Out of the Silence
First meeting. Not even a meeting – a first glimpse. But it’s enough.
It’s the middle of November and I’m just back from Yackandandah, where I’ve been helping my Aunt Martha for the month before and the two months after her seventh baby’s arrival. Mostly I’d looked after the other six: ‘Jest take ’em away, love,’ my aunt had said. ‘Keep ’em out of my sight.’ So I hadn’t had to do so much housework, maybe even less than usual, but even though Ma hasn’t been what I’d call welcoming, I’m glad to be back. Glad to be home.
So, here I am, shopping in Dederang with Doll while we wait for Dad to finish his business. We have errands to run for Ma – shop biscuits, muslin, dates and currants to buy; letters to post. And then I’ve my own money to spend – three shillings Aunty M’s given me for my trouble.
I’m standing at the counter of Knagg’s waiting for some lengths of satin ribbon to be wrapped (blue for me, plaid for Doll) when my sister nudges me. ‘Look, it’s him,’ she whispers. ‘Frank O’Malley’s new fella, just come down from Sydney. You know, the one I been telling you about. Jack something-or-other. He’s some sort of relation to Mrs O’Malley. Maybe a nephew.’ Doll has been blathering away at me all morning, but I haven’t been paying too much attention. I’ve no idea who she’s talking about, but I follow my little sister’s gaze curiously.
He’s standing a little further along the counter, his hat in his hand, talking to Eddie Watson. I get a glimpse of laughing blue eyes, an easy smile, wiry dark hair, before he pauses in his conversation, looks directly at me. I turn away quickly without meeting his eyes.
It’s only a glimpse, but it’s enough. My cheeks are suddenly hot and I’m breathless. I can feel my heart thud too hard and too fast, just as if I’d been running.
It’s more than enough.
I wait in the cart outside the smithy while Dad does business. I have only been home two weeks and Ma is back to her usual ways. For a few days it was almost as if she was glad to see me, which meant that she left me pretty much to my own devices, but already I’m half-wishing to be back in Yackandandah. She has sent me into town to give Dad a hand. ‘Margaret is always boasting that she is as strong as an ox, so why not make some use of her – she’s no help to me,’ says Ma, and of course there’s no point in Dad arguing, even though we all know he would rather break his own back than have his daughter do a man’s work.
So I have come into Dederang with Dad, which would usually be a pleasant enough outing, only I have not been given time to change and am wearing my worst dress – a dingy brown woollen shift made up from an old one of Ma’s. It’s a sight – too short in the arms and so tight across the bust that the buttons are straining at the back. I’m ashamed to be seen wearing it in public, can too easily imagine the catty things that would be said if Selina Rutherford or Mavis Price, for instance, were to see me. So I am doing my best to keep out of sight, which is quite difficult in an open dray and requires some awkward bending and twisting, when who but Jack something-or-other – the very fellow who has occupied a space in my mind for the past few days – should come walking past.
Being caught out in this dress is shame enough, but just as he comes by I am squeezed right down the front of the cart, poking about as if hunting for something or other, so he comes upon me unawares and when he asks, ‘Is everything all right, miss? Can I help you with anything?’ I am not expecting it and jump and hit my shin hard on the bench.
When I have recovered enough to speak, I ask him in my huffiest manner what he thinks he is doing, what sort of a fool is he to come creeping up on a person in such a way?
‘My apologies, miss,’ he says, ‘but I wouldn’t say I was creeping – this is a public path, y’know, and there was nowhere else for me to walk. I just thought you might have been in some difficulty, being all doubled over like that …’
‘It was nothing,’ I tell him. ‘I had … dropped my glove, is all, and was hunting for it.’ This is so plainly a tale – it is as warm a day as we ever get and there’s not a single glove in evidence – that I add in a tone that Ma would be proud of, ‘Which a person’s got a perfect right to do without being frightened out of her wits by a complete stranger.’
