a certain amount of property, a small allowance from her farmer father, and more independence of mind than Elizabeth had credited any woman could possess. None of which had impinged on her in the way it did after Mary came to live with Father. Who didn't always win the battles, she was amazed to discover. The jam stayed on the breakfast table every morning and was there again every night. The children's shoes went on their feet before service at Dr. Murray's kirk on Sundays. And Mary flirted her shapely ankles in a pair of exquisite blue kid slippers with heels high enough to turn her walk into a mince. James spent much of his time in towering rages and soon had his grandchildren in healthy fear of his stick, but Alastair, he was learning, had become putty in Mary's hands.
Elizabeth's only chance to avoid this domestic turmoil were visits to Miss MacTavish's establishment in Kinross's main square. It was a small house whose front parlor, opening straight on to the pavement, bore a big glass window in which stood a sexless dummy clad in a very full-skirted pink taffeta dress -- it would never do to offend the kirk by showing a dummy with breasts.
Everyone who didn't make her own clothing went to see Miss MacTavish, an attenuated spinster lady in her late forties, who, upon inheriting a hundred pounds, had given up employment as a seamstress and opened her own business as a modiste. It and she had prospered, for Kinross contained women able to afford her services, and she was clever enough to produce magazines of ladies' fashions that she insisted were sent to her from London.
Five of Elizabeth's twenty pounds had gone on tartan wools from the mill, where Alastair's position allowed her a small but welcome discount. These and four house dresses in coarse brown linen she would craft herself, together with her unbleached calico drawers, nightgowns, chemises and petticoats. When the expenditure was totted up, she found that she had sixteen pounds left to spend with Miss MacTavish.
"Two morning gowns, two afternoon gowns, two evening gowns and your wedding dress," said Miss MacTavish, enchanted with this commission. She wouldn't make much of a profit on the exercise, but it wasn't every day that a young and very pretty girl -- oh, such a figure! -- was thrust into Miss MacTavish's hands without a mother or an aunt to spoil her fun.
"As well," the modiste chattered as she wielded her tape measure, "that I am here, Elizabeth. Were you to go to Kirkaldy or Dumfermline, you'd pay twice as much for half as much. And I have some lovely materials in stock, just right for your coloring. Dark beauties never go out of fashion, they don't fade into their surroundings. Though I hear that your sister Jean -- now there was a fair beauty! -- is still the toast of Edinburgh."
Staring at herself in Miss MacTavish's mirror, Elizabeth heard only the last part of this. James wouldn't brook a mirror in his house and had won that particular encounter with Mary, who, when James produced Dr. Murray as reinforcements, was obliged to keep her mirror in her own bedroom. Beauty, Elizabeth sensed, was a word that tripped easily off Miss MacTavish's tongue, and served as a balm to soothe a customer's misgivings. Certainly she saw no sign of beauty in her reflection, though "dark" was accurate enough. Very dark hair, thick dark brows and lashes, dark eyes, an ordinary sort of face.
"Och, your skin!" Miss MacTavish was crooning. "So white, and quite flawless! But do not let anybody plaster you with rouge, it would ruin your style. A neck like a swan!"
The measuring done, Elizabeth was led into the room wherein Miss MacTavish's bolts of fabrics were arranged on shelves -- the finest muslins, cambrics, silks, taffetas, laces, velvets, satins. Spools of ribbon in every color. Feathers, silk flowers.
Elizabeth sped straight to a bolt of brilliant red, face alight. "This one, Miss MacTavish!" she cried. "This one!"
The seamstress-turned-modiste went as red as the cloth. "Och, dear me, no," she said, voice constricted.
"But it's so beautiful!"
"Scarlet," said Miss MacTavish, shoving the offending bolt to the back of its shelf, "is not the done thing at all, my dear Elizabeth. I keep it for a certain element in my clientele whose -- er -- virtue is not what it should be. Naturally they come to me at a prearranged hour to spare embarrassment. You know your scripture, child -- the 'scarlet woman'?"
So the closest to scarlet that Elizabeth came was a rust-red taffeta. Irreproachable.
"I don't think," she said to Miss MacTavish over a cup of tea after the choices had been made, "that Father will approve of any of these dresses. I won't look my station."
"Your station," said Miss MacTavish strongly, "is about to change with a vengeance, Elizabeth. You can't go as the bride of a man rich enough to send you a thousand pounds wearing naught but tartan from the mill and plain brown linen. There will be parties, balls, I imagine, carriage rides, calls to pay on the wives of other rich men. Your father ought not to have kept so much of what, I am sure, is your money, not his."
That said (for it had burned to be said -- what a miserable old skinflint James Drummond was!), Miss MacTavish poured more tea and pressed a cake on Elizabeth. Such a beautiful girl, and so wasted in Kinross!
"I really don't want to go to New South Wales and marry Mr. Kinross," Elizabeth said unhappily.
"Nonsense! Think of it as an adventure, my dear. There's not a young woman in Kinross who doesn't envy you, believe me. Think about it. Here, you will not enjoy a husband at all, you will spend your best years looking after your father." Her pale blue eyes moistened. "I know, believe me. I had to look after my mother until she died, and by then my hopes of marriage were gone." Suddenly she sighed, beamed. "Alexander Drummond! Well do I remember him! Barely fifteen when he ran away, but there wasn't a female in Kinross hadn't noticed him."
Stiffening, Elizabeth realized that at last she had found someone who could tell her a little about her husband-to-be. Unlike James, Duncan Drummond had had but two children, a girl, Winifred, and Alexander. Winifred had married a minister and gone to live near Inverness before Elizabeth had been born, so that was her best chance gone. Quizzing those of her own family old enough to remember Alexander had produced curiously little; as if, for some reason, the subject of Alexander was forbidden. Father, she realized. Father didn't want to give back his windfall, and was taking no chances. He also believed that ignorance was bliss when it came to marriage.
