Title: Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Author: Joan Lindsay.
Genre: Literature, fiction, mystery, horror, historical fiction.
Publication Date: 1967.
Summary: It was a cloudless summer day, St. Valentine's Day, in the year 1900. Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies near Mount Macedon, Victoria, agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of the secluded volcanic outcropping, followed by the school governess. Farther, higher, until at last they disappeared. Except for one with no recollection of occurrences, they were never seen again, and the investigations left more questions than answers behind.
My rating: 8/10.
♥ Whether the Headmistress of Appleyard College (as the local white elephant was at once re-christened in gold lettering on a handsome board at the big iron gates) had any previous experience in the educational field, was never divulged. It was unnecessary. With her high-piled greying pompadour and ample bosom, as rigidly controlled and disciplined as her private ambitions, the cameo portrait of her late husband flat on her respectable chest, the stately stranger looked precisely what the parents expected of an English Headmistress. And as looking the part is well known to be more than half the battle in any form of business enterprise from Punch and Judy to floating a loan on the Stock Exchange, the College, from the very first day, was a success; and by the end of the first year, showing a gratifying profit. All this was nearly six years before this chronicle begins.
♥ "Somebody had the nerve to send Miss McCraw a card on squared paper, covered with little sums," said Rosamund. Actually this card had been the inspired gesture of Irish Tom, egged on by Minnie the housemaid, for a lark. The forty-five-year-old purveyor of higher mathematics to the senior girls had received it with dry approval, figures in the eyes of Greta McGraw being a good deal more acceptable than roses and forget-me-nots. The very sight of a sheet of paper dotted over the numerals gave her a secret joy; a sense of power, knowing how with a stroke or two of a pencil they could be sorted out, divided, multiplied, re-arranged to miraculous new conclusions. Tom's Valentine, though he never knew it, was a success. His choice for Minnie was a bleeding heart embedded in roses and obviously in the last stages of a fatal disease. Minnie was enchanted, as was Mademoiselle with an old French print of a solitary rose. Thus Saint Valentine reminded the inmates of Appleyard College of the colour and variety of love.
♥ "Humans," Miss McGraw confided to a magpie picking up crumbs of shortbread at her feet, "are obsessed with the notion of perfectly useless movement. Nobody but an idiot ever seems to want to sit still for a change!" And she climbed reluctantly back into her seat.
♥ While they were talking the angle of vision had gradually altered to bring the Hanging Rock into sudden startling view. Directly ahead, the grey volcanic mass rose up slabbed and pinnacled like a fortress from the empty yellow plain. The three girls on the box seat could see the vertical lines of the rocky walls, now and then gashed with indigo shade, patches of grey green dogwood, outcrops of boulders even at this distance immense and formidable. At the summit, apparently bare of living vegetation, a jagged line of rock cut across the serene blue of the sky. Th driver was casually flicking at the amazing thing with his long handled whip. "There she is ladies... only about a mile and a half to go!"
Mr Hussey was full of comfortable facts and figures. "Over five hundred feet in height... volcanic... several monoliths... thousands of years old. Pardon me, Miss McGraw, I should say millions."
♥ "Except for those people over there with the wagonette we might be the only living creatures in the whole world," said Edith, airily dismissing the entire animal kingdom at one stroke.
The sunny slopes and shadowed forest, to Edith so still and silent, were actually teeming with unheard rustlings and twitterings, scufflings, scratchings, the light brush of unseen wings. Leaves, flowers and grasses flowed and trembled under the canopy of light; cloud shadows gave way to golden motes dancing above the pool where water beetles skimmed and darted. On the rocks and grass the diligent ants were crossing miniature Saharas of dry sand, jungles of seeding grass, in the never ending task of collecting and storing food. Here, scattered about amongst the mountainous human shapes were Heaven-sent crumbs, caraway seeds, a shred of crystallized ginger - strange, exotic but recognizably edible loot. A battalion of sugar ants, almost bent in half with the effort, were laboriously dragging a piece of icing off the cake towards some subterranean armour-plated beetle rolled over in the dry leaves and lay helplessly kicking on its back; fat white grubs and flat grey woodlice preferred the dank security of layers of rotting bark. Torpid snakes lay coiled in their secret holes awaiting the twilight hour when they would come sliding from hollow logs to drink at the creek, while in the hidden depths of the scrub the birds waited for the heat of the day to pass...
