[identity profile] copperbadge.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] originalsam_backup
Chapter Twenty

The morning after the dinner party, Ellis woke from groggy sleep to a persistent knocking on the front door of the suite. He pulled a dressing-gown around himself and stumbled into the front room, opening the door to find Anne on the other side again. She was different from the proud young woman he'd seen the previous night -- eyes down, shoulders slumped, the picture of a subservient Tribal.

"Your friend sent a message," she said, and he could see despite everything a little upward tilt to her lips. "He asks that you and any companions you wish to bring get dressed and meet him at the train station."

"Thank you; what time did he give?"

"The train departs at ten, sir," she replied, and gave a half-bow before walking away. Ellis checked his pocket-watch on the desk and found it was half past eight. He shook Jack awake and sent him to wake up Clare and Purva, then rang for breakfast and ducked into the bath for a quick wash.

When they reached the train station at quarter to ten, William Libris was waiting for them at the ticket-counter. He had two third-class tickets in his hand, and struck a subservient pose as he told Ellis to buy three first-class tickets for Cowal Station.

"What's at Cowal Station?" Ellis asked, while Jack and Clare loitered nearby and Purva toyed with the cloth covering on a lunch pail that Libris had handed to her.

"It's the last station before the Res," Libris answered. "I've spoken with -- well, call them my superiors. They live on the Res; they'd like to meet you. Apparently you're famous."

"Oh?" Ellis asked, amused.

"Not many of the Res-born read English, but the Wiradjuri elders and their children are educated in schools the government runs for our kind," Libris said. "The Wiradjuri are the predominant tribe on the Res; they've absorbed most of the others. Anyway, one of the Elders has read one of your books. He liked it, apparently."

"Did he say which one?"

Libris' lips quirked. "He said it was about a dog. Ring any bells?"

"Oh, a few," Ellis said, and stepped up to the window. "Three for Cowal Station, please, first class."

The ticket attendant, a Tribal man, passed three tickets under the bars of the window and took a plate of currency in return.

"Can you attend us on the train?" Ellis asked, tucking the tickets away. "I'd like to hear more about the Wiradjuri and the schools for 'your kind'," he said.

"It would draw too much attention. When we reach Cowal Station, you shouldn't talk to us. There'll be other whites there; stick with them."

"Why are they going to the Res?" Ellis inquired. The other man's face hardened.

"Tourism," he said.

"I see."

"I'll fetch you once you're there. It'll be safer then," Libris assured him. He walked off towards Purva, taking her elbow as if he'd known her all his life and leading her to the rear of the train. Ellis watched him go, then turned to Jack and Clare, who were waiting patiently by the engine.

"This is more interesting by the second," he said, handing them their tickets. "As far as anyone knows, we're traveling to the Lake Cowal reservation as tourists. Follow my lead."

Jack nodded absently, eyes on the great hulking engine at the front of the train. Clare pressed her lips together and looked resolute.

The first-class carriages were not quite as well-appointed as the ones from Brisbane to Canberra, but then Ellis supposed it had no reason to be. The Brisbane-Canberra run was obviously popular with politicians and their families, as well as wealthy men and women traveling to the seat of Australian power.

Jack and Clare were both quiet, still tired from the night before. Ellis hid behind a newspaper and didn't bother them overmuch, except to offer Clare the cryptogram. The green landscape of New South Wales rolled past them mile on mile, turning drier and scrubbier as they moved northward. The train ran express, passing through towns with names like Binalong, Wombat, Morangarell, Wyalong. He chuckled to himself as they passed the station for the town of Bland, which looked like it was little more than a supply-stop for local farmers. White farmers, he was sure; it was illegal for Tribals to own land this far south.

When the train finally chugged to a stop at a small but well-built stone platform lined with large automobiles on the far side, Clare unbent from where she'd curled up against Jack and smoothed out her dress. Ellis herded them gently out onto the platform, and then followed the other first-class passengers to an odd little booth at the end of the platform. Groups of people were passing cash across and following Tribals, dressed in a casual kind of livery, to the automobiles.

Up close, the booth had a sign on it: RESERVATION CULTURAL TOURS.

"Oh, hell," he heard Clare say under her breath. A little beyond the automobiles, Tribals were climbing onto horse-drawn carts or piling into one large, beat-up automobile.

"Chin up; we'll give them the slip when we get there," Ellis murmured, and felt Clare grip his hand briefly before he was asked to present payment for the tour. The Tribal who led them to an automobile was short and slim, not quite filling out his uniform.

