The Gentleman's Garden, p.1Catherine Jinks
CATHERINE JINKS was born in Brisbane, Queensland, in 1963. She grew up in Papua New Guinea and later spent four years studying medieval history at the University of Sydney. She now lives in Leura, New South Wales, with her husband, Peter, and their daughter.
The Gentleman’s Garden is her fifth novel for adults.
This edition published in 2003
First published in 2002
Copyright © Catherine Jinks 2002
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Jinks, Catherine, 1963– .
The gentleman’s garden.
1. Australian fiction. I. Title.
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Cover design: Nada Bakovic
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This book is dedicated to Margaret Connolly
With thanks to Martin Ahern, Kim Johnston, Dr J. O. Ward and Peter Dockrill for their assistance.
THE GENTLEMAN’S GARDEN
New South Wales
March 14th, 1814
My dearest Margaret,
The misery attendant upon our parting was such that I find myself plagued by misgivings of a horrible nature. Did I express myself with sufficient feeling? Did I convey the deep sense of gratitude, of obligation, of devotion and attachment that overwhelms me whenever I reflect on your unremitting kindness, my dearest, my only sister? (Doubly precious to me, now that you are so far away!) I am cast upon a most unfriendly shore, dearest Margaret, and without your abiding affection feel utterly exposed to every blow that fate might bestow on me. How I long for you. How I long for England. How wretched I am, here at the outer limit of the world!
The voyage was unspeakable. I can hardly bear to give you an account of it, lest I be forced to dwell on its manifold horrors. The food was inedible, coarse and filthy; little wonder that I was ill. A putrid fever. It came upon Charles first, some two weeks out of Portsmouth, and I succumbed shortly after he had recovered. I believe that the convicts were to blame. We were surrounded by convicts, hundreds of felons, and they were all very much diseased. Five and thirty of them died on the passage, and there is to be a medical court of inquiry held, or so I am informed. As for my own sufferings, you should know that my unhealthy confinement in foul-smelling quarters (occasioned by an almost continual parade of convicts up on deck), the bad food, the noxious air, and the fever, all put an end to my most fervent hopes—you will know what I mean, dearest Margaret—which were raised within a month of leaving England, and cruelly dashed before we arrived in Rio de Janeiro. My despair can be imagined. But I am in good health again, and live in daily expectation of God’s Greatest Blessing descending upon me once more. Kiss the children for me, by the by, and tell Harriette that I shall be writing her a letter of her own, very soon. If I am able to find any shells for her collection, I shall send them also. I am told that the shells hereabouts are very fine.
There were no ladies on board. Not one of the officers, besides Charles, was married. The colony’s newly appointed naval officer, Captain Piper, had brought with him the mother of his three fine children, but upon being informed that the Captain and Miss Shears were not, in fact, united in the bonds of matrimony, I felt that exchanging anything but the barest civilities with either of them was uncalled for. Charles says that this colony is notorious for such alliances. Can you wonder that we move in very restricted circles?
We have found a house not far from the barracks, but the rate at which a captain’s lodging money is set here does not suffice to cover the rent, so we are slightly out of pocket in this particular. Within two weeks of establishing ourselves, moreover, a violent hailstorm smashed three of our windows, and the glass has yet to be replaced. This settlement lost most of its glass in the storm, and there is now a terrible shortage. I assure you, I was never more frightened in my life; the stones were three inches long, and knocked shingles off the roof. The climate of New South Wales is not friendly. When first we arrived, the heat was enough to fell a horse. To walk in the sun, at midday, is to court disaster.
Fortunately, Sir Robert’s generous wedding gift enabled Charles to purchase spirits in Rio, and these spirits he has sold in the colony for a good profit. He also drew twelve months’ pay before leaving England. So we have furnished the house to some degree, though at great expense, for prices here are very high. Stockings are ten shillings a pair, shoes sixteen shillings, butter seven shillings a pound, sugar three shillings a pound. We paid fifty pounds for a horse, and receive a daily allowance of half a crown for its upkeep, but cannot afford a close chaise—therefore my movements are very much curtailed. This is not a place where ladies of any sensibility can move about freely on foot. The heat is of little consequence when compared with the noise, or indeed the sights, which are so lacerating to one’s nerves and spirits. I cannot be reconciled to what I see in this place. Every respectable neighbourhood is bounded by a wharf or a lumberyard, or something even more disreputable. The convicts, while they seem to abscond freely (and at regular intervals) cannot themselves be escaped. They are everywhere. The streets are full of chained convicts. We must endure them at church on Sundays. You will scarcely believe it, Margaret, but we even have one in our employ—though since he is provisioned from the stores, and appears to be a quiet sort of man, he is not too great a burden.