‘I’m sorry to have given you a fright, miss, but I don’t really see what else I could’ve done – unless you’d have liked me to send you a note warning you of my intentions.’ His voice and expression are so solemn and sorry that it takes me a moment or two to work out that he’s having a go at me and waiting for me to smile, which I don’t do – not being inclined to let him off so easily.
‘Well, it would certainly be a more respectable way to go about things, and far less likely to lead to accidents.’ I sound so straitlaced that it is all I can do to stop myself bursting out laughing. ‘But it’s not really a sensible solution, is it, when you recall that you have no way of knowing who to address the note to, us being perfect strangers to one another, after all?’ I can see he is worried that he has bit off more than he can chew here – his smile disappears and a little frown starts between his eyes – so I give him a hint of a smile to let him know that I know it is just a game we’re playing, and he jumps right back in.
‘Aaah, but we’re not, are we?’
‘You were in Knagg’s the other day, and church on Sunday, and I’ve been told that you’re Maggie Heffernan, and I’ll bet you’ve heard that I’m Nora O’Malley’s nephew Jack Hardy, come down from Sydney. So you can’t say that we’re perfect strangers, now, can you?’ He’s not smiling, but has gone all serious again and is looking right into my eyes.
And somehow it’s not a game any longer. It’s like they say in books, and I’m gazing back as if it’s the only place in the world for me to be looking, and for once in my life I’ve got no answer, and no thought in my head for Selina Rutherford, or Dad or even Ma. The only thing I can see, the only thing that matters, is him.
I’m in the main street of Dederang, where I know everyone and everything, but I could be anywhere. Or I could be nowhere. It would make no difference.
I’m gone. Lost.
I hear from Tom that Jack Hardy will be playing for the Gundy boys in Saturday’s match and I am determined to go, though I know it will be a battle to persuade Ma, the cricket being played on a Saturday afternoon and that being the day she has set aside for me and Doll to do the silver. It takes me a while to think up a way and when I finally do I am quite pleased with my cleverness.
‘Ma,’ I say, when we are in the kitchen clearing away after Friday night’s tea. ‘Ma,’ I say, innocent as a lamb, ‘Muriel Donnelly was telling me at church the other day that her sister Sarah has taken a bit of a shine to our Tom.’
Now, this is a complete fabrication. For a start I have not spoken to Muriel Donnelly since she let on to Mr Williams that it was me who carved his and Elsie Jeffries’ initials into the willow outside the school. But, of course, Ma has no idea of this and her reaction is even better than I had hoped. First, her hand slips on a jug she is drying, which falls but does not smash – an indication of great shock, as Ma is too mean to be clumsy; next her mouth opens, but nothing comes out. She has to close it again, though there must be a whole lot she’d like to say – Sarah Quirk being pretty and respectable enough, but widowed and poor with two babies to raise, and certainly not a suitable match for one of Ma’s darling sons.
I carry on as if I haven’t noticed anything out of the ordinary. ‘Muriel says the whole family’s making a picnic of it for Saturday’s cricket match – the little ones too. Our boys are playing the Albury lads and it should be a good day. Muriel said that Sarah told her she was looking forward to getting an opportunity to have a bit of a chin wag with Tom.’ This last is a bit of a stretch, Tom being a very serious cricketer and not likely to be distracted from the game the entire day even if Queen Victoria herself was to appear in the crowd, and I wonder as I say it whether I’ve gone too far, but Ma just stands there saying nothing, looking down at the jug on the floor.
When she eventually picks it up, she dries it as slowly and tenderly as if she were drying a baby. She puts the jug away carefully and then turns to face me with her hands on her hips. ‘Well, Maggie,’ says Ma, ‘we can leave the silver for another week. I’d say there’s enough of that mutton left over to make up a few sandwiches, and there should be time to do a sponge in the morning. It’s about time the Heffernan family got behind the cricket team.’ Her eyes are bright and she is smiling a hard little smile and for a moment I feel sorry for Sarah Quirk. But only for a moment. I’ve more important things to think of, after all.