"Jolly exciting, isn't it?" Ellis asked, as they piled into the spacious back-seat of the automobile. Clare sat facing forward; Ellis and Jack took seats back-to-back with the driver, divided from the front compartment by a screen of mosquito netting. "You there, boy, who runs these tours?"

The man at the wheel didn't turn around. "Government, sir."

"Well! Are these government cars? They're not owned by Tribals, surely."

"Yes, sir, owned by the government, sir."

"And what is there to see when we do reach this Cowal place?"

"We have a variety of cultural exhibitions and wares for sale," the man said, almost audibly gritting his teeth.

"What if we wanted to tour the settlement?" Clare asked, and Ellis gave her a sharp look. She might tip their hand. He didn't care how passionate she was about the rights of Tribals; he didn't need her cocking up his one chance to actually do something about them.

"Why on earth would you want to tour the settlement, Charity?" he asked.

"Curiosity, papa," she answered, giving him a wicked look.

"You'd have to ask the organizing agents," the driver said. "They'll greet you when you arrive."

"Much better stick to the safe parts, my dear," Ellis informed her.

"What's the wattage on your engine?" Jack asked. Both of them looked at him. The driver hesitated.


"Well, we're obviously not on city streets," Jack continued. "Your wattage, what's your engine wattage? This is a powerful automobile."

"Hundred and fifty thousand, sir."

"Well above standard for city use. Are they only used for tours?"

"Parsons, don't pester the driver," Ellis said, secretly rather impressed with how quickly Jack had absorbed the technical specs for this new form of engine.

"Tours mainly, sir," the driver answered.

"Garaged on the Res?"

"Nosir. Station has a locking garage."

"Shame. These'd be useful out here, wouldn't they?" Jack said.

"I suppose so, sir."

The scrubby green trees and bushes began to give way to long stretches of empty, dusty land, dotted here and there with rocky outcrops. They were at the tail-end of the procession of cars, and Ellis watched the swaying, rather slow progress of the one Tribal-filled automobile behind them. The horse-carts would probably take twice as long, arriving in the late afternoon. He hoped Purva and William Libris were in the car.

Eventually they passed through a simple gateway marking the beginning of the Reservation; two limbless tree trunks driven deep into the dry soil, secured with ropes and stakes. Rough fences made of dry wood stretched away to either side. The cars stopped only long enough to let their passengers out into a little shaded hutch just inside the fence before pulling into an empty, dusty field, presumably to wait until the tourists were ready to go home. Ellis grasped Jack's wrist as he went to enter the hutch, pulling him back to hover near the entryway. Clare was already edging behind the door.

A darkly-tanned, rough-dressed white man stood at the front of the room, a rifle slung over his shoulder. He was speaking, but near the back it was hard to make out more than a few words, none of them encouraging. Some kind of welcome speech, and an outline of the schedule of entertainment, perhaps. Ellis raked the crowd with his eyes, saw nobody he recognized from Bell's party, and worked at seeming as inconspicuous as possible. When he felt a gentle tug on his elbow, he made sure the man giving the speech wasn't looking at them before he shoved Jack backwards and ducked around the frame of the door.

Purva and Libris were standing in the dust, looking gritty and hot. Libris jerked his head and led them away from the door, down past the autos, where the land dipped enough to hide them from view.

"Quite a production," Ellis said, as they dropped into a narrow gully that looked like it might hold water in the rainy season. The temperature was significantly cooler between the smooth, streaky walls of the creek bed. "Entertainment and wares for sale, eh?"

"We make our money how we can," Libris answered without turning around. "Not everyone's lucky enough to be educated and get off the Res. Besides, some would rather live here than in the city."

"Why?" Jack asked, looking genuinely puzzled.

"The land is their home."

"But not yours?" Ellis inquired.

"I serve better by serving in a city. Anyway, I have nothing against cities. I like the Archives. If I were paid what I'm worth and allowed my legal say in government, I wouldn't have many objections left. If Tribals were given the vote, we'd haul down the current Parliament pretty quickly anyway."

"Are there that many?" Clare asked.

"I don't know; nobody knows how many there are, precisely. But I think if we were to vote we would vote with one purpose. A united front -- "

" -- would terrify the lives out of the white Parliament," Ellis finished for him.

"Perhaps Parliament could do with a little fear," Libris said. He reached a small switchback set into the creek bed and clambered up it, reaching down to help Purva and Clare, one hand each. Purva bent and offered her hand to Jack, who took it with a grin, while Ellis allowed Clare and Libris to pull him to the surface.