I often reflect on the sweet and healthful walks about Ashcombe. I often sigh over memories of the hawthorn in bud, the gentle slopes behind Bideham
All my heart goes out to you, dearest Margaret, and to George, and to the children, and to my home. I think of you every minute; you are in my thoughts and my prayers before I go to sleep at night. Believe me to be,
your loving sister,
THE LETTER HERETOFORE TRANSCRIBED was addressed to Mrs Margaret Goodwin of The Old Parsonage, Bideham, Devonshire, and was taken to the postmaster’s house, where it was placed in an open bag destined to be transmitted under seal to Portsmouth. Dorothea Brande did not herself entrust the letter to the postmaster’s assistant. Instead she gave it to her servant, Daniel Callaghan, together with the requisite threepenny postal charge—for she was not in the habit of frequenting that area known as ‘the Rocks’, where the postmaster’s house was unfortunately to be discovered. She had been warned against the Rocks. She had been advised by her husband that it was a place of resort for a very bad description of persons. ‘There is no cause for you to venture lower than Prince Street, if you find yourself north of Charlotte Place,’ he had told her. ‘Do not be tempted farther afield. There is nothing to see below Prince Street, except Gallows Hill, and the gaol, and the dockyard, and any number of vile drinking dens. It is no place for a lady.’
Thus cautioned, Dorothea had felt no desire to stray beyond St Philip’s church—or indeed beyond the confines of her own home. It was her unvoiced opinion that Sydney Cove itself was no place for a lady. It frightened her and irritated her senses; the very light was harsh and abrasive. Plagued by headaches that she attributed to the incessant glare, Dorothea wanted outside venetian blinds, such as those adorning the house of Mrs Bent. But on being informed that they would cost upwards of thirty pounds, Charles had refused to countenance so expensive a purchase. Already, he said, they were practically living beyond their means. His mess bill, owing to the price of spirits in the colony, was of monstrous proportions. Scarlet cloth was in the range of five guineas a yard, and oilmen’s stores were horribly dear. Dorothea would have to wait until, by some stroke of good fortune, he might secure himself a civil or military appointment. Since the departure of the 73rd Regiment, several positions had fallen vacant; he had it on good authority that Captain Cameron, as Engineer and Artillery Officer, had been pocketing (in addition to his regular pay) a further ninety pounds a year.
‘If an appointment of that kind should fall to me,’ he had announced, ‘then perhaps our income would support venetian blinds, and a swing glass, and a plate warmer. But at present you must be satisfied with what we have.’
Which was little enough. Small as it was—a mere four rooms, with detached kitchen—the house seemed almost empty. Dorothea’s footfall would echo on bare, scrubbed-wood floors, there being no carpet or rush matting to soften her tread. Funds had been spent on crude necessities: on fenders and fire irons, roasting jack, dripping pan, boilers, linen press, clothes horse. No comforts of this sort had been supplied by the landlord—a man, like so many other men in the colony, whose elevation had come about through trade, and who, being in possession of a mill, an hotel, and sundry other businesses, could spare little thought for the needs of his tenants. The furnishings of his ‘furnished’ house were meagre; they comprised a very large and dilapidated tent bedstead, a double flapped dining table with six cane-bottomed chairs, a kitchen stove, a stone sink and one shabby sofa. The high, white rooms were innocent of all those luxuries without which a truly civilised existence may not be attempted. Captain Brande and his lady had even been obliged to purchase new bellropes, the previous tenant having borne away those in his possession upon departing the colony.
And the mystery of it was, as Captain Brande had once been driven to remark in Dorothea’s presence, that the selfsame tenant—an officer in the 73rd—had left behind him at least two illegitimate children. It seemed rather hard that a man so liberal in one respect should be so ungenerous in another.