Insulated from natural contacts with earth, air and sunlight, by corsets pressing on the solar plexus, by voluminous petticoats, cotton stockings and kid boots, the drowsy well-fed girls lounging in the shade were no more a part of their environment than figures in a photograph album, arbitrarily posed against a backcloth of cork rocks and cardboard trees.
♥ "I like talking to you, Albert. Somehow you always get me thinking."
"Thinking's all right if you have the time for it," replied the other, reaching for his jacket. "I'd better be harnessing up Old Glory or your Auntie's fur will be flying. She wants to get off early."
♥ The immediate impact of its soaring peaks induced a silence so impregnated with its powerful presence that even Edith was struck dumb. The splendid spectacle, as if by special arrangement between Heaven and the Headmistress of Appleyard College, was brilliantly illuminated for their inspection. On the steep southern façade the play of golden light and deep violet shade revealed the intricate construction of long vertical slabs; some smooth as giant tombstones, others grooved and fluted by prehistoric architecture of wind and water, ice and fire. Huge boulders, originally spewed red hot from the boiling bowels of the earth, now come to rest, cooled and rounded in forest shade.
Confronted by such monumental configurations of nature the human eye is woefully inadequate. Who can say how many or how few of its unfolding marvels are actually seen, selected and recorded by the four pairs of eyes now fixed in staring wonder at Hanging Rock? Does Marion Quade note the horizontal ledges crisscrossing the verticals of the main pattern whose geological formation must be memorized for next Monday's essay? Is Edith aware of the hundreds of frail starlike flowers crushed under her tramping boots, while Irma catches the scarlet flash of a parrot's wing and thinks it a flame amongst the leaves? And Miranda, whose feet appear to be choosing their own way through the ferns as she tilts her head towards the glittering peaks, does she already feel herself more than a spectator agape at a holiday pantomime? So they walk silently towards the lower slopes in single file, each locked in the private world of her own perceptions, unconscious of the strains and tensions of the molten mass that hold it anchored to the groaning earth: of the creakings and shudderings, the wandering airs and currents known only to the wise little bats, hanging upside down in its clammy caves. None of them see or hear the snake dragging its copper coils over the stones ahead. Nor the panic exodus of spiders, grubs and woodlice from rotting leaves and bark. There are no tracks on this part of the Rock. Or if there ever have been tracks, they are long since obliterated. It is a long long time since any living creature other than an occasional rabbit or wallaby trespassed upon its arid breast.
♥ An unreasoning tender love, of the kind sometimes engendered by Papa's best French champagne or the melancholy cooing of pigeons on a Spring afternoon filled her heart to overflowing. A love that included Marion, waiting with a flinty smile for Miranda to have done with Edith's nonsense. Tears sprang to her eyes, but not of sorrow. She had no desire to weep. Only to love, and shaking out her ringlets she got up off the rock where she had been lying in the shade and began to dance. Or rather to float away, over the warm smooth stones. All except Edith had taken off their stockings and shoes. She danced barefoot, the little pink toes barely skimming the surface like a ballerina with curls and ribbons flying and bright unseeing eyes. She was at Covent Garden where she had been taken by her grandmother at the age of six, blowing kisses to admirers in the wings, tossing a flower from her bouquet into the stalls. At last she sank into a full-blown curtsey to the Royal Box, half way up a gum tree.
♥ Although Irma was aware, for a little while, of a rather curious sound coming up from the plain. Like the beating of far-off drums.
Miranda was the first to see the monolith rising up ahead, a single outcrop of pock-marked stone, something like a monstrous egg perched above a precipitous drop to the plain. Marion, who had immediately produced a pencil and notebook, tossed them into the ferns and yawned. Suddenly overcome by an overpowering lassitude, all four girls flung themselves down on the gently sloping rock in the shelter of the monolith, and there fell into a sleep so deep that a horned lizard emerged from a crack to lie without fear in the hollow of Marion's outflung arm.
