Mid-afternoon, in the first week of October Ryan looked up from the coffin he was nailing and towards the hide covering, which kept the dust from the street and any breeze which blew in, but allowed the voices of those who passed by. It was unseasonably hot for Spring, so he’d heard from the voices of those passing in by the window. It just felt plan hot and horrible to the young man from Aberdeen and he longed to open the window.
The only thing stopping him was Jeremiah Hutchinson’s strict rule about opening the window … dust would blow in and defile the work in progress… stick to the varnishes, build up on the shelves and encourage the rusting of the tools. Plus it wasn’t seemly for plebs on the street (this is what Jeremiah had the gaul to call his potential customers) to look in. Jeremiah believed in his own version of the business of coffin making and as the elder Hutchinson spent less and less time in Ballarat, Jeremiah grew bolder in his management of the shop.
Jeremiah believed an allure of mystery should surround coffin making and the process of death. In this way Jeremiah had the audacity to lord over the process of death in the rapidly expanding town, in a way which unsettled Ryan and many of the local people who felt Jeremiah was half the man his father was.
Many times Ryan found himself wondering, did Jeremiah actually believe he was as important as, or more important than the priests and ministers? He contrasted the humble quiet of the older Mr MacDonald with the brash pompousness of Jeremiah. It made Ryan cringe.
Knowing Jeremiah would not be back for the day, he had ‘business meetings elsewhere’, Ryan unrolled the hide covering and opened the workshop to the world beyond. It would get back to Jeremiah but Ryan didn’t care. As recognition for his skills as a craftsman and businessman grew (he’d overheard two men talking about who really ran George Hutchinson and Sons.) and he listened to gossip about Jeremiah (he had a gambling problem and had been sent to London and Paris twice to avoid trouble he’d entangled himself in, first in Sydney and then Melbourne) Ryan’s boldness in the workshop and in his dealings with customers. This vexed Jeremiah who countered by making Ryan work harder, especially when a customer came in an asked expressedly to speak with “Mr Anderson.”
“Afternoon Mr Anderson,” a middle-aged man said, tipping his hat.
“Afternoon,” Ryan replied. He was used to everyone seeming to know him and him inturn knowing very few.
He was about to turn around when he saw the young lad slapping glue onto the back of a poster and Eliza’s face appearing on the wall of the Argent’s General Store opposite. Ryan took off out of the workshop, through the small receiving area at the front and out from under the narrow verandah and across the street to the porch of the General Store.
Eliza was coming back. His heart hammered inside of his chest, the insistent knocking of a visitor desperate for admittance.
“They be making us pay now,”came a voice behind him and he saw Harry Thorough late of Shepherd’s Mallet and the stables of the Royal Hotel. He smelt of horse shit, as he did every day and Ryan took a step towards the poster to put more breathing space between the two of them. “Something not right about that.”
“Well she will be here next week.”
“So they say.”
“Miss Eliza is nothing but scrupulous,” Ryan said, using the newest word he’d learnt (he’d heard someone speak of him as such, comparing him to Jeremiah who was claimed to be anything but!)
“What about her management though. I heard that Lucien Farrow has criminal convictions in America. He looks all wrong too.”
Ryan had heard that as justification for harassing the Chinese… they looked all wrong.
“What’s he been convicted with?”
“I dunno,” Harry said. “Doesn’t really matter does it. I’d be watching my money around him though. I want to know she’s in town and on stage before I part with my money.”
“But the money’s not going to him. It says here – to pay at The Imperial Theatre. If Lucien Farrow’s going to get his hands on your money – he’s going to have to come here for it. And I trust the Barnsleys. Old Arthur Barnsley would never hand over money without a show.”
“You’re too trusting Ryan,” Harry said.
“I’ll be waiting for my ticket. Buy it on the night I will.”
“Good luck with that then,” Ryan said, nodding his head in Harry’s direction and walking back across the road to the shop.