I wait until after lunch when our boys are batting and then wander off on my own, without saying anything to anybody. Ma is busy keeping an eagle-eye out for Sarah Quirk, who, of course, is nowhere to be seen; Dad is fully occupied worrying over why Ma suddenly has it in for some poor girl she hardly knows, and Doll is giggling with stupid Velma George, so no one bothers to ask me where I’m going. And I do not really know myself, only I think that if I walk a little way over towards where the men are sitting waiting for their bat, there is a chance I might catch a certain fella’s eye. An eye which has looked my way, I have noticed, and more than just once or twice.
First I wander over to my brother, who is sprawled out on the grass yakking with Arthur Crotty. As usual, Arthur gawks at me. ‘Tom,’ I say, ‘Ma says to tell you that if you’re hungry, if you want more cake or sandwiches, there’s a pile left over.’ If he wonders why I am telling him this when he has only finished lunch a few minutes ago, he is polite enough not to say so, for which I am thankful. He shakes his head and grunts something that I can’t make out, which is our Tom’s usual way and one he will have to improve before any girl is likely to look twice at him – a truth that would take a load off Ma’s mind, I suspect, if she could be brought to believe that he was anything less than the best catch in the district. I stand there for a moment (with Arthur Crotty still goggling, his mouth opening and closing, trying to think of something to say, which he never can, being as silly as a cod) while I consider my next move.
Jack Hardy is leaning against the boundary fence, only a dozen or so yards from me. He looks even more handsome in his creams, which are a smart cut and in far better condition than most of the other Gundy boys, who are lucky if they own one decent shirt. They are a poor lot of fellows, really (save Tom, who I have to admit is not bad looking even if he has nothing much else going for him), not one of them having anything – looks, manner, prospects – to recommend them. And they’re a useless lot when it comes to cricket too, having lost every match for the past two seasons. Already this Jack Hardy from Sydney has cast the rest of them into the shade, bowling a fair few of the Albury batsmen out in the first innings, and our team have a chance at a win, which is what you might call an historical event. He is standing alone watching the game, and it’s easy enough for me to be sure that he’ll see me approach, there being nothing much else taking up his attention.
I am determined that I will not be returning home this evening without some progress having been made in the matter at hand. I head straight towards Jack Hardy, though never once looking at him directly, and just as I pass I drop my handkerchief. It’s a terrible old trick, I know, but what else can a girl do when a boy cannot be relied upon to do his bit? If drastic action is what’s required then I am not one to shirk. So, I drop this hanky as I walk past and I’m a little surprised that I’m able to do it so easily, without the slightest pang, just as casual as if I was a common flirt who’d done such a thing a hundred times before. I keep on walking at a nice steady pace, and keep on and on until I am yards and yards away and have all but given up hope (and am in an agony, thinking that that I have mistook the looks and smiles) when I hear a cough and a soft, ‘Excuse me, miss, you’ve dropped your handkerchief,’ at which I stop and turn, ready to make a polite thank you.
But when I turn I see that the rascal is grinning from ear to ear, and I know without a word being said that he has been stringing me along again. So I get a little uppity, on my high horse, as my dad would say, and do not give him even the slightest hint of a smile when he saunters over, casual as you like, the hanky held out before him between two fingers, as if he were carrying a dead mouse by the tail. ‘Thank you,’ I say, my voice cold, though I can feel my face burning up, and I snatch the hanky and tuck it up into my sleeve while he stands there with a stupid smirk, which I would be more than glad to wipe off his face.
I turn on my heel, set on having nothing more to do with him, but I hear him laughing softly behind me and I turn back. I cannot help myself, my temper being what it is. ‘What do you think you’re laughing at, then?’ I ask. ‘What’s so funny?’
‘You are,’ he says, ‘with your silly trick.’
‘I beg your pardon,’ I say. ‘What silly trick?’ My voice is shriller than I would like and my face has got even warmer.
‘The thing with the handkerchief. Why, I’ve had girls playing that trick on me since I was in short pants. Can’t be many fellas blockheaded enough to fall for that one.’
‘Oh, but there are!’ I say, not thinking, and suddenly we are both laughing. ‘There’s enough of them around here, anyway.’
‘So,’ he says, ‘you didn’t reckon I had much between my ears then?’
‘Well, it didn’t seem so, no. That is, I had no particular reason to think you’d be any different to the general run of fellas. And then, as you weren’t too quick off the mark …’
‘Off what mark?’
I decide not to mince matters. ‘When a fella’s keen on a girl, usually it’s expected that he will … will do some of the work.’
‘Oh.’ His voice is suddenly quiet, and he looks away. I am again afraid that I have badly misread the situation, and prepare for a shameful set-down.
‘Look,’ he says finally, still gazing off into the distance, ‘We can’t talk here. Why don’t we meet next weekend? Sunday morning, say?’
‘After church, then. After lunch,’ he speaks quickly, impatiently, as though he’s suddenly had enough. ‘Three o’clock, down at the end of the road to your place. There’s a wattle where the track forks off towards the river. I’ll meet you there.’
It is hard for a girl to meet a boy without word of it getting about and back to those she would not want to have hear about it, which would mean all sorts of trouble, but it’s something I’m able to manage. There is a secret of Doll’s that I have been carrying for some time, just waiting for the right moment to use it, and this is the right moment.
We are getting ready for bed. This is always the best time and place to get to Doll, as our bedroom is right out the back of the house away from everyone else, so there will be no questions asked if she has a fit of hysterics. Doll is sitting in front of the mirror giving her hair its usual hundred strokes. ‘Doll,’ I say in my friendliest manner (which should be a warning to her, but never is). ‘Doll,’ I say. ‘You know those ivory gloves you showed me before I went to Yackandandah?’
‘Yes.’ It is little wonder that her hair is so thin and lank – she can only be losing more with each tug, she is so rough on it that it is a miracle her head stays on her shoulders. ‘D’you mean the gloves with the lace edging? What about them? You can borrow them if you want, but I think there’s a gravy stain on one that I haven’t had a chance to clean off yet.’
‘Thank you for the offer,’ I say politely, ‘but I don’t want to wear them. What I was wondering is how you managed to buy them in the first place.’
She pauses in her brushing, watching my reflection in the mirror. ‘I had my birthday money from Aunt Bridget. You remember – she gave us each a shilling?’
‘But didn’t that lace collar you wore to the picnic races cost you a shilling?’
Doll turns towards me. ‘What are you trying to say, Margaret Cecilia Heffernan?’
‘I’m not trying to say anything, Doll. I’m just trying to work out where you got the extra shilling.’
‘Well,’ she says, all huffing and puffing and red in the face, ‘If you’re trying to inseminate that I ever stole even a penny of the egg money, then I will have you know that is a most terrible, terrible lie and you will most certainly rot in hell if you even—’
But I am lying back in bed with a smile on my face like the cat who got all the cream and it doesn’t take her too long – though Doll’s not what anyone would ever call sharp – to give up her bellowing.
She puts the brush down, sighs. ‘What is it you want me to do this time, Maggie Heffernan?’
So, it is Doll who suggests – right in front of Ma – that the pair of us go for a walk on Sunday afternoon, and me who says no, I have better things to do, thank you very much, and then Ma who, as I expected, sticks her nose in: ‘Oh, Miss Maggie high-and-mighty, I think that you will go for a walk with your sister: there’s little enough you ever do for anyone but yourself. It’s a fine idea, Dorothy. You know you could do with the exercise. You don’t want to end up like your Aunt Bridget, now, do you?’
Well, I pout and fuss and drag my feet all the way down to the bottom gate and give Doll a nasty little push in the back just as we are moving out of sight. It is all very cleverly done and I am beside myself laughing at my own boldness, and practically run all the way to where Jack and I have planned to meet, with Doll muttering that she does not look anything like that fat old cow, tramping along behind me.
It is only a ten-minute walk following the path to the river and Jack is waiting, just where he said he would be. He’s leaning up against the wattle, smoking, his hat low on his head, an old canvas bag at his feet. He straightens up and tosses away the cigarette when he sees the two of us approach. ‘Well, Miss Heffernan’ – he sounds as if he is quite surprised – ‘How do you do?’ Then, with a grin in Doll’s direction: ‘And you must be the famous Miss Dolly Heffernan, who I’m always hearing about.’ Doll, who is red-faced with exertion, or embarrassment, or both, stands with her mouth wide open but says nothing. ‘Mr Hardy,’ I say coolly, by way of greeting, ‘what brings you here?’
‘You might not believe this, Miss Heffernan,’ he says, pushing his hat back and scratching his head, like a real bumpkin, ‘but I’m something of a naturalist. Nothing I like better on me day off than a pleasant ramble along a bush trail to – well – to see what I can see of the native flora and fauna.’
‘How very interesting.’ I put my hand to my mouth as if to smother a yawn.
‘And you lovely ladies, what brings you along this path?’
‘Oh, we come along this way quite often,’ I say, ‘just for a walk.’
‘Aaah. Perhaps you’d like to accompany me then – you could point out particular areas of interest to me, seeing as how you’re so familiar.’
‘But we’ve never—’ Doll starts, then stops when I elbow her in the ribs.
‘I’d be delighted, Mr Hardy,’ I say, ‘but my poor sister here probably isn’t up to it. She’s a little delicate,’ I tell him, ‘and has to be careful not to overtax her strength.’ Doll’s eyes widen, but I carry on. ‘In fact, you’d probably appreciate a bit of a breather, wouldn’t you Doll?’
‘What do you mean—?’
‘Why don’t you just sit down here and rest, Doll, while I walk on a bit further with Mr Hardy, show him some of our natural beauties.’ I am squeezing Doll’s fingers hard as I speak and glaring so meaningfully that she can be in no doubt about my wishes, and to do her credit she seems quite agreeable. ‘I don’t mind,’ she says, shrugging. ‘I’ll wait here.’ She plops herself down under the wattle and pulls a brown paper bag out of her pinny pocket – a bag which is no doubt full of sweets and explains her willingness to stay here alone. ‘Just don’t get lost.’
Then, as I follow Jack into the scrub and we head off along the track without a backward glance, I hear her call through what sounds like a mouthful of gumballs, ‘You’d better be back before dark, or I’ll be going home without you. And then you’ll be in for it, Maggie Heffernan.’
We walk, barely speaking, until we reach the river. And then we follow it a little way until we find a grassy spot beside some willows. Jack has an old grey blanket in his canvas bag, which he spreads out carefully for us to sit on. He has brought a picnic lunch and a bottle of beer. I nibble on the sandwiches which he says he has made himself – something I would not have guessed, the bread being cut straight and thin and all halved precisely on the diagonal. I watch him eat, which he does in that way that men do, the sandwich gone in three bites – his mouth too full – then washed down with a mouthful of beer. I can never see how they enjoy their food like that – it is gone so fast with barely any chewing – but there is nothing like the expression of a man who has fed well. The beer is tempting, but I don’t dare take even a sip, knowing that Ma will be able to smell it on my breath, which would be the end of me – I would be sent away to a nunnery. Ma has said it so often – that she would happily send her daughters to those heathens, and quicksmart, if we ever showed signs of going down that particular road – and I believe her.
When the eating is done everything is suddenly strange and awkward. This is the first time we have been alone together and all that silly conversation and bright banter, so easy when we thought we were observed or overheard, has dried up. It seems we are both at a loss for something to say. I blather on about last week’s cricket game. ‘It was exciting right at the end,’ I say, ‘when you were run out – we really thought there was a chance of you fellas winning.’
‘Yep,’ he says. ‘Bit a bad luck, that.’ He is leaning up against a willow trunk, arms folded.