A procession of queer looking beetles in bronze armour were making a leisurely crossing of Miranda's ankle when she awoke and watched them hurrying to safety under some loose bark. In the colourless twilight every detail stood out, clearly defined and separate. A huge untidy nest wedged in the fork of a stunted tree, its every twig and feather intricately laced and woven by tireless beak and claw. Everything if only you could see it clearly enough, is beautiful and complete - the ragged nest, Marion's torn muslin skirts fluted like a nautilus shell, Irma's ringlets framing her face in exquisite wiry spirals - even Edith, flushed and childishly vulnerable in sleep. She woke, whimpering and rubbing red-rimmed eyes. "Where am I? Oh, Miranda, I feel awful!" The others were wide awake now and on their feet. "Miranda," Edith said again, "I feel perfectly awful! When are we going home?" Miranda was looking at her so strangely, almost as if she wasn't seeing her. When Edith repeated the question more loudly, she simply turned her back and began walking way up the rise, the other two following a little way behind. Well, hardly walking - sliding over the stones on their bare feet as if they were on a drawing-room carpet, Edith thought, instead of those nasty old stones. "Miranda," she called again. "Miranda!" In the breathless silence her voice seemed to belong to somebody else, a long way off, a harsh little croak fading out amongst the rocky walls. "Come back, all of you! Don't go up there - come back!" She felt herself choking and tore at her frilled lace collar. "Miranda!" The strangled cry came out as a whisper. To her horror all three girls were fast moving out of sight behind the monolith. "Miranda! Come back!" She took a few unsteady steps towards the rise and saw the last of a white sleeve parting the bushes ahead.
"Miranda...! There was no answering voice. The awful silence closed in and Edith began, quite loudly now, to scream. If her terrified cries had been heard by anyone but a wallaby squatting in a clump of bracken a few feet away, the picnic at Hanging Rock might yet have been just another picnic on a summer's day. Nobody did hear them.
♥ "Nobody," said the old man, "can be held responsible for the pranks of destiny."
♥ As always, in matters of surpassing human interest, those who knew nothing whatever either at first or even second hand were the most emphatic in expressing their opinions; which are well known to have a way of turning into established facts overnight.
♥ Straight ahead, on the sunlit face of the Hanging Rock, the forest branches threw faintly stirring patterns of shade. "Like blue lace," thought Mademoiselle, wondering how anything so beautiful could be the instrument of evil...
♥ Transported to a world where boys of fifteen cheerfully spent their last shilling on being thus disfigured for life, Mike gazed at his friend with something like awe. He himself at fifteen had been hardly more than a child with a shilling a week pocket money and another for "the plate" on Sunday mornings... Since the afternoon of the picnic a comfortable non-demanding friendship had developed between the two young men. To see them now - Albert loose of limb in rolled-up shirt sleeves and moleskin trousers. Michael stiff in garden party attire with a carnation in his buttonhole - they looked an ill-assorted pair. "Mike's all right," Albert had told his friend the cook. "Him and me are mates." And so in the finest sense of that much abused word, they were. The fact that Albert, who had just tried his friend's grey topper on his own tousled bullet head, looked like a music hall turn; and that Mike in Albert's wide brimmed greasy sundowner might have stepped from the pages of The Magnet or the Boys Own Paper, meant less than nothing. As did the accident of birth that had rendered one of them almost illiterate, and the other barely articulate, at the age of twenty - a Public School education being by no means a guarantee of adult expression. In each other's presence, nether young man was conscious of his shortcomings, if such they were.
♥ "..I lied to you just now about a plan. It's really not so much a plan as a feeling." Albert's eyebrows flew up but he said nothing. "All my life I've been doing things because other people said they were the right things to do. This time I'm going to do something because I say so - even if you and everyone else thinks I'm mad."