"Do you know what a Songline is, Mr. Graveworthy?" Libris asked. Ellis shook his head. "It's...a series of songs as a means of communicating culture. They tell how Australia was created in the time before history. It tells us how and where to travel to navigate the country -- or at least, it tells some of us, those remaining who understand the songs. Not all of them are even in one language -- there used to be hundreds of tribes, before the prison ships came. If I sent messengers along the Songline routes today, every Tribal could be on the Cowal Res within a week, or at least bound towards it."

"Well," Ellis said, uncertain as to where this was going. "That being the case, you'd at least know what your population is."

Libris gave him a small smile. "Sooner or later there will come a change, Mr. Graveworthy."

Above the shade of the creek bed and around the curve of the hill on which the Res rested, there were short trees and bushes once more. They were scattered across the landscape with increasing frequency as they approached a small, brackish-looking lake. He could just about make out a ramshackle building of some kind, pressed up against a ridge of earth on one side and bordering the lake mud on the other. Even as they approached, several Tribals emerged, two of them with antiquated rifles on their shoulders.

"It's William Libris," Libris called. "I have guests."

"How many?" one of them asked.

"Six," Libris said. Ellis gave him a sharp look. The two armed Tribals lowered their rifles, and the woman who'd called out the question gestured them forward.

"There's only four of us, plus you," Clare said to Libris. "They can see us."

"Yes, I know. It's a code -- if I'd given them an accurate count, they'd know I was bringing you here against my will. Don't tell me you've never had reason for subterfuge yourself," he added, leading them forward.

Aside from Libris, there were six men and three women in the little group -- mainly young, none even as old as Ellis, except for a pair of elderly men at the rear. All of them were dressed in durable, hardwearing workmen's clothes.

"These are the people for whom I speak," Libris said with a brief gesture. "They are the Elders of the Wiradjuri, who lead the consolidated Kooris of the south and represent the interests of the northern Kooris as well."

"Kooris?" Ellis asked.

"We don't call ourselves Tribal," William said. "Koori is our term. The northerners use it too, but it belonged to us first."

"And the city...Kooris?" Ellis asked. "Do you represent them?"

"Many of them. Those who still remember who they are," said one of the older men, in an accent much thicker than any they'd heard. He had one of the most marvelous mustaches Ellis had seen in some time, and a wrinkled, care-worn face with dark, sharp eyes. "I am Warrandy."

"Ellis Graveworthy," Ellis replied, offering his hand.

"So we hear. I was eager to meet you," Warrandy answered. "I've read your books. Well, one."

"The pleasure is mine," Ellis replied. "These are my associates -- Purva de la Fitte, Jack Baker, and Clare Fields."

"I see. And what tribe do you come from originally?" Warrandy asked, a hint of amusement in his eyes.

"I represent the government of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria," Ellis said. "We were sent after receiving...your?" he glanced at Libris, who made a complicated face. "Perhaps a letter concerning the prevention of a war. I suppose more properly I should say an invasion."

"We have already been invaded once," Warrandy replied.

"Oh, not an invasion of Australia," Ellis answered. "An invasion by it. Of -- well, with the firepower they're stockpiling, I should think just about everyone. Allow me to be plain," he added, before they could speak again. "I didn't come here with the intent of assisting anyone in liberating themselves from virtual enslavement. But I believe that this can be accomplished in harness with my own goals, and I'm prepared to negotiate with the Wiradjuri as an independent nation."

"This is a lot of talk, and a lot to talk about," Warrandy said. He glanced at the others, who nodded or stood impassive. "Come inside, if you're going to play the diplomat."

Ellis looked to Purva, who nodded slightly. He led the way into the shack at the edge of the lake, and Purva followed last to be certain that Jack and Clare -- particularly Clare, perhaps more valuable than anyone knew, the Creationist the Kooris wanted -- were safe.


The Elders left guards outside the shack, but even with only twelve people the small building was crowded and hot, and much darker than Clare was comfortable with. There were a few mismatched chairs, a pair of broken benches, and a row of crates along one wall; it was tidy and clean, but still oppressively close quarters.

She caught the women watching her, and some of the men as well, but not with any hostility -- more like curiosity. Similar glances were thrown Jack's way, but if he noticed them (doubtful) he ignored them. Almost everyone's attention was on Ellis, dominating the room in one of the larger chairs, a head taller than any of the Elders, expansive as always when he was playing a role. Today it was diplomat, and in earnest, but still a role.

By now -- and she wasn't certain what it said about her that in Boston she wouldn't have noticed -- she could tell that there were elaborate rituals of trust being performed during this meeting. Ellis was fighting for control of the conversation with the Elders, and also trying to lead them into trusting him. Purva probably helped, in that regard, because while they were obviously aware that she wasn't a Koori, she was still treated like one by white Australians -- and yet she was treated by Ellis as an equal.