Dorothea had done her best to soften the starkness of her new home. Certain wedding gifts, including a portable writing desk, an elegant basin stand and a pair of silver candlesticks, were prominently displayed, so that they might testify to the taste and breeding of her past connections. The desk had been lovingly bestowed on her by her sister, Margaret. The basin stand had been the kind offering of Charles’s uncle, the Reverend Henry Brande. And the candlesticks, like much of the fine linen that shamed the battered bedstead on which she now slept, had come to Dorothea courtesy of the Shortlands, upon whose goodwill her sister’s happiness—and indeed, her own—had for some time been founded.
The Shortlands were distant cousins of Dorothea’s brother-in-law, Mr George Goodwin. Though of elevated rank, Sir Robert Shortland and his lady had distinguished their less exalted cousin (who was a lawyer of modest means) with the most welcome attentions, admitting him into their domestic circle and appointing him Sir Robert’s factor and agent. A house had been procured for Mr Goodwin at the very gates of Bideham Park. Ladies had been introduced to him whose manifold attractions, it was hoped, would tempt him into matrimony. But when Mr Goodwin did make his choice, his heart had led him somewhat astray. He had married, not one of the Shortlands’ candidates, but the daughter of a clergyman—a Miss Margaret Hollins, of Ashcombe Parsonage.
Her father, the Reverend John Hollins, was the son of Lieutenant William Hollins, of the 121st Regiment of Foot, and the grandson of a well-to-do merchant who had retired to Wiltshire. Lieutenant William had received a very small share of the family fortune. Nevertheless, together with his pay, this share had been enough to furnish his four offspring each with a small competence. John’s came to two hundred pounds a year; on it he had married, while still a curate, the sister of another clergyman. Their daughter Margaret had been seventeen when her mother died; their younger child, Dorothea, only twelve.
Margaret’s birth, therefore, was respectable—though her fortune, at two thousand pounds, was hardly that. The Shortlands might have been forgiven by the world at large if they had taken offence at Mr Goodwin’s choice. But their principles were high, and their hearts generous. They had acknowledged the steadiness of Margaret’s character, the sweetness of her temper, and the superiority of her understanding. They had welcomed her gladly into their home, where she had become as much a favourite as her husband. Moreover, upon the death of Reverend Hollins, they had been equally charitable to Dorothea. From the age of eighteen, Dorothea had become intimately acquainted with the Shortlands. She had enjoyed the fruits of their garden, sampled the contents of their library and ranged freely about their grounds. She had been indulged, consulted and admired. Plucked from the gloom and solitude of her father’s house, she had been placed in a world of tranquil pleasures: picturesque views, cheerful gatherings, varied intercourse.
And now? Now she was all but confined to four rooms, from whose windows she could discern nothing but raw earth, a blistered paling fence, and a dirt yard in which only the strangest, spikiest, most unforgiving plants seemed to flourish. The vegetation of New South Wales filled Dorothea with dismay. She could see nothing in it to admire, though she had more than once heard Mrs O’Connell praise the beauty of a certain red flower, which to Dorothea’s eyes looked almost malevolent in its fiercely jagged composition. But Mrs O’Connell was a lady of very sharp and decided views, who seemed to delight in shocking respectable people with her daring garments and contrary positions.
Dorothea did not know quite what to make of her.
Indeed, the society of New South Wales as a whole was not suited to the taste of a lady accustomed to cultured opinions elegantly expressed. Aside from Mrs Bent, who freely indulged in what she described a
In reply, another correspondent had defended Mr Marsden. There had followed a heated debate in the pages of the Gazette, which had in turn become the topic of much spirited conversation among the ladies and gentlemen of the colony. Only then had Dorothea found herself discussing books at any length, because, as a result of the aspersions cast on Mr Marsden, there was a fleeting but fairly general interest in the question of who might have borrowed books from him.
The Reverend and Mrs Cowper had. Mrs Bent had. Even so, little was said about the contents of the books borrowed. Mrs Bent had remarked that Lindley Murray’s English Grammar had been of no use at all to her son Ellis Henry, despite Mr Marsden’s assurances. And from there the conversation had turned to the vexed question of children’s education in New South Wales—the merits of local schools, the risk of hiring convict tutors—leaving Dorothea once again dissatisfied with the tone of Sydney society.
The Gentleman's Garden by Catherine Jinks / Fantasy / Young Adult / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes