A Few Days in the Country

A Few Days in the Country by Elizabeth Harrower

Book: A Few Days in the Country by Elizabeth Harrower Read Free Book Online
Authors: Elizabeth Harrower
the contract was signed. Then he announced to his wife and daughter the name of a certain house, his ownership of it, its location, and the fact that they would all go down every Friday night to put it in order.
    It was about an hour’s drive from Sydney. At the Church Point wharf they would park the car, lock it up, and wait for the ferry to take them across to the island.
    Five or six families made a living locally, tinkering with boats and fishing, but most of the houses round about were weekenders, like the Shaws’ place. Usually these cottages were sold complete with a strip of waterfront and a jetty. In the Shaws’ case the jetty was a long spindly affair of grey wooden palings on rickety stilts, with a perpendicular ladder that had to be climbed getting in and out of the boat. Some of the others were handsome constructions equipped with special flags and lights to summon the ferryman when it was time to return to civilisation.
    As Mr Shaw had foretold, they were constantly occupied putting the house in order, but now and then he would buy some green prawns, collect the lines from the spare-bedroom cupboard, and take his family into the middle of the bay to fish. While he made it obligatory to assume that this was a treat, he performed every action with his customary air of silent, smouldering violence, as if to punish misdemeanours, alarming his wife and daughter greatly.
    Mrs Shaw put on her big straw sunhat, tied it solemnly under her chin, and went behind him down the seventy rough rock steps from the house. She said nothing. The glare from the water gave her a migraine. Since a day years before when she was a schoolgirl learning to swim and had almost drowned, she had had a horror of deep water. Her husband knew it. He was a difficult man, for what reason no one had been able to discover, least of all Hector Shaw himself.
    Del followed her mother down the steep bushy track, not speaking, her nerves raw, her soundless protests battering the air about her. She did not want to go; nor, of course, could she stay when her absence would be used against her mother.
    They were not free. Either the hostage, or the one over whom a hostage was held, they seemed destined to play forever if they meant to preserve the peace. And peace had to be preserved. Everything had always been subordinated to this task. As a child, Del had been taught that happiness was nothing but the absence of unpleasantness. For all she knew, it was true. Unpleasantness, she knew, could be extremely disagreeable. She knew that what was irrational had to be borne, and she knew she and her mother longed for peace and quiet—since she had been told so often. But still she did not want to go.
    Yet that they should not accompany her father was unthinkable. That they should all three be clamped together was, in a way, the whole purpose of the thing. Though Del and her mother were aware that he might one day sink the boat deliberately. It wasn’t likely , because he was terrified of death, whereas his wife would welcome oblivion, and his daughter had a stony capacity for endurance (so regarding death, at least, they had the upper hand); but it was possible . Just as he might crash the car some day on purpose if all three were secure together in it.
    ‘Why do we do it?’ Del asked her mother relentlessly. ‘You’d think we were mental defectives, the way we troop behind him and do what we’re told just to save any trouble. And it never does. Nothing we do makes sure of anything. When I go out to work every day it’s as if I’m out on parole. You’d think we were hypnotised.’
    Her mother sighed and failed to look up, and continued to butter the scones.
    ‘ You’re his wife, so maybe you think you have to do it, but I don’t. I’m eighteen.’
    However, till quite recently she had been a good deal younger, and most accustomed to being used in the cause of peace. Now her acquiescence gnawed at her and baffled her; but, though she made isolated

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