Warrandy was deft with the conversational gambit -- he opened not with politics but with a critical comment on Ellis's writing. Gauging his temper, Clare decided, watching how he would react, if he was willing to listen to a stranger's opinion on something as precious to him as his art. Ellis seemed unperturbed, but then Warrandy was kinder to his "story about a dog" than Clare had been to some of his other work.

Jack, without anything mechanical to distract him, seemed to be studying people, though she couldn't make out what conclusions he drew. His eyes skipped from face to face with unusual acuity, taking them all in. Purva was still and serene, watchful but not tense, taking her cues from Ellis.

Which left Clare, listening to the delicate conversational dance, unable to satisfy even the mildest of her curiosity and unwilling to move too much lest she distract the others from their negotiations.

"I don't know how much history you've had of the outside world," Ellis was saying, as Clare tried to drag her attention back to the conversation, "but Purva's a Baratarian by parentage. She'll vouch for the truth of what I'm saying. Independent countries within the bounds of a larger territory aren't unheard-of. America ceded land to Barataria after they helped defend the south coast. Technically, the Crown never relinquished its claim on Australia; Great Britain can grant you land."

"But would never come to enforce it," Warrandy pointed out.

"That hardly matters, actually. The point is that any land grant, no matter the size, can be considered the homeland of a nation independent from Australia. That gives the Wiradjuri a collective identity, makes them a bargaining power. It allows me to make deals with you -- to offer trade agreements in return for open ports, that sort of thing."

"And what is the nature of your offering?"

"That depends on your level of cooperation, I suppose," Ellis remarked. "Not to mention your resources, and the success of our gamble."

"You offer us a gamble?" Warrandy frowned.

"In this game, everything's a gamble; luck and skill are all that keep one alive. I'm not interested in throwing Tribals -- excuse me, Kooris -- at Canberra's guns until we overwhelm them or die trying, but there is an essential element of risk involved in what I do plan. On the other hand, your people are used to taking chances. It's not a little risk, conquering Canberra."

"Why Canberra?" one of the women asked.

"Canberra is the seat of power. Not just Parliament, but the banks as well. Hold Canberra and you hold Australia in the palm of your hand. If Canberra falls, the odds are good that the port cities will fall soon after. Merchants depend on banks. If the merchants fail, this country falls into chaos."

"I don't wish chaos for my country," Warrandy said. "Do you hope to rebuild Australia after you destroy it?"

"Destruction's a strong term for it. Rebuild, yes, but I can leave anytime I like. I'm not here to design the country in my own image," Ellis answered. "I have no aversion to plunging Australia into chaos with your hands to guide it back to order. Seems only fair, after all."

"And you ensure that Australia is vulnerable to British rule."

"I ensure that Australia is no threat to the Empire," Ellis said, and then seemed to think for a while. Clare saw Jack on alert, like a dog at point, and Purva's hand very near the dagger hidden at her hip. "But there is information I need, and eventual collusion."

"What information?" Warrandy asked.

"I need to know more about the research they've been doing into Creationism, and if they're really developing a plague. If they are, I need to know if there's a way to stop it before they unleash it anywhere."

The Tribals murmured to each other. The man sitting next to Clare said Saturday in an odd tone of voice.

"We know something about this," Libris said guardedly. "There are Kooris working in the hospital where they're studying Creationism. And there are Kooris who -- "

"William," Warrandy said sharply. Libris closed his mouth. Clare watched as Ellis turned slowly back to him, lifting his eyebrows expectantly.

"Sometimes the spokesman says too much?" he asked, after a brief silence.

"You will be missed soon, if you don't return," Warrandy said, ignoring him. "Do you mind sending your people away for a moment?"

"It's really more whether they mind," Ellis replied. Clare shook her head. Jack glanced at Purva, who shook hers as well, and then smiled and shrugged.

Outside, the air was still warm but a breeze off the lake cooled them a little. Jack turned to the lake and stood with his hands shoved in his pockets, staring out at the water. Purva bumped him with her shoulder. Clare smiled, but she drifted away from them, over to where the two guards were standing.

"Am I allowed to speak with you?" she asked. They gave her confused looks. "You haven't been told not to speak to me, have you?"

"No, ma'am," one of them said.

"I'm Clare -- you can call me Clare, I mean," she said. They nodded. "Um. What are your names?"

"Elias," said the one who'd just spoken. "And this is Isaac."

"Those aren't very...Koori names, aren't they?"

Isaac shrugged. "They name us in the mission hospitals when we're born. If you're born in a hospital, anyway."

"Were you raised on the Res?"