I ask him about living with his uncle and aunty, and whether he likes the work he’s doing.
‘Wouldn’t want to own a dairy farm,’ he says. ‘Too much hard work for me.’
I try talking about myself.
‘Had a bit of a time getting here,’ I say, wanting him to ask why.
‘Yeah, well … Guess it can be that way.’ He doesn’t seem to be able to look at me properly – his eyes dart here and there and everywhere else.
I talk about the weather. ‘It’s a lovely day,’ I say.
‘Not bad,’ he agrees, nodding.
‘A lovely day for walking, anyway,’ I add, just in case he thinks it strange that I have said that it is a lovely day when it is overcast and rather chilly – so chilly, in fact, that I am beginning to shiver. Jack must notice this and for once speaks of his own accord. ‘You look cold, Maggie.’
‘I am a bit,’ I confess.
‘Would you like my coat, then?’ He is already shrugging himself out of it.
‘Oh yes,’ I say. ‘You are very kind. Thank you.’ And then he is behind me, draping his coat about me. His hands are there at my shoulders and they stay for a moment longer than they need. I can feel the heat of his breath on the back of my neck and the soft scratchiness of his woollen coat. And then somehow his arms are around me and I am leaning up against him, into his warm comfortable strength, breathing in the sour-sweet man smell of him.
And after that the conversation between Jack and me is easy. Always easy.
At first it is only talk.
We meet every Sunday afternoon, same time, same place. We follow the path, then wander beside the river, hand in hand. We find a place to rest, to eat, and then we talk.
We talk about everything. I tell him about Ma – how the two of us have never got on; the way she’s always favoured Bill and Tom over me and Doll, though Doll is smarter than me when it comes to Ma, keeping quiet and good and out of trouble. About the big row last year between Ma and Bill when Ma tried to keep him home from a race-meet; how he has left the farm to work in the mine at Sandy Creek and we haven’t heard from him since.
I tell him about Dad, and how he idolises Ma, though he can never do anything to please her; I tell him about my stay with Aunt Martha, and how there’s nothing left of the poor woman after all those children; how she’s been worn down almost to a shadow and how that’s not a life I could ever want. I tell him that I was made for something else, and not a life indoors where nothing happens but potatoes boiling over and socks that need darning, or a child to be fed or changed or beat; that I would prefer to be out with the men, helping Dad with the cattle – and not just the milking, neither. And that even Ma has to admit that despite being a girl I’m worth more than Tom and Bill put together – great useless lazy lugs they are, barely as much help as Doll, who can’t even milk on account of her delicate skin.
And he talks back.
He tells me about his life. How when he went to the parish school he did so well that the teacher wanted him to stay on, but how, being fatherless, there was no money for that – his mother needed him in the shop, so he had to finish up when he was twelve. How he tried to keep up for a little while – the teacher let him borrow books and would write out mathematical problems for him to solve, but how eventually he fell too far behind, and finally gave up.
He tells me that he isn’t the son of a widow – as has been put about – he’s a bastard. His father was an Englishman, someone his mother worked for, a toff she met when she was working in a posh hotel in Sydney. An English toff who knocked her up and then gave her enough money to open the shop when she told him she was pregnant. He wanted her, he said, but couldn’t have her – he was already married to someone back in England; he had a wife, but no children. ‘So, I’m the heir,’ Jack tells me, ‘to some great estate in Hertfordshire. I’m working hard to earn my passage over and then I’ll claim what’s rightfully mine. My birthright. My inheritance.’
I ask him if he knows his father’s name, the name of the town, the estate, and his lips tighten. ‘I’ll find him,’ he tells me. ‘Once I get there I’ll find the bastard, don’t you worry.’
‘I’m not going to be like everyone else, Maggie,’ he tells me. ‘I’ve seen how the other half live – how it’s possible for a man to live – and I want that life, not this. I want horses, parties, a city house. A country estate where the only thing I have to do is tell drongos like me what they have to do. Which paddock needs fencing, which cattle need moving. I don’t want calluses on my hands from working, I want calluses on my fingers from dealing cards, from counting out my money.