"Was he handsome?" she asked eagerly.
"Handsome?" Miss MacTavish screwed up her face, shut her eyes. "No, I wouldn't have called him handsome. It was the way he walked -- a swagger. He was always black-and-blue from Duncan's stick, so sometimes it must have been hard to walk as if he owned the world, but he did. And his smile! One just went -- weak."
"He ran away?"
"On his fifteen birthday," said Miss MacTavish, and proceeded to give her version of the story. "Dr. MacGregor -- he was the outgoing minister -- was quite heartbroken. Alexander, he used to say, was so terribly clever. He had Latin and Greek, and Dr. MacGregor hoped to send him to university. But Duncan wouldn't have that. There was a job for him in the mill here in Kinross, and with Winifred away, Duncan wanted Alexander here. A hard man, was Duncan Drummond! He'd offered for me, you know, but there was Mother to care for, so I wasn't sorry to refuse his offer. And now you're to marry Alexander! It's like a dream, Elizabeth, it's just like a dream!"
That last remark was true. In what corners of her mind the constant hard work permitted her, Elizabeth thought about her future much as clouds passed across the high, wide Scottish sky; sometimes in airy, lighthearted wisps, sometimes sad and grey, sometimes stormily black. An unknown severance with unknown consequences, and the limited ken in which she had spent her barely sixteen years could offer her neither comfort nor information. A tiny thrill of excitement would be followed by a bout of tears, a spurt of joy by a dizzying descent into despond. Even after intense perusal of Dr. Murray's gazetteer and Britannica, poor Elizabeth had no yardstick whereby to measure this complete and drastic upheaval.
The dresses got made, including her wedding dress, every item folded between sheets of tissue paper and packed in her two trunks. Alastair presented her with the trunks, Mary with a veil of white French lace to wear at her wedding, Miss MacTavish with a pair of white satin slippers; all the members of the family save James managed to find something to give her, be it Cologne water, a scrimshaw brooch, a pin cushion or a box of bonbons.
James's respectable Presbyterian married couple answered one of his advertisements from Peebles, and after several letters had traveled back and forth between Kinross and Peebles, said that, for fifty pounds, they would be pleased to take custody of the bride.
Alastair and Mary were deputed to take Elizabeth on the coach to Kirkaldy, where they boarded a steam packet for the journey across the Firth of Forth to Leith. From there several horse-drawn trams took them into Edinburgh and to Princes Street Station, where Mr. and Mrs. Richard Watson would be waiting.
Had she not been felled by the choppy ferry crossing, Elizabeth would have been agog; in all her life she had never been as far afield as Kirkaldy, so the huge city of Edinburgh ought to have transfixed her, if her delight at seeing Kirkaldy was anything to go by. Catherine and Robert lived there and had put them up, shown Elizabeth the sights. But she could summon up no enthusiasm for Edinburgh's bustle, its wintry beauty, wooded hills and ravines. When the last of the trams deposited them at the North British Railway station, she let Alastair guide her, install her in the tiny, boxlike second-class compartment she was to share with the Watsons all the way to London, and left him to search the jam-packed platform for her tardy chaperones.
"This is quite tolerable," said Mary, gazing about. "The seats are well padded, and you've your rug for warmth."
"It's the third-class passengers I don't envy," Alastair said, pushing two cardboard chits into Elizabeth's left glove. "Don't lose them, they're for your trunks, safely in the luggage compartment." Then he slipped five gold coins down inside her other glove. "From Father," he said with a grin. "I managed to convince him that you can't go all the way to New South Wales with an empty purse, but I'm to tell you not to waste a farthing."
The Watsons finally arrived, breathless. They were a tall and angular couple in shabby clothes that suggested Elizabeth's fifty pounds had promoted them from the horrors of third-class to the relative comfort of second-class. They seemed pleasant, though Alastair's nose wrinkled at the liquor on Mr. Watson's breath.
Whistles blew, people hung out of the carriage windows to exchange screams, tears, frantic clutches and final waves with those on the platform; amid huffs and explosions, clouds of steam, jerks and clangs, the London night train began to move.
So near, and yet so far, thought Elizabeth, eyelids drooping; my sister Jean, who started all of this, lives in Princes Street. Yet Alastair and Mary have to hire a room in the railway hotel, and will go back to Kinross without so much as setting eyes on her. "I am not receiving," her curt note had said.
The eyelids fell, she crashed into sleep sitting curled in one corner with her cheek against the icy window.
"Poor little thing," said Mrs. Watson. "Help me make her more comfortable, Richard. It is a sad state of affairs when Scotland has to send its children twelve thousand miles to find a husband."
Screw-driven steamships cut their way across the North Atlantic from Britain to New York in six or seven days, but there was no coal to fuel a steamship en route to the opposite end of the world. That was still served by sail.
Aurora was a four-masted barque with double topsails, square-rigged on her foremast and mainmast, fore-and-aft-rigged on her mizzens, and she completed the twelve thousand miles to Sydney in two and a half months, stopping only once, in Capetown. Down the Atlantic, then across the Southern Ocean into the Pacific. Her cargo consisted of several hundred water-flushing ceramic toilets and cisterns, two barouche carriages, suites of expensive walnut furniture, cotton and woollen fabrics, bolts of fragile French lace, crates of books and magazines, jars of English marmalade, tins of treacle, four Matthew Boulton & Watt steam engines, a consignment of brass doorknobs, and, in her strongroom, many very large cases marked with the skull-and-crossbones. On her way home, she'd carry thousands of bags of wheat and her strongroom would exchange cases marked with the skull-and-crossbones for gold bullion.