"Yes," Elias said. "Isaac went to the school for a while, but he didn't like it."

"They said we were degenerates," Isaac added.

"Makes sense you'd be part of this..." she searched for a word, "...underground?"

"We don't really give it a name. It's too easy to talk about things if you name them," Isaac said severely.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend."

"With respect, you're a foreigner. It's difficult not to, here," Elias said stiffly.

"But -- " Clare opened her mouth to protest, but protesting would mean explaining that she was Australian, and that would mean explaining she'd been sent away...and Ellis must have a reason for not revealing to them that she was an immune expat Creationist. "I'm sorry. I'm curious."

"So're they," Isaac said, nodding off into the distance – indicating the gates of the Res, she realized, and the people who'd come to the Res to see native dances or whatnot.

"We want to help you," she pointed out.

"Good; we want help," Elias answered.

"Well, then we're in agreement," she said. They still didn't smile. "It wasn't like this always, was it? I've heard that whites could marry Kooris, once."

"Once," Elias agreed.

"What happened?"

"The ports closed. They were told the marriages were invalid. The half-breeds were sent up to the reservations with their Koori parents."

"What about the white parents?"

Isaac shrugged again. "Who cares?"

"I'd like to know."

"Nobody else ever did. But you don't see many whites living up the Res with the Kooris they promised to love forever, do you?"

"I wouldn't know. This is the first time I've seen a reservation."

"How lucky for you," Elias drawled.

Clare was saved from further awkwardness when Ellis emerged from the shack, beckoning her over to him and calling out to Jack and Purva.

"Mr. Libris will take us back," he said. "This has been productive, I think. Come along; time we left the Res."

As Libris led them away, Clare glanced longingly back at the little shack, and the knot of Elders deep in conference in the front of it. Warrandy was watching them.


"What did they want to talk to you about?" Jack asked Graveworthy, when they were bound back towards Canberra on the train. The older man leaned back and looked out the window, thoughtful.

"They've extended a tentative invitation to return, to meet more of their people," he answered. "They need to ask permission first."

"Lot of permission being asked," Clare said.

"Well, that's the way these things work. I think the Wiradjuri know more than they're telling, but I don't suspect them of having ulterior motives. I can't think what any would be, at any rate. In the meantime, there's plenty I can attend to in Canberra."

"How long do you suppose it will all take?" Jack asked.

"Tomorrow I'm meeting with some bank officers and some of Bell's parliamentary crowd to work on opening the interior. We had discussed incorporation but that's rather more public than I like. I think I shall suggest acting as a land agent for all interested parties. I should really set up an office."

"Did you mean what you said about the banks failing?" Jack asked.

"I didn't think you were paying attention," Graveworthy said, looking surprised. "But -- yes. It certainly could happen. It needs a delicate touch. And there's no point in simply crushing Australia's banks unless there's something to follow. What a young country it is," he added, still staring out the window. "Even though the land is very old. As a political body, it's hardly out of childhood. One of the men at the party was telling me he's coined a term for the settlement of Australia -- Manifest Destiny."

"Sounds ominous," Clare said.

"It is. His idea is that the Tribals are a civilization at the end of their time, like the imperial Romans. At any rate, he believes it is the destiny of the immigrant white population to conquer and revitalize Australia, which of course means that one can do as one likes to the native people."

Jack stared at him in horror. "As one likes?"

"I don't believe these men are bloodthirsty enough to kill them all in cold blood, but pushing the Res out further and stopping supply trains and income would amount to the same thing. These men believe Australia's vast barrens are a sign of bad custody by the Tribals."

"It isn't as though Europeans haven't been here for generations," Clare said angrily.

"And I know that, Clare, I'm not defending this idea. For a start, it's unscientific; poor land management isn't responsible for the Sahara, either. But it has a shine to it. Manifest Destiny. The white man bestriding Australia like a conqueror, stripping the hidden riches from her, planting the barrens, irrigating a continent. It's bewitching, if you don't look at it too closely."

"Or think Kooris are people," Jack added.

"At least we know the airship is safe," Graveworthy said thoughtfully. "If all this goes south, we may need to leave in a hurry."

"How far south do you think it might go?" Clare asked.

"Well, there are any number of things that can go wrong. Really the least of the problems is if we're caught; I'm uncertain whether we'd be charged with fraud or treason. Perhaps both. I've never been one to turn and run, but I have the three of you to consider, especially if something goes wrong and Australia really does fall into chaos."

"We're not going to turn and run either," Jack pointed out.