‘I want my wife to have soft smooth hands and beautiful dresses; furs, trips on steamers, diamonds, servants. I want her to smell of flowers – not laundry. I want a wife who has all her teeth, not someone who’s worn out and looks fifty when she’s barely thirty. A woman who has conversation, not one who’s got nothing to say to me and only needs me to bring home money for the ten squalling brats I can barely afford to feed, and who says I can’t drink if we’re to eat. I don’t want to work from dawn until dusk so some other bastard can live in style. To work my life away just to keep a roof over my head and food in my mouth and all the time my soul shrivelling up until there’s nothing left of me.
‘I want soft beds and warm houses and someone to serve me dinner, clean my shoes, to pull back my blankets, brush my hair.
‘Someone to piss for me if that’s what I order.’
So every Sunday me and Doll take our walk. Of course, Ma can’t work out why it is that Doll is getting stouter week by week, and I cannot tell her that my sister’s stroll ends ten minutes in. That Doll sits and waits under the wattle, eating the sweets that Jack brings her, while he and I go off alone.
He whispers to me that he has never felt this way with anyone. That he can tell me almost anything. That whatever he says to me, he knows I’ll understand. That sometimes he thinks I can see right into his soul. That he has never felt this way with a girl before; that he would never do anything to hurt me. That he loves me so much it is killing him – I cannot love him even half as much as he loves me or I would want what he wants, that I would see that it is right, natural …
I would like to tell him that what he wants, I want. But I know better than that. I understand him very well.
And every week we go further, deeper, and sometimes we wander away from the river, so far off the track that I can’t even hear the soft steady splashing of the running water, so far into the scrub I worry that we won’t be able to find our way back out again.
But always – just when I’m getting anxious, just when I think that I’ll be late home, and all will be uncovered – always Jack pushes ahead and suddenly we’re back on the track and there’s Doll waiting under the tree, a scowl on her face, the brown paper lolly bag crushed and empty.
Winner of the Best First Australian Crime Novel, Ned Kelly Crime Awards 2006
I hold Jacky close, fix my eyes on the door and walk as fast as I can.
‘Oh, please, don’t run away. Think of your child, if you cannot think of yourself.’
‘What we are suggesting is nothing,’ the man mutters darkly, as I pass through the door and into the brightly lit hall. ‘Nothing. Far worse can happen.’
I have a baby, two shillings, no reputation and nowhere to go, but even so I cannot imagine what far worse might be.
Out of the Silence is a stunning debut novel about three women from very different worlds: Maggie Heffernan, a spirited working-class country girl; Elizabeth Hamilton, whose own disappointment in love has served only to strengthen her humanity; and the remarkable Vida Goldstein, the suffragist who was to become the first woman to stand for Parliament.
When Maggie’s life descends into darkness after a terrible betrayal, the three women’s lives collide. Around this tragedy Wendy James has constructed a masterfully drawn and gripping fiction. Based on a true story, it unfolds at the dawn of the twentieth century against the compelling backdrop of the women’s suffrage movement and a world on the brink of enormous change.
The novel powerfully evokes the plight of women in the early 1900s – not least their limited options, whatever their class and education. However, at its heart this is a story of love – of love gone wrong; of its compromises and disappointments; but ultimately of its extraordinary transformative power.
“This is a work of intelligence and talent informed by a deeply humane sensitivity.” Sydney Morning Herald
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Wendy James was born in Sydney in 1966, and grew up in western New South Wales and the northern beach suburbs of Sydney. Over the years she has worked in a number of diverse fields (as an insurance clerk, kitchen company dogsbody, bookkeeper, childcare worker, tutor, manuscript assessor, researcher) in order to support her writing habit, her university studies and her four children. Wendy currently lives in Newcastle, NSW. Out of the Silence, Wendy’s debut novel, won the 2006 Ned …