Much against the will of her master, a fanatical woman-hater, Aurora took a dozen passengers of both sexes in some degree of comfort, though she owned no staterooms and her cooks were of the plainest kind -- plenty of fresh-baked bread, salty butter kept in insulated firkins, boiled beef and whiskery potatoes, and floury puddings laced with jam or treacle.
Though Elizabeth found her sea legs halfway across the Bay of Biscay, Mrs. Watson did not, which meant that Elizabeth's time was taken up in ministering to her. Not a distasteful duty, as Mrs. Watson was a kind soul who seemed to labor under many burdens. The three of them had one cabin blessed with a porthole and a small maid's cubicle opening off it; Aurora hadn't entered the English Channel before Mr. Watson announced that he would sleep in the passengers' saloon to give the women privacy. At first Elizabeth wondered why this news distressed poor Mrs. Watson so, then realized that much of the Watsons' poverty stemmed from Mr. Watson's penchant for strong drink.
Oh, but it was cold! Not until they passed the Cape Verde Islands did the winter weather finally lift, and by then Mrs. Watson was coughing badly. At Capetown her frightened husband sobered sufficiently to call a doctor, who pulled his mouth down and shook his head.
"If you want your wife to live, sir, I suggest you bring her ashore here and sail no farther," he said.
But what to do with Elizabeth?
Fortified by half a pint of gin, Mr. Watson didn't stop to ask himself this question, and Mrs. Watson, lapsed into stupor, couldn't ask it. The two of them were off the ship with all their belongings not half an hour after the doctor had departed, leaving Elizabeth to fend for herself.
If Captain Marcus had had his way, Elizabeth would have been bundled after them, but he reckoned without taking one of his three other women passengers into account. She called a meeting between herself, the two married couples, the three sober single gentlemen, and Captain Marcus.
"The girl goes ashore," Aurora's master said, tone adamant.
"Oh, come, Captain!" said Mrs. Augusta Halliday. "To put a sixteen-year-old ashore in a strange place without a soul to protect her -- for the Watsons are no fit guardians -- is quite unconscionable! Do it, sir, and I will report you to your owners, to the Master's Guild and whomsoever else I can think of! Miss Drummond stays aboard."
As this announcement, delivered with a martial glare in Mrs. Halliday's eyes, met with murmurs of agreement from the others, Captain Marcus understood that he was beaten.
"If the girl is to stay," he said between his teeth, "I'll have no contact between her and my crew. Nor any contact between her and any male passenger, married or single, drunk or sober. She will be locked in her cabin and take her meals there."
"As if she were a prisoner?" asked Mrs. Halliday. "That is disgraceful! She must have fresh air and exercise."
"If she wants fresh air, she can open the porthole, and if she wants exercise, she can jump up and down on one spot, madam. I am master of this vessel, and my word is law. I'll have no harlotry aboard Aurora."
So Elizabeth spent the last five weeks of that interminably long voyage locked inside her cabin, sustained by the books and magazines Mrs. Halliday sent her after a hasty trip ashore to Capetown's only English bookshop. Captain Marcus's sole concession was to agree that Mrs. Halliday could escort Elizabeth twice around the deck after darkness fell each day, and even then he followed behind, barking at any sailor who came near.
"Like a watchdog," said Elizabeth with a chuckle.
Once the Watsons quit the ship she had recovered her spirits, despite imprisonment; that she understood, knowing that both her father and Dr. Murray would have approved of the captain's edict. And it was bliss to have her own domain, a larger one than her little room at home, which she was forbidden to enter until it was time to go to bed. If she stood on tiptoe she could see the ocean through her porthole, a heaving vastness that stretched forever, and during the nightly walks on deck she could hear its hiss, the boom it made when Aurora's bows hammered down.
Mrs. Halliday, she learned, was the widow of a free settler who had made a modest fortune in Sydney by opening a specialist shop that catered to the best people. Be it ribbons or buttons, stay-laces or whalebone insertions, stockings or gloves, Sydney society purchased them at Halliday's Haberdashery.
"After Walter died, I couldn't wait to go home," she said to Elizabeth, and sighed. "But home wasn't what I expected. So very peculiar, that what I had dreamed about all those years turned out to be a figment of my imagination. I have become, though I knew it not, an Australian. Wolverhampton was full of slag heaps and chimneys, and would you believe that I found it hard to understand what people said? I missed my children, my grandchildren, and the space. We tend to think that, just as God made Man in His image, Britannia made Australia in her image. But she has not. Australia is a foreign land."
"Isn't it New South Wales?" Elizabeth asked.
"Strictly speaking, yes. But the continent has been called Australia for a long time now, and whether they're Victorians or New South Welshmen or Queenslanders or from the other colonies, people call themselves Australians. Certainly my children do."
Alexander Kinross came up in their conversation frequently. Sadly, Mrs. Halliday knew nothing of him.
"It's four years since I left Sydney, he probably arrived in my absence. Besides, if he's a single man and doesn't go into society, only his colleagues would recognize his name. But I am sure," Mrs. Halliday went on kindly, "that he is above reproach. Otherwise, why send for a cousin to marry? Scoundrels, my dear, tend not to marry at all. Especially if they live on the goldfields." Her lips drew in, she sniffed. "The goldfields are dens of iniquity plentifully supplied with shady women." She coughed delicately. "I hope, Elizabeth, that you are acquainted with the duties of marriage?"
"Oh, yes," Elizabeth answered tranquilly. "My sister-in-law Mary told me what to expect."
When Aurora entered Port Jackson she was taken in tow by a steamboat; plagued by the presence of a pilot he detested, Captain Marcus was too engrossed to notice that Mrs. Halliday had liberated Elizabeth from her confinement, taken her up on deck to point out with proprietary pride the landmarks of what the good lady called "the grandest harbor in the world."