"You are in my care, Jack," Graveworthy replied. "A civil war fuelled by fear and anger is no place for any of you. Which reminds me -- if I am arrested or imprisoned, you are to make for the airship as fast as possible. Whatever happens, the crown must know -- it's not self-sacrifice, it's a matter of the Empire's safety. Purva will know this too, and I trust that if you decide to be stupid or heroic she will knock you cold and drag you behind her, Clare."

"Oh, I'm sure she'd carry her at least," Jack said. Clare glanced at him and burst out laughing. "And why do you think I won't be stupid and heroic?"

"Because you'll follow Purva, and Purva is no fool," Graveworthy answered with a grin.


Jack didn't see much of Graveworthy in the following days, and when he did it was usually in the company of Bell and his kind. Graveworthy had much to do and the silent, invisible presence of the warships in the coastal shipyards gave urgency to his days. Once in a while they ate a meal together, but Graveworthy was usually up before Jack woke and when he did manage to dine with them he seemed tired. The effort of being cheerful land speculator Eric Grimes was wearing on him, Jack supposed.

The day after their visit to the Res, Jack invited Clare and Purva to come back to the Archive building with him, but he realized his mistake when they arrived. He'd only ever seen men in the map room, and they received odd looks as John Parsons climbed out of the cab with his young bride and his female servant following him. He stopped and turned to Clare, who was glancing around, obviously noticing the stares as well.

"Side door?" Purva asked politely. "I can show the way."

"Definitely," Jack answered.

William Libris had welcomed them, hadn't said a word about the Res, and had brought maps and books into the clerks' common room where apparently nobody but Tribal clerks ever went. Clare seemed to like him, which pleased Jack. There was no doubting that Clare as a woman and Purva as a Tribal had it much harder than he and Graveworthy did. It startled him to even think about Australia this way -- before all he'd seen really were the machines, the beautiful shining machines that still tempted him but now were dulled slightly by the newly-rediscovered shine of people, all around him.

Especially Purva.

When they returned home that night, Graveworthy smiled tiredly and ate slowly -- and was called away from the meal when a hotel attendant told him that a pair of men from United Territories Bank were looking for him. Clare looked worried as she watched him leave.

"I know he knows what he's doing," she said, "but it worries me."

"He'll be fine," Jack replied. "You know Graveworthy."

She glanced back at him and nodded, and Jack felt a jolt of recognition pass through him.

Ever since the night of Bell's dinner, he'd felt an odd awareness, a sense that the people around him every day were more real than before. Somehow their former inscrutability had evaporated, and he found he understood things he hadn't in his previous life, the far-off existence at the school in Boston.

He had rather thought William Libris was fond of Clare, as little as he knew of her, and that Clare returned the sentiment -- but now, startlingly, he understood that Clare's feelings on romance were much, much more complicated.

He kept her close to him after that, at least when he could -- when he wasn't wanted to play Brilliant Young Engineer for the land deal that was developing, and they could idle around town like wealthy young newlyweds. Jack visited oily shops on the edge of the city where automobiles were sold or repaired, Clare sighing the way any bored young woman would, Purva lurking in the background and occasionally joining Jack to peer into an engine. He squired Clare to lunches with Sylvia Bell, doodling machines idly on napkins while they talked, and took walks in the evening with Purva, hating that they couldn't hold hands or talk very openly.

He was sitting on the terrace of the hotel's restaurant one evening with Clare, enjoying the warm night, when he saw Graveworthy vault the rail lightly and waved him over. "Grimes!"

"Parsons," Graveworthy answered, a grin splitting his face. "Have you ordered yet?"

"Just now. What's got you so cheerful?" Clare asked.

"Land sales are opening for the interior," he said, triumphant and smug. Clare and Jack exchanged a look. "Two days from now the land office in Canberra will begin selling parcels northwest of the city and all along the route to the west. They haven't sent surveyors out yet, but they've got a great big map to scale. Selling sight-unseen." Graveworthy let out a low whistle. "They are eager little boys."

"So...that's good, yes?" Jack asked uncertainly.

"It's fantastic. Almost every wealthy man in Canberra and a few in Melbourne and Sydney have taken out loans with the banks. Huge loans. Once the surveying's begun, I'm supposed to start transferring money to the land office in chunks, with a percentage profit held back for myself as the sales agent."

"Then what?" Clare asked. Graveworthy held up a hand as a waiter approached, ordered a steak and a bottle of beer, and waited until he'd left before continuing.

"Not here," he said softly, leaning over the table. "Too many ears around. I need to speak with Libris tonight, find out what he's been up to. I'd like to see the Res again tomorrow if we can. At any rate, there's also a lot of investment going into mining companies. Right now, we celebrate. Well. Eric Grimes and the Parsons family celebrate. That's what they expect."