♥ Far from hungry now, from the first sight of the Rock this morning he had been stricken by an aching emptiness of the spirit beyond the power of cold lamb to fill. Lying back in the tepid shade, he drank mug after mug of scalding tea. As soon as Albert had finished a hearty meal and stamped out the ashes of their fire with the toe of his boot, he rolled over on the grass with a request to be kicked on the backside in ten minutes' time by Mike's watch. Within seconds he was sound asleep and snoring. Mike went over and stood beside the creek at the place where the four girls each after her fashion had crossed it on Saturday afternoon. Here the little dark one with the ringlets had stood for a moment looking down at the water before she jumped, laughing and shaking out her curls: the thin one in the middle had cleared it without an instant's hesitation and never looked back: the dumpy fat one had nearly missed her footing on a loose stone. Miranda, tall and fair, skimmed it like a white swan. The three other girls had been talking and laughing together as they walked off towards the Rock, but not Miranda, lingering for a moment on the opposite bank to push back a lock of straight yellow hair fallen over one cheek, so that he saw, for the first time, her grave and lovely face. Where were they going? What strange feminine secrets did they share in that last gay fateful hour?
♥ The thought, uncommunicable even to Albert, would not be denied: a search with dogs and trackers and policemen was only one way of looking, perhaps not even the right way. It might even end, if it ever did end, in a sudden unexpected finding that had nothing to do with all this purposeful seeking.
♥ Mike said awkwardly, "I'm sorry I called you all those names just now."
"Aw, you done right... if that's the way you was feeling..."
♥ ..and raising his eyes for an instant from the treacherous ground saw the monolith, black against the sun. A scatter of pebbles went rolling down into the chasm below as he slipped on a jagged spur and fell. A spear of pain jabbed at his ankle. He got up again and started hauling himself up on the next boulder. There was only on conscious thought in his head: Go on. A Fitzhubert ancestor hacking his way through bloody barricades at Agincourt had felt much the same way; and had, in fact, incorporated those very words, in Latin, in the family crest: Go on. Mike, some five centuries later, went on climbing.
♥ After a brisk professional appraisement the old man got to work on the cut forehead, producing dressings and disinfectant from a shiny black leather bag. Oh, those little black bags of hope and healing - how many weary miles were they carried under the seats of gigs and buggies, jolting over the paddocks and unmade roads. How many hours did his patient horse stand waiting under sun and moon for the doctor to come out of some stricken weatherboard cottage carrying his little black bag?
♥ Greatly to Mrs Cutler's surprise the lamb had been brought in just as she had been lying on the Rock, without a corset. A modest woman, for whom the word corset was never uttered by a lady in the presence of a gent, she had made no comment to the doctor, who had simply assumed that the girl had very sensibly gone to a school picnic minus that tomfool garment responsible in his opinion for a thousand female complaints. Thus the valuable clue of the missing corset was never followed up nor communicated to the police. Nor to the inmates of Appleyard College where Irma Leopold, well known for her fastidious taste in matters of dress, had been seen by several of her classmates, on the morning of Saturday the fourteenth of February, wearing a pair of long, lightly boned, French satin stays.
♥ When he woke up the room was in darkness except for a pale incandescent light given off by a white swan sitting on the brass rail at the end of his bed. Michael and the swan looked at each other without surprise until the beautiful creature slowly raised its wings and floated away through the open window. He slept again, awoke to sunshine and the scent of pansies.
♥ Strong-minded persons in authority can ordinarily grapple with practical problems of facts. Facts, no matter how outrageous, can be dealt with by other facts. The problems of mood and atmosphere known to the Press as "Situations" are infinitely more sinister. A "situation" cannot be pigeonholed for reference and the appropriate answer pulled out of a filing cabinet. An atmosphere can be generated overnight out of nothing or everything, anywhere that human beings are congregated in unnatural conditions. At the Cours of Versailles, at Pentridge Gaol, at a select College for Young Ladies where the miasma of hidden fears deepened and darkened with every hour.
♥ And who but la petite, thought Mademoiselle fondly, could look so beautiful, so chic, wrapped in a faded Japanese kimono? The venetian blinds were drawn against the green garden light that rippled in the whitewashed walls of the bare little room and on the immense double bed with its patchwork quilt, seemingly afloat in a sea cave. The soft summer air caressed and healed like water. They wept a little, embraced long and tenderly, abandoning themselves after the first impassioned greetings to the silent luxury of sorrow shared. There was so much to be said, so little that ever could or would be said. The shadow of the Rock lay with an almost physical weight upon their hearts. The thing was beyond words; almost beyond emotion. Mademoiselle was the first to return to the tranquil reality of the summer afternoon, drawing up the blinds with a reassuring click of the present peace of the garden beyond. The weeping elm at the window was murmurous with gossiping doves.