Yes, Elizabeth supposed that it was grand, gaze absorbing massive orange cliffs crowned by thick blue-grey forests. Sandy bays, gentler slopes, increasing evidence of habitation. The trees, tall and spindling, became replaced by rows and rows of houses, though on some foreshores they remained around what were majestic mansions, whose owners Mrs. Halliday named with succinct comments that ranged from defamation to condemnation. But the air swam with moisture, the sun was unbearably hot, and over all the beauty of this grand harbor lay a terrible stench. Its water, Elizabeth noted, was a dirty, detritus-laden brown.
"March is not a good month to arrive," Mrs. Halliday said, leaning on the rail. "Always humid. We spend February and March praying for a Southerly Buster, which is a south wind that cools everything down. Is the smell bothering you, Elizabeth?"
"Very much," said Elizabeth, face pale.
"Sewage," said Mrs. Halliday. "A hundred and seventy-odd thousand people, and it all flows into the harbor, which is little better than a cesspool. I believe that they intend to do something about it -- but when is anybody's guess, my son Benjamin says. He is on the city council. Water is a difficulty too. The days when it cost a shilling a bucket are gone, but it is still expensive. Few save the colossally rich have a supply laid on." She snorted. "Mr. John Robertson and Mr. Henry Parkes don't suffer!"
Captain Marcus descended, roaring.
"To your cabin, Miss Drummond! At once!"
And there Elizabeth remained while Aurora was towed to her berth; then all she could see through the porthole were masts, all she could hear were bellowing voices, the chug of an engine.
When, it seemed hours later, the knock fell on her door, she leaped off her bunk, heart thudding. But it was only Perkins, the passengers' steward.
"Your trunks have gone ashore, Miss, and so must you."
"Mrs. Halliday?" she asked, following him into a chaotic world of winches lowering crates in rope baskets, ruddy-faced men in flannel shirts, sailors whistling and jeering.
"Oh, she disembarked a long time ago. Asked me to give you this." Perkins fished in his waistcoat pocket and handed her a small card. "If you need her, you can find her there."
Down the gangplank, across the filthy boards of the wharf between high stacks of crates and cases -- where were her trunks?
Having found them in a relatively peaceful corner against the wall of a tumbledown shed, Elizabeth sat on one, put her purse in her lap and folded her hands on top of it. Where to go, what to do? Thinking that if Alexander Kinross saw the Drummond tartan he would recognize her at once, she was wearing one of her home-made dresses, but this was not the weather for serge wool; in fact, she thought, dazed with heat, little of what reposed in her trunks was suitable for this climate. Sweat dewed her face, ran down the back of her neck from her hair, confined inside a matching bonnet, and soaked through her calico underwear into the Drummond tartan.
And after all that, it was she who recognized him in an instant, thanks to Miss MacTavish. She sat looking down a narrow lane between the off-loaded cargo and saw a man who walked as if he owned the world. Tall and rather slender, he was dressed in clothes strange to her eyes, used to men in working flannels and caps, or in the splendor of kilts, or in somber suits over shirts stiff with starch and stiff hats upon their heads. Whereas he wore soft trousers made of some fawn-colored skin, an unstarched shirt with a scarf at its neck, an open coat of the same skin that dangled long fringes from its arm seams and hem, and a soft fawn hat with a low crown and wide brim. Under the hat was a thin, deeply tanned face; his hair was black sprinkled with grey and curled on to his shoulders, and his black beard and mustache, greyer than his hair, were carefully trimmed into the exact same style as the Devil wore.
She rose to her feet, at which moment he noticed her.
"Elizabeth?" he asked, hand out.
She didn't take it. "You know that I am not Jean?"
"Why should I think you Jean when you're obviously not?"
"But you -- you wrote for -- for Jean," she floundered, not daring to look at his face.
"And your father wrote offering me you instead. It's quite immaterial," said Alexander Kinross, turning to signal to a man in his wake. "Load her trunks into the cart, Summers. I'll take her to the hotel in a hackney." Then, to her: "I'd have found you sooner if my dynamite hadn't chanced to be aboard your ship. I had to clear it and get it safely stowed before some enterprising villain got to it first. Come."
One hand beneath her elbow, he guided her through the aisle and out into what seemed an enormously wide street that was as much a depot as a thoroughfare, littered with goods and crowded with men attacking the wood-block paving with picks.
"They're putting the railway through to the docks," Alexander Kinross said as he thrust her upward into one of several loitering hackneys. Then, as soon as he was seated beside her: "You're hot. It's no wonder, in those clothes."
Finding her courage, she turned her head to study his face properly. Miss MacTavish was right, he wasn't handsome, though his features were regular enough. Perhaps that they were not Drummond or Murray features? Hard to believe that he was her own first cousin. But what chilled Elizabeth was his definite resemblance to the Devil. Not only in beard and mustache; his brows were jet-black and sharply pointed, and his eyes, sunk deep between black lashes, were so dark that she could not distinguish pupil from iris.
He returned her scrutiny, but with more detachment. "I'd expected you to be like Jean -- fair," he said.
"I take after the Black Scot Murrays."
Came a smile; it was indeed, as Miss MacTavish had said, a wonderful smile, but no part of Elizabeth's anatomy went weak at the sight of it. "So do I, Elizabeth." He reached out a hand and put it under her chin to turn her face to the brilliant light. "But your eyes are remarkable -- dark, yet not brown or black. Navy-blue. That's good! It says there's a chance our sons will look more like Scots than we do."
His touch made her uncomfortable, so did his reference to their sons; as soon as she felt he would not take offense, she pulled away from his fingers, stared at the purse in her lap.