"Suits me," Jack said.

"Would you like to go dancing tonight? Fancy drinks, good music?" Graveworthy asked. "Seems fitting. We're celebrating too, though there's much work to be done."

Jack glanced at Clare, who was watching Graveworthy with a mixture of amusement and concern.

"Yes," he said. "Clare?"

"Oh -- yes," Clare agreed absently.


Ellis felt easier now that he had a plan in place: a decisive move to block the government, at least temporarily, from starting a war with the rest of the world. No warships would leave port if the banks of Australia had failed. More than that, it was a bargaining chip; he wouldn't actually have to destroy the country's economy if he didn't want to. The threat was enough. Bell and his ilk, as odious as they were, would understand it very clearly.

He allowed himself to relax enough, that evening, to enjoy their night out, the drinks and dancing at the little music hall near the hotel. He'd been to see William Libris, who assured him that the Tribals – "Don't say Kooris off the Res, don't even think it," -- would welcome him back the following day and that they had heartening information for him. Jack seemed to be thriving, Clare seemed worried but confident, and Purva was at least not evidently miserable.

He thought about it as he watched Jack and Clare bickering about whether Jack had to dance with her. Clare seemed to like dancing, but Jack -- brilliant young Jack who could do anything if he had a wrench in his hand -- was not exactly the most graceful partner.

"Charity," Ellis said, pushing away from the wall he'd been leaning on. "Is John refusing to dance?"

"It's just I don't want to knock anyone over," Jack protested.

"I'm sure you won't knock over more than two or three," Clare said, a teasing light in her eyes. "Or would you rather be taking one of the electric lamps apart?"

"You mock me now -- " Jack began, but Ellis laid a hand on Clare's shoulder, and he shut his mouth.

"Come dance with me, then," he said, and Clare glanced up at him. "I'm more graceful than John."

"All right -- just to annoy him," she agreed, and let him draw her out into the crowded clear space where people were waltzing sedately.

"I didn't think you were one for dancing," she said, following his movements just a little stiffly.

"Oh yes. Mark of a gentleman, some people say," he answered. "Besides, it's charming, and I must be as charming as I possibly can, as often as I can."

"That must be tiring."

He laughed. "I enjoy it in the natural course of things, you must know that by now."

"You like it when people like you."

"Don't you?" he asked, not bothering to deny it. "Besides, I have a natural gift for making people like me."


"The fact that you didn't is no indication of the reactions of others. Besides, I wasn't trying to charm you."

"Oh no?" Clare asked, grinning.

"Not in the least. I was trying to challenge you. The young respond better to that. They mistrust charm; it seems too much like condescension."

"Well, I think I have good reason now to mistrust charm the rest of my life," Clare replied.

"There's something in that, but I wouldn't make it an ironclad rule. Sometimes," he said, deftly avoiding one of the other dancers by shifting her sideways, "people really just want you to like them."

"You have a way of turning my words back on me that is beginning to try my patience," she said.

"Only just now? That's heartening, really, all things considered. On the other hand, I don't count under my breath while dancing."

Clare glanced at Jack, who was watching the dancing idly. He didn't look unhappy, but he did look...solitary.

"Do you think he wishes Purva were here?" she whispered.

"I think he wishes he were someplace where she could be," he answered. "Even if she were here, all she could do would be to fetch him a drink."

"I'm surprised she hasn't quit us already."

"She and I made a deal. Which I intend to enhance suitably, when the time and place are right."

"Oh?" Clare asked, looking intrigued.

"I appreciate her on a professional level, as well as considering her a friend, by now. Whatever happens, I'm bound to take her to Barataria; it ought to be a holiday after all this."

"I've never been."

"Neither have I, but I'm told the citizens are friendly if you don't cross them. And then, when our business there is completed, I intend to offer her a job."

"Really? As what?"

"Oh, whatever she pleases; we have no end of uses for clever young women. If nothing else, she's bound to live a very informative life."

"Would you offer me a job, if I asked?"

He considered it as he studied her face.

"I would advise you not to ask. This is dangerous work, and not always meant for those with families to care about them."

"You mean if I find my parents here."

"Well, I meant Jack in particular, but that too. Have you written to Melbourne yet?"

"No," she said, and looked away.

"Why not?"

"I'm afraid to," she admitted.

"Afraid to? Why on earth? Are you frightened they won't want to see you?"

"I have my reasons," she said, a little more sharply than he would have expected. After a moment, she added, "Would you offer Jack a job?"