♥ He had just turned his back on the retreating dog-cart and was walking rather unsteadily across the lawn when his ear caught the splash of water coming from the direction the lake, where a girl in a white dress was standing beside a giant clamshell that served as a birds' bath, under an oak. The face was turned away, but he knew her at once by the poise of the fair tilted head, and began running towards her with the sickening fear that she would be gone before he could reach her, as invariably happened in his troubled dreams. He was almost within touching distance of her muslin skirts when they became the faintly quivering wings of a white swam, attracted by the soaring jet from the tap. When Mike sank down on the grass a few feet away, the swan rose almost vertically above the shell, and scattering showers of rainbow drops in its wake flew off over the willows on the other side of the lake.
♥ "Aren't we going to shake hands? You saved my life, you know." The strange creature was plunging backwards between the shafts of his barrow like an unbroken colt. Reluctantly he lowered his skyward gaze level with her own.
"Tell you the truth, I never give it another thought once the Doc and young Jim had you safe on the stretcher." He might have handed her a lost umbrella or a brown paper parcel instead of her life. "You ought to hear what Mr Michael says about it!" The brick red features stretched to a near grin, "Now there's a wonderful bloke, if you like!"
"Exactly what he says about you, Albert."
"He does? Well, I'll be buggered. Excuse my language, Miss - I don't often get talking to toffs like you. Well, I'd better be getting on with me job. Ta-ta." With a decisive flick of powerful wrists the mermaids sprang into action. He was gone, and Irma found herself almost royally dismissed.
♥ There is no single instant on this spinning globe that is not, for millions of individuals, immeasurable by ordinary standards of time: a fragment of eternity forever unrelated to the calendar or the striking clock. For Albert Crundall, the brief conversation by the lake would inevitably be expanded, in memory, during his fairly long life to fill the entire content of a summer afternoon. What Irma had said, and what he had answered, were relatively unimportant.
♥ At the landing stage the lilies were already closed and secret in the half-light. A white swan wars rising gracefully out of the reeds ahead. They stood for a moment watching it flapping away over the water until it disappeared amongst the willows on the opposite bank. It was like this that Irma would later remember Michael Fitzhubert most clearly. Quite suddenly he would come to her in the Bois de Bologne, under the trees in Hyde Park; a lock of hair hanging over one eye, his face half turned to follow the flight of a swan.
..A last row on the lake. A last light pressure of a hand... Unseen, unrecorded, the pattern of the picnic continued to darken and spread.
♥ Although we are necessarily concerned, in a chronicle of events, with physical action by the light of day, history suggests that the human spirit wanders farthest in the silent hours between midnight and dawn. Those dark fruitful hours, seldom recorded, whose secret flowerings breed peace and war, loves and hates, the crowning or uncrowning of heads. What, for instance, is the plump little Empress of India planing in bed in a flannel nightgown at Balmoral, on this night in March in the year nineteen hundred, that makes her smile and purse her small obstinate mouth? Who knows?
So, too, in stillness and silence do the obscure individuals who figure in these pages plot, suffer and dream.
♥ The words were hardly out of her mouth before she realized that she had made a strategic blunder. It was above all things necessary not to further antagonize the wealthy Leopolds. Money is power. Money is strength and safety. Even silence has to be paid for.
♥ The gymnasium, commonly known to the boarders as the Chamber of Horrors, was a long narrow room in the West wing, lit only by a row of barred skylights, and designed by the original owner for Heaven knows what domestic purposes: possibly the storage of extra foodstuffs, or unwanted furniture. Now on its bare limewashed walls curious instruments for the promotion of female health and beauty had been set out, as well as a rope ladder suspended from the ceiling, a pair of metal rings and parallel bars. In one corner stood a padded horizontal board fitted with leather straps, on which the child Sara, continually in trouble for stooping, was to pass the gymnasium hour this afternoon. A pair of iron dumb-bells which only Tom had enough muscle to lift, weights for balancing on tender female skulls and piles of heavy Indian clubs, proclaimed Authority's high-handed disregard of Nature's basic laws.