The cab horse was plodding uphill away from the wharves and into a genuinely big city that seemed, to Elizabeth's unschooled eyes, quite as busy as Edinburgh. Carriages, sulkies, gigs, hackneys, carts, drays, wagons and horse-drawn omnibuses thronged the narrow streets, lined first with ordinary buildings, but then with shops rendered alien by awnings that jutted to the edge of the pavement; their presence hid the contents of the shop windows from any traveler on the road, a frustration.
"The awnings," he said, it seemed able to read her mind -- yet another characteristic of the Devil -- "keep shoppers dry when it rains and cool when the sun shines."
To which Elizabeth made no reply.
Twenty minutes after leaving the dockside the hackney swung into a wider street flanked on its far side by a sprawling park wherein the grass looked absolutely dead. Twin tracks ran down the middle of this street; here the horse-drawn public transport took the form of trams. Their driver drew into the curb outside a large yellow sandstone building with Doric pillars around its entrance, and a marvelously uniformed man helped her out of the hackney. His bow to Alexander was deferential, but became even more so after Alexander slipped a gold coin into his hand.
The hotel was incredibly luxurious. An imposing staircase, plush crimson everywhere, huge vases of crimson flowers, the glitter of gilt from picture frames, tables and pedestals. A colossal crystal chandelier blazed with candles. Liveried men bore her trunks away while Alexander led her not to the staircase but to what looked like a gigantic, lacy brass bird cage, where another liveried man waited with his gloved hand on its open door. As soon as she, Alexander and the attendant were inside it, the cage jerked and quivered, then started to rise! Half fascinated, half terrified, Elizabeth looked down on the receding lobby, saw the cross section of a floor, a crimson hallway; creaking and groaning, the bird cage continued to rise. Four, five, six floors. Shuddering, it stopped to let them out.
"Have you not seen a lift, Elizabeth?" Alexander asked, his voice amused.
"Or, in California, an elevator. They're governed by the principle of hydraulics -- water pressure. Lifts are very new. This is the only one in Sydney, but soon all commercial buildings will grow higher and higher because their occupants won't have to climb hundreds of stairs. I use this hotel because of its lift. Its best accommodation is on the top floor, where there's fresh air, a view, and a lot less noise." He produced a key and used it to open a door. "This is your suite, Elizabeth." Out came a gold watch; he consulted it and pointed to a clock ticking on the marble mantel. "The maid will be here shortly to unpack for you. You can have until eight o'clock to bathe, rest, and change for dinner. Evening dress, please."
That said, he vanished down the hall.
Her knees were weak now, but not due to Alexander Kinross's smile. What a sumptuous room! A pale green color scheme, a vast four-poster bed, and an area containing a table and chairs as well as something that looked like a cross between a narrow bed and a sofa. A pair of French doors led out on to a small balcony -- oh, he was right! The view was wonderful! Never in her life had she been up more than one flight of stairs -- if only she could have seen Loch Leven and Kinross County from such a lofty eminence! The whole of eastern Sydney was spread before her -- gunboats moored in a bay, many rows of houses, forests on the distant hills as well as along the foreshores of what did indeed look, from so high up, the grandest harbor in the world. But fresh air? Not to Elizabeth's sensitive nose, still able to smell that fetid stink.
The maid knocked and entered bearing a tray of tea, little sandwiches and cakes.
"But have your bath first, Miss Drummond. The floor butler will make the tea when you're ready," said this dignified person.
Elizabeth discovered that a huge bathroom lay through a door beyond the bed, together with what the maid called a dressing room, replete with mirrors, cabinets, bureaux.
Alexander must have explained to the maid that all this was strange to his intended bride, for the woman, expressionless, took over -- showed her how to flush the water closet, drew her a bath in a massive tub and washed her salt-caked hair as if she saw naked women every day and thought nothing of it.
Alexander Kinross, thought Elizabeth later, sipping tea. Impressions can be treacherous, shaped by accident and gossip, ignorance and superstition. It was Alexander Kinross's misfortune that he happened to be the image of a head-and-shoulders sketch of the Devil that Dr. Murray had deliberately hung on the wall of the children's Bible-study room. Its aim was to terrify the children of his congregation, and it succeeded: the thin mouth with its slight sneer, the horrible dark pits of eyes, a malignancy suggested by shrewd lines and shadows. All Alexander Kinross lacked were the horns.
Common sense told Elizabeth that this was sheer coincidence, but she was far more a child than a woman. Through no fault of his own, Alexander entered Elizabeth's life with an ineradicable handicap, and she took against him. The very thought of marrying him terrified her. How soon? Oh, pray not yet!
How can I look into those diabolical eyes and tell their owner that he is not the husband I would choose? she asked herself. Mary told me what to expect in the marriage bed, though I already knew it is no joy for a woman. Dr. Murray made it clear to me before I left that a woman who enjoys the Act is as loose as a harlot. God gives pleasure in it only to husbands. Women are the source of evil and temptation, therefore women are to blame when men fall into fleshly error. It was Eve who seduced Adam, Eve who entered into league with the serpent, who was the Devil in disguise. So the only pleasure women are allowed is in their children. Mary told me that if a wife is sensible she separates what goes on in the marriage bed from the person of her husband, who is her friend in all else. But I cannot envision Alexander as my friend! He frightens me more than Dr. Murray does.
Hoops, Miss MacTavish had remarked, were out of fashion now, but skirts were still voluminous, held out by layer upon layer of petticoats. Elizabeth's petticoats were singularly unlovely, made of unbleached cotton without embellishment. Only the evening dress itself had been crafted by Miss MacTavish, but even it, Elizabeth sensed as the maid helped her into it, was unimpressive.
Luckily the gas-lit hall was dim; Alexander's gaze passed over her and he nodded in apparent approval. He was clad tonight in white tie and tails, a masculine fashion she had seen only in magazine illustrations. If anything, the black and white served to enhance his Mephistophelian quality, but she put her hand on his arm and allowed him to lead her into the waiting lift.