"Not in my line – not the one I'd offer Purva. His future lies elsewhere. My business is the human interior, but his is the great wide world. I will tell you this, however: I intend to keep him as a friend as long as I can. And you, as well."

"A friend?" she asked, as the music stopped. He let her go and bowed, giving her what he hoped was a paternal-seeming smile.

"Indeed. I have many acquaintances, but I am short of people who understand me and my work properly. When I find them, I keep them close. So you will have to get used to me, I'm afraid."

"What a chore," she replied, offering him her arm so that he could escort her back to Jack. "By the way -- as irritating and coldblooded as you are, I wouldn't leave you alone if you asked me to. So you'll have to get used to me, too."

He searched for a reply to that, something lighthearted and charming and possibly irritating, but before he could find his words she'd rejoined Jack and was asking him politely if he could fetch her something to drink.

Jack, just behind her, gave him a grin over her head. Ellis felt that perhaps he'd missed something important. He'd have to ask Jack about it later.

Good lord, he was going to Jack for social advice. The world was indeed stood on its head.


The next morning William Libris appeared on their doorstep, carrying a bundle of books that he pointedly, in the hallway, told Jack that Mr. Grimes had asked for. Jack let him in without comment and offered him tea as Graveworthy emerged from the bath.

"Two trips to the Res so relatively close together might inspire suspicion," Libris said, nodding a greeting at the older man. "I've made alternate arrangements to the train; an automobile should be here in about half an hour to meet you. Not Miss de la Fitte, of course -- she and I will travel the old-fashioned way."

"Are you losing wages at the Archives because of this?" Jack asked. Graveworthy gave him a surprised look.

"I've told them I have a sick relative."

"But you're losing pay?" Jack repeated.

"All in the service," Libris said smoothly.

"We'll make sure you're paid for your time," Graveworthy said, which made Jack smile.

The automobile that came to pick them up was driven by a Tribal woman, elegant and anonymous in a set of semi-ridiculous livery, white gloves on her hands. She held the door for them without comment, and drove silently until they were well out of Canberra, when her professional demeanor dropped slightly and she looked up at them in the mirror mounted on the windscreen.

"Which one of you's the engineer?" she asked, smiling.

Jack held up his hand. "Uh, that's me."

"William says you're interested in autos. Care to take the wheel?"

"Really?" Jack asked. Clare giggled.

"Sure. It's not hard," the woman replied, pulling over. Jack was out in a flash, sliding into the driver's seat as she scooted across to the passenger's.

He'd been reading about how to drive, how to work the pedals and understand the dials, but it took them about twenty minutes of trial-and-error under the instruction of the driver, Mary, before they were underway again. When they hit thirty miles an hour, Jack let out a whoop of pure joy.

"I reckon more Tribals know how to drive than whites do," Mary said, as Jack bumped along the road cheerfully. "It's a bit low-class, driving one yourself."

"I'm all for low-class, then," Jack said, edging the needle towards thirty-five. He checked the back seat and saw Graveworthy's fingers clenched tightly in the upholstery. He caught Clare's eye, grinned, and turned back to Mary.

"How fast will it go?" he asked. "Before the stress on the engine's too great?"

"Well, I got it up to sixty-five once," Mary replied with a conspiratorial grin. "But your friend back there looks like he might pass out if you try."

"He'll be fine. You should see some of the things I've already pulled around him," Jack said.

The countryside scrolled out past them as Jack inched the speed upwards, though he settled in at forty when it became evident any faster made the automobile tremble uncomfortably. The smooth, even road eventually gave way, after the last of the suburbs ringing Canberra, to gravel and then dirt, and they bumped along for a few miles before Mary directed him into a narrow turn-off that led to the Res. They stopped just out of view of the hut where tourists from Canberra came to see the shows.

"Thank you," Jack said to Mary, as they climbed out. "That was wonderful."

"You're welcome. Don't dally, you have places to be," she said, and tilted her head at the other end of the dusty field, where people were appearing over the ridge. He recognized Warrandy by his mustache, but with him was a woman he didn't think he'd seen before -- tall, dark-skinned like Warrandy, her hair pulled severely back into braids.

"Mr. Graveworthy," Warrandy said, as they approached. "I hope your trip wasn't too bad."

"It was extremely fast," Graveworthy replied. "Good to see you again."

"And you," Warrandy answered. "This is Saturday. She's our Reservation doctor."

"My pleasure," Graveworthy said, offering his hand. She looked him over with narrow eyes, then swept Jack and Clare with the same tight focus before shaking his hand.

"Come along," she said, turning to leave. "You have only the day, and I have a lot to show you."

Chapter Twenty-One
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The Original Sam Backup

May 2012

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