♥ There were no answering smiles, no hum of excited greeting. In silence the ranks broke to the shuffling of rubber-soled feet on the sawdust floor. Not one was looking at the girl in the scarlet cloak. Fourteen pairs of eyes fixed on something behind her, through and beyond the whitewashed walls. It is the glazed inward stare of people who walk in their sleep. Oh, dear Heaven, what do these unhappy children see that I do not? So the communal vision unfolds before them and Mademoiselle dare not pierce the taut gossamer veil by a spoken word.
They see the walls of the gymnasium fading into an exquisite transparency, the ceiling opening up like a flower into the brilliant sky above the Hanging Rock. The shadow of the Rock is glowing, luminous as water, across the shimmering plain and they are at the picnic, sitting on the warm dry grass under the gum trees. Lunch is set out by the creek. They see the picnic basket and another Mademoiselle - gay in a shady hat - is handing Miranda a knife to cut the heart-shaped cake. They see Marion Quade, with a sandwich in one hand and a pencil in the other, and Miss McCraw, forgetting to eat, propped against a tree in her puce pelisse. They hear Miranda proposing the health of Saint Valentine; magpies and the tinkle of falling water. Another Irma in white muslin, shaking out her curls and laughing at Miranda washing out cups at the creek... Miranda, hatless with shining yellow hair. A picnic was no fun without Miranda... Always Miranda, coming and going in the dazzling light. Like a rainbow... Oh, Miranda, Marion, where have you gone...? The shadow of the Rock has grown darker and longer. They sit rooted to the ground and cannot move. The dreadful shape is a living monster lumbering towards them across the plain, scattering rocks and boulders. So near now, they can see the cracks and hollows where the lost girls lie rotting in a filthy cave. A junior, remembering how the Bible says the bodies of dead people are filled with crawling worms, is violently sick on the sawdust floor. Someone knocks over a wooden stool and Edith screams out loud. Mademoiselle, recognizing the hyena call of hysteria, walks calmly to the edge of the dais with madly thumping heart. "Edith! Stop that horrible noise! Blanchet! Juliana! Be silent! All of you be silent!" Too late; the light voice of authority goes unheard as the smouldering passion long banked down under the weight of grey disciplines and secret fears bursts into flames.
..Above a sea of thrusting heads and shoulders where Irma stood hemmed in by the laughing sobbing girls, a tuft of scarlet feathers trembled, rising and falling like a wounded bird. The voice of evil cackled as the tumult grew. Years later, when Madame Montpelier was telling her grandchildren the strange tale of panic in an Australian schoolroom - fifty years ago, mes enfants, but I dream of it still - the scene had taken on the dimensions of a nightmare. Grandmère was no doubt confusing it with one of those villainous old prints of the French Revolution that had so terrified her as a little girl. She recalled for them the mad black bloomers, the instruments of torture in the gymnasium, the hysterical schoolgirls with faces distorted by passion, the streaming locks and clawlike hands. "Every moment I thought: they will lose control and tear her to pieces. Revenge, senseless, cruel revenge. That is what they wanted... I can see it all now. Revenge on that beautiful little creature who was the innocent cause of so much suffering..." Now on a pleasant March afternoon in the year nineteen hundred, it was a hideous reality to be faced and somehow dealt with single-handed by the young French governess Dianne de Poitiers. Gathering up her wide silk skirts she took a flying leap from the dais and was hurrying toward the milling group when something warned her to walk sedately with head held high.
♥ ..Mademoiselle kissing her lightly on the cheek. "You will find your parasol hanging up in the hall, ma chérie - au revoir, we shall meet again." (Ah, but never... never again, my little dove.)
There was a perfunctory murmuring of farewell as they watched her walking with the old remembered grace towards the gymnasium door. Here, filled with an infinite compassion for sorrows unguessed at and forever unexplained, she turned, waved a little gloved hand and wanly smiled. So Irma Leopold passed from Appleyard College and out of their lives.