When they arrived in the lobby she understood a great deal more about the limitations of rural Scotland and Miss MacTavish; the sight of the ladies strolling about on gentlemen's arms reduced her pride in the dark blue taffeta dress to nothing. Their arms and shoulders were bare, one separated from the other by a puff of silk or a froth of lace; their waists were tiny, their skirts gathered at the back into huge humps that cascaded frills into trains sweeping the floor behind them; their matching gloves came up past their elbows, their hair was piled high and wide, half-naked bosoms blazed with jewels.
When the pair entered the dining room, it stilled. Every head turned to survey them; men nodded gravely to Alexander, women preened. Then the whispers began. A toplofty waiter guided them to a table at which two other people already sat, an elderly man in what she was to learn to call "evening dress" and a woman of about forty whose gown and jewels were superb. The man rose to his feet to bow, the woman continued to sit, a fixed smile on her otherwise unreadable face.
"Elizabeth, this is Charles Dewy and his wife, Constance," said Alexander as Elizabeth sat in the chair the waiter drew out.
"My dear, you're charming," said Mr. Dewy.
"Charming," Mrs. Dewy echoed.
"Charles and Constance are to be our witnesses when we marry tomorrow afternoon," Alexander said as he took the menu. "Do you have any preferences in food, Elizabeth?"
"No, sir," she said.
"No, Alexander," he corrected gently.
"Since I know all too well the sort of fare you ate at home, we'll keep it simple. Hawkins," he said to the hovering waiter, "a flounder meunière, a sorbet, and roast beef. Well-done for Miss Drummond, rare for me."
"Sole," said Mrs. Dewy, "doesn't exist in these waters. We make do with flounder. Though you should try the oysters. Quite the best in the world, I venture."
"What on earth is Alexander about, to marry that child?" asked Constance Dewy of her husband as soon as the lift had deposited them on the fifth floor.
Charles Dewy grinned, raised his brows. "You know Alexander, my dear. It solves his problems. Puts Ruby in her place and at the same time gives him someone young enough to mold to his liking. He's been single far too long. If he doesn't begin to raise his family soon, he'll not have time to train sons to run an empire."
"Poor little thing! Her accent is so thick that I could hardly understand a word she said. And that awful dress! Yes, I do indeed know Alexander, and his taste runs to opulent women, not dowdy misses. Look at Ruby."
"I have, Constance, I have! But only with a spectator's lust, I swear," said Charles, who stood on excellent and humorous terms with his wife. "However, little Elizabeth would be a real stunner if she were made over, and do you doubt that Alexander will make her over? I do not."
"She's afraid of him," Constance said positively.
"Well, that's only to be expected, isn't it? There's no sixteen-year-old in this iniquitous city half as sheltered as Elizabeth obviously has been. Which is why he sent for her, I'm sure. He may philander with Ruby and a dozen others, but he's not a man who'd want anything but complete innocence in a wife. It's the Scots Presbyterian in him, protest though he does that he's an atheist. That's a church hasn't budged an inch since John Knox."
They were married in the Presbyterian rite at five the following afternoon. Even Mrs. Dewy had no silent criticism to level at Elizabeth's wedding gown, very plain, high to the throat, long-sleeved, ornamented only by tiny covered buttons down its front from collar to waist. Its satin rustled, the calico underpinnings didn't show, and the white slippers emphasized ankles that Charles Dewy judged promised long and shapely legs.
The bride was composed, the groom imperturbable; they made their vows in firm voices. When they were pronounced man and wife, Alexander lifted Elizabeth's lace veil off her face and kissed her. Though the salutation looked innocuous enough to the Dewys, Alexander felt her shiver, her tiny withdrawal. But the moment passed, and after warm congratulations outside the church from the Dewys, the bridal couple and their two witnesses went their separate ways, for the Dewys were going home to somewhere called Dunleigh while Mr. and Mrs. Kinross walked back to the hotel for dinner.
This time the other diners applauded when they entered, as Elizabeth was still clad in her wedding dress. Red-faced, she kept her eyes on the carpet. Their table bore white flowers, chrysanthemums mixed with feathery white daisies; sitting down, she admired them for something to say, something to alleviate her embarrassment.
"Autumn flowers," Alexander told her. "The seasons are reversed here. Come, have a glass of champagne. You will have to learn to like wine. No matter what you might have been taught at the kirk, even Jesus Christ and his women drank wine."
The plain gold wedding band seemed to burn, but not as much as the other ring on that same finger, a diamond solitaire the size of a farthing. When Alexander had given it to her during lunch, she hadn't known where to look; the last place she wanted to look was into the little box he held out.
"Don't you care for diamonds?" he had asked.
"Oh, yes, yes!" she managed, flustered. "But is it proper? It's so -- so noticeable."
His brow creased into a frown. "A diamond is traditional, and my wife's diamond must be fitting for her station," he said, reaching across the table to take her left hand, slide the ring on to its third finger. "I know all this must be very strange for you, Elizabeth, but as my wife you must wear the best, have the best. Always. I can see that Uncle James didn't endow you with more than a small fraction of the money I sent, but I suppose I expected that." He smiled wryly. "Careful with his bawbees, is Uncle James. But those days are over," he went on, turning her hand within both of his. "From today, you'll be Mrs. Kinross."
Perhaps the expression in her eyes gave him pause, for he stopped suddenly, got to his feet with unusual clumsiness. "A cheroot," he said, going to the balcony. "I like to smoke a cheroot after I've eaten."
And that had been the end of the subject; the next time Elizabeth saw him was inside the church.
Now she was his wife, and had somehow to eat a meal she did not want.
"I am not hungry," she whispered.
"Yes, I can imagine that. Hawkins, bring Mrs. Kinross some beef consommé and a light savory soufflé."