♥ The Lake View house emptied of the day-to-day presence of its owners was full and lifeless. It existed only as a comfortable holiday background for his Aunt and Uncle and had no personality of its own. Michael, eating his chop on a tray by the fire, was dimly conscious of the difference between Lake View and Haddingham Hall, whose ivied walls had existed and would go on existing for hundreds of years, dominating the lives of succeeding generations of Fitzhuberts who had at times gone as far as to fight and die for the survival of its Norman tower.
♥ Batty! If Albert's bullet-head so firmly screwed on to the squared shoulders wasn't to be relied on for glorious commonsense sanity, what was? If Albert was battyy there was no sense in believing in anything. In hoping for anything. Or praying. No more sense in praying to the God Mike had been told to believe in ever since Nannie had dragged him to Sunday school in the village church. And there was God Himself in a red and blue glass window - a terrifying old man rather like his grandfather, the Earl of Haddingham, sitting on a cloud and interfering with everyone down below. Punishing the wicked, caring for the sparrows fallen from their nests in the park, keeping an eye on the Royal Family in their various palaces, saving - or allowing to be ship-wrecked according to whim - "Those In Peril On The Sea"... Finding and Saving, or allowing to perish, the lost school-girls on the Hanging Rock. All of which and a good deal more flashed through poor Mike's brain in a jumble of imagery impossible to digest - let alone communicate - as he sat staring at his friend...
♥ After laboriously deciphering the contents several times, he knew it by heart, address and all - a boon granted to the non-reading fraternity that accounts for their safe storage of any necessary factual information. The unlettered farmer who sows and reaps according to the seasons has no need of writing down the dates in a notebook.
♥ Just as he himself by a few casual words this morning had effectively shaped the destinies of Tom and Minnie, so had Irma's father, in a moment of generous impulse, altered the entire course of Albert's life. It is probably just as well for our nervous equilibrium that such cataclysms of personal fortune are usually disguised as ordinary everyday occurrences, like the choice of boiled or poached eggs for breakfast. The young coachman settling down in the rocking chair after tea that Monday evening had no sense of having already embarked on a long and fateful journey of no return.
♥ "Glory be - wonders will never cease," Tom said, putting his arm round her waist with a smacking kiss. He was right. They never will.
♥ "A trouble maker. From the very first."
"An orphan," Mademoiselle said boldly. "One must for those lonely ones make the excuses."
♥ She sat staring at the heavy curtains that shut out the gentle twilit garden, thinking how few things in life were unmuddled, firmly outlined as they were surely intended to be? One could organize, direct, plan each hour in advance and still the muddle persisted. Nothing in life was really watertight, nothing secret, nothing secure.
♥ "I was only asking," said her husband mildly. "Because last time you went to a social you brought home those cream puffs I like - from the Vicarage - and a lot of gossip."
"You know very well I'm not one for gossip. What is it you want to find out?"
He grinned. "Shrewd little woman, aren't you? I've been wondering if you ever heard any of your lady friends mention Mrs Appleyard at the College?" In Bumpher's experience it was amazing how an ordinary housewife seemed to know by instinct things that might take a policeman weeks to find out.
♥ "Expect me when you see me this evening. I may be very late home." There was a lovely piece of rump steak for tea but Mrs Bumpher had been married for fifteen years and knew better than to ask why.
♥ And now, at last, after a lifetime of linoleum and asphalt and Axminster carpets, the heavy flat-footed woman trod the springing earth. Born fifty-seven years ago in a suburban wilderness of smoke-grimed bricks, she knew no more of Nature than a scarecrow rigid on a broomstick above a field of waving corn. She who had lived so close to the little forest on the Bendigo Road had never felt the short wiry grass underfoot. Never walked between the straight shaggy stems of the stringy-bark trees. Never paused to savour the jubilant gusts of Spring that carried the scent of wattle and eucalypt right into the front hall of the College. Nor sniffed with foreboding the blast of the North wind, laden in summer with the fine ash of mountain fires.