The rest of their time in the dining room became locked in a mental cupboard she could never afterward pry open; later she would understand that her confusion, the agitation and alarm within her, were due to the swiftness of events, the crush of so many foreign emotions. It wasn't the prospect of her wedding night that lay at the base of her state of mind, it was the prospect of a lifelong exile with a man she couldn't love.
The Act (as Mary phrased it) was to take place in her bed; no sooner was she in her nightgown and the maid had withdrawn than a door on the far side of the room opened, and her husband came in wearing an embroidered silk robe.
"Into bed with you," he said, smiling, then went around all the gas jets, turning them out.
Better, much better! She wouldn't be able to see him, and, not seeing him, might manage the Act without disgracing herself.
He sat sideways on the edge of the bed, turned with one knee under him to gaze down at her; apparently he could see in the dark. But her desperate attack of nerves was abating; he seemed so relaxed, so loose-boned and calm.
"Do you know what must happen?" he asked.
"It will hurt at first, but later I hope you'll learn to enjoy it. Is wicked old man Murray still the minister?"
"Yes!" she gasped, horrified at this description of Dr. Murray -- as if it were Dr. Murray who was the Devil!
"There's more blame for human misery to be laid at his door than at the doors of a thousand decent, honest heathen Chinee."
Came the rustle of silk, his full weight on the bed, movement in the coverings as he slid beneath them and gathered her into his arms. "We're not here together just to make children, Elizabeth. What we're going to do is sanctified by marriage. It's an act of love -- of love. Not merely of the flesh, but of the mind and even the soul. There's nothing about it you shouldn't welcome."
When she discovered that he was naked, she kept her hands as much to herself as she could, and when he tried to take the nightgown off her, she resisted. Shrugging, he peeled it up from the hem and ran those rough hands over her legs, her flanks, until the change came that prompted him to mount her and thrust hard. The pain brought tears to her eyes, but she had known worse pangs from Father's stick, falls, bad cuts. And it was over quickly; he behaved exactly as Mary had said he would -- shuddered and swallowed audibly, withdrew. But not from her bed. There he remained until the Act happened twice more. He hadn't kissed her, but as he left he brushed her lips with his.
"Goodnight, Elizabeth. It's a fine start."
One comforting thing, she thought drowsily; he hadn't felt like the Devil. Sweet of breath and body scent. And if the Act was no more fearsome than this, she knew that she would survive -- might even, eventually, enjoy whatever life he intended her to lead in New South Wales.
For the next few days he stayed with her, chose her maid, supervised modistes and milliners, hosiers and shoemakers, bought her lingerie so lovely that her breath caught, and perfume and skin lotions, fans and purses, a parasol for every outfit.
Though she sensed that he thought himself considerate and kind, he made all the decisions -- which of the two maids she had liked would get the job, what she would wear from colors to style, the perfume he liked, the jewels he showered on her. "Autocrat" was not a word she knew, so she used the word she did know, "despot." Well, Father and Dr. Murray were despots, for that matter. Though Alexander's imperiousness was subtler, sheathed in the velvet of compliments.
At breakfast on the morning after that surprisingly bearable wedding night, she tried to find out more about him.
"Alexander, all I know about you is that you left Kinross when you were fifteen, that you were an apprentice boilermaker in Glasgow, that Dr. MacGregor thought you very clever, and that you have made a wee fortune on the New South Wales goldfields. There must be far more to know. Please tell me," she said.
His laugh was attractive, sounded genuine. "I might have known that they'd all shut their mouths," he said, eyes dancing. "For instance, I'll bet they never told you that I knocked down old man Murray, did they?"
"Oh, yes. Broke his jaw. I've rarely felt such pleasure. He'd just taken over the manse from Robert MacGregor, who was an educated, cultured and civilized man. You might say I left Kinross because clearly I couldn't stay in a town of Philistines led by the likes of John Murray."
"Especially if you broke Dr. Murray's jaw," she said, feeling a secret, guilty satisfaction. Most definitely she couldn't agree with Alexander's opinion of Dr. Murray, but she was beginning to remember how many times he had made her miserable, or shamed her.
"And that's really the sum of it," he said, lifting his shoulders. "I spent some time in Glasgow, took ship for America, went from California to Sydney, and made somewhat more than a wee fortune on the goldfields."
"Will we live in Sydney?"
"Not in a fit, Elizabeth. I have my own town, Kinross, and you'll live in the new house I've built for you high on Mount Kinross and out of sight of the Apocalypse -- my mine."
"Apocalypse? What does it mean?"
"It's a Greek word for a frightful and violent event like the end of the world. What better name is there for something as freeing and earth-shaking as a gold mine?"
"Is your town far from Sydney?"
"Not as distances go in Australia, but far enough. The railroad -- railway, I mean -- will take us within a hundred miles of Kinross. From there we will travel by carriage."
"Is Kinross big enough to have a kirk?"
His chin went up, making the beard look more pointed. "It has a Church of England, Elizabeth. I'll have no Presbyterian parsons in my town. Far sooner the Papists or the Anabaptists."
A suddenly dry mouth made her gulp. "Why do you wear those strange clothes?" she asked to divert him from this sore subject.
"They've become an idiosyncrasy. When I wear them, everyone deems me an American -- thousands of Americans have come here since gold was discovered. But the real reason I wear them is that they're soft, supple and comfortable. They don't chafe and they wash like rags because they're chamois skin. They're also cool. Though they look American, I had them made in Persia."
"You've been there too?"
"I've been everywhere that my famous namesake went, as well as places he didn't dream existed."
"Your famous namesake? Who is that?"
"Alexander...the Great," he added when her face remained blank. "King of Macedonia and just about the whole known world at the time. Over two thousand years ago." Something occurred to him, he leaned forward. "You are literate and numerate, I hope, Elizabeth? You can sign your name, but is that the size of it?"
"I can read very well," she said stiffly, offended, "though I have lacked history books. I did learn to write, but I haven't been able to practice -- Father kept no paper."
"I'll buy you a copy-book, a book of example letters that you can use until your thoughts go down on paper easily -- and reams of the best paper. Pens, inks -- paints and sketchbooks if you want them. Most ladies seem to dabble in watercolors."
"I have not been brought up as a lady," she said with as much dignity as she could muster.
His eyes were dancing again. "Do you embroider?"
"I sew, but I do not embroider."
And how, she wondered later in the morning, did he manage to deflect the conversation from himself so neatly?
"I think I may be able to end in liking my husband," she confided to Mrs. Augusta Halliday toward the end of her second week in Sydney, "but I very much doubt that I will ever love him."
"It's early days yet," said Mrs. Halliday comfortably, her shrewd eyes resting on Elizabeth's face. There were big changes in it: gone was the child. The masses of dark hair were piled up fashionably, her afternoon dress of rust-red silk had the obligatory bustle, her gloves were finest kid, her hat a dream. Whoever had wrought the image had been wise enough to leave the face alone; here was one young woman who needed no cosmetic aids, and Sydney's sun didn't seem to have the power to give her quite extraordinary white skin a glaze of pink or beige. She wore magnificent pearls around her neck and pearl drops in her ears, and when she drew the glove off her left hand Mrs. Halliday's eyes widened.
"Ye gods!" she exclaimed.
"Oh, this wretched diamond," said Elizabeth with a sigh. "I really detest it. Do you know that I have to have my gloves specially made to go over it? And Alexander insisted that the same finger on the right-hand glove be similarly made, so I very much fear that he intends to give me some other huge stone."
"You must be a saint," said Mrs. Halliday dryly. "I don't know of any other woman who wouldn't be swooning over a gem half as splendid as your diamond."
"I love my pearls, Mrs. Halliday."
"So I should think! Queen Victoria's aren't any better."
But after Elizabeth had departed in the high-sprung chaise drawn by four matched horses, Augusta Halliday succumbed to a little weep. Poor girl! A fish out of water. Loaded down with every luxury, thrust into a world of wealth and prominence, when by nature she was neither avaricious nor ambitious. Had she remained in her Scottish ken she would no doubt have continued to look after her father, then turned into a maiden aunt. And yet been comfortable with her lot, if not idyllically happy. Well, at least she thought she could like Alexander Kinross, and that was something. Privately Mrs. Halliday agreed with Elizabeth; she couldn't see Elizabeth coming to love her husband either. The distance between them was too vast, their characters too much at odds. Hard to believe that they were first cousins.
Of course by the time that Elizabeth came to visit in her chaise-and-four, Mrs. Halliday had found out a great deal about Alexander Kinross. Quite the richest man in the colony, for unlike most who found paydirt on the goldfields, he had hung on to every grain he dredged from the alluvium, and then sniffed out the reef. He had the Government in one pocket and the Judiciary in the other, so while some men might suffer shockingly from claim-jumpers, Alexander Kinross was able to deal with them and other nuisances summarily. But though he went into society if he was in Sydney, he wasn't a society man. Those worth knowing he tended to beard in their offices, rather than wine and dine them; sometimes he accepted an invitation to Government House or to Clovelly at Watson's Bay, but never to a ball or soirée held just for enjoyment. Therefore the general consensus was that he cared about power, not about people's good opinion.
Charles Dewy, Elizabeth discovered, was a minor partner in the Apocalypse Mine.
"He's the local squatter -- used to run two hundred square miles until the gold arrived," said Alexander.
"So called because he 'squatted' on Crown Land until --
At its center is Alexander Kinross, remembered as a young man in his native Scotland only as a shiftless boilermaker's apprentice and a godless rebel. But when, years later, he writes from Australia to summon his bride, his Scottish relatives quickly realize that he has made a fortune in the gold fields and is now a man to be reckoned with.
Arriving in Sydney after a difficult voyage, the sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Drummond meets her husband-to-be and discovers to her dismay that he frightens and repels her. Offered no choice, she marries him and is whisked at once across a wild, uninhabited countryside to Alexander's own town, named Kinross after himself. In the crags above it lies the world's richest gold mine.
Isolated in Alexander's great house, with no company save Chinese servants, Elizabeth finds that the intimacies of marriage do not prompt her husband to enlighten her about his past life -- or even his present one. She has no idea that he still has a mistress, the sensual, tough, outspoken Ruby Costevan, whom Alexander has established in his town, nor that he has also made Ruby a partner in his company, rapidly expanding its interests far beyond gold. Ruby has a son, Lee, whose father is the head of the beleaguered Chinese community; the boy becomes dear to Alexander, who fosters his education as a gentleman.
Captured by the very different natures of Elizabeth and Ruby, Alexander resolves to have both of them. Why should he not? He has the fabled "Midas Touch" -- a combination of curiosity, boldness and intelligence that he applies to every situation, and which fails him only when it comes to these two women.
Although Ruby loves Alexander desperately, Elizabeth does not. Elizabeth bears him two daughters: the brilliant Nell, so much like her father; and the beautiful, haunting Anna, who is to present her father with a torment out of which for once he cannot buy his way. Thwarted in his desire for a son, Alexander turns to Ruby's boy as a possible heir to his empire, unaware that by keeping Lee with him, he is courting disaster.
The stories of the lives of Alexander, Elizabeth and Ruby are intermingled with those of a rich cast of characters, and, after many twists and turns, come to a stunning and shocking climax. Like The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough's new novel is at once a love story and a family saga, replete with tragedy, pathos, history and passion. As few other novelists can, she conveys a sense of place: the desperate need of her characters, men and women, rootless in a strange land, to create new beginnings.