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Authors: Maris Morton

A Darker Music

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A Darker Music
Maris Morton
Scribe Publications (2010)

When Mary Lanyon takes on the job of temporary housekeeper at Downe, a famous Merino stud, she is looking forward to staying in a gracious homestead with the wealthy Hazlitt family. The owner's wife, Clio, has been ill, and Mary's task is to get the house back into shape in the lead-up to the wedding of the only son and heir, Martin.

When she arrives, however, Mary realises things are not right. Clio Hazlitt rarely ventures from her room. The house is shabby, redolent of dust and secrets. As a friendship develops between the women, Mary discovers answers to the questions that have puzzled her: What is the nature of Clio's illness? What has caused the grim estrangement between Clio and her husband? And why did Clio give up playing music, when she says it meant so much to her?

A Darker Music
is a gripping mystery that takes you into the heart of rural Western Australia, and into one family's troubled past.

Scribe Publications
A DARKER MUSIC

Maris Morton was born in 1938 and currently lives in Uki in rural NSW. She has worked in various jobs around Australia, including as an English teacher, shearers’ cook, shed hand, artist, art restorer and director of an art gallery.
A Darker Music
is her first novel.

A
Darker
Music

Maris Morton

Scribe Publications Pty Ltd
PO Box 523
Carlton North, Victoria, Australia 3054
Email: [email protected]

First published by Scribe 2010

Copyright © Maris Morton 2010

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publishers and the author of this book.

Typeset in 12.5/17.5 pt Garamond by the publishers.
Printed and bound in Australia by Griffin Press. Only wood grown from sustainable regrowth forests is used in the manufacture of paper found in this book.

National Library of Australia
Cataloguing-in-Publication data

Morton, Maris, 1938.

A Darker Music.

9781921640650 (pbk.)

A823.4

Scribe Publications gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the Cultural Fund of the Copyright Agency Limited, for sponsoring the 2010 CAL Scribe Fiction Prize.

www.scribepublications.com.au

The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted.


William Shakespeare,
The Merchant of Venice

Contents

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

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24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

33

34

Acknowledgements

1

T
HE YOUNG FELLOW OUTSIDE THE FRONT DOOR
was staring at something across the street, jingling keys in his pocket. His dark hair was glossy and beautifully styled. She could see a Gucci label on the back pocket of his jeans, his sweater looked like cashmere, and when he turned around his face was more like that of a model than a farmer.

‘Mrs Lanyon?’ His brown eyes glanced at her, then quickly away. He didn’t smile.

Mary let her own welcoming smile fade. ‘That’s right. Mary Lanyon. You must be Martin Hazlitt?’

‘Yeah. You ready?’ He started back towards the gleaming Mercedes parked at the kerb.

‘Yes, sure.’ He didn’t offer to help with her luggage so she took the initiative. ‘Can you give me a hand?’

Her bags were ready inside the door and she passed the first of them to him. He seemed disconcerted but took it, then the next, carrying them out to the car. He wedged them into the boot and got in the driver’s seat, leaving Mary to fetch the rest.

During the drive to the airfield at Jandakot, Martin didn’t speak. When he ignored Mary’s opening conversational gambit, she sat back, puzzled by his silence but content to enjoy the luxury of being driven in the Merc, with its scent of new leather.

The prospect of working on a famous Merino stud was an exciting one. She’d worked on farms before, but never on anything so grand, or so far from the city. To be travelling there in the owner’s small plane seemed like the height of glamour. That the man who’d be flying the plane had turned out to be so good-looking was simply the icing on the cake.

By the time the Piper had taxied down the runway and climbed into the air, Mary was brimming with happy anticipation, her mind buzzing with questions, but Martin still responded with stony silence. Once clear of the suburbs, they flew over the endless forested catchment, where there was nothing much to see. In frustration, she watched the dials swing their needles and tried to interpret the messages they were sending, but after a while she had to admit that she couldn’t make any sense of it and gave that up, too. Gradually, the warmth of the sun flowing in through the canopy and the drone of the engine combined to send her into a headachy doze.

She was roused by a change in the sound of the engine. As she opened her eyes, her heart thumped in panic. Then she realised from the slanted horizon and the pressure in her ears that Martin was bringing the Piper around in a slow tilting curve, losing height. Her ears popped, and she swallowed, leaning sideways into the safety harness to press her cheek against the cold perspex of the window, straining to take in as much as she could of the place that would be her home for the next few months.

The earth lay like a rumpled carpet, fading into a distant haze. There was a scattering of scrub and denser patches of bigger, greyish trees that were probably eucalypts. Each paddock was outlined with a corduroy strip of ploughed earth, which looked like a child’s crayon line, never exactly straight, and as they came closer to the ground she could see that the greens of the paddocks were each subtly different. And coming into view on the far horizon — could it be the ocean, that faint glimmer trembling in the blue haze? They weren’t far from the south coast, so it could be. And what was that? That pale blue hump, like the pallid spectre of a brontosaurus, browsing peacefully in the misty distance? Could it be a mountain? There were more of them, a whole herd of them, fading to invisibility along the horizon. She felt a stirring of childish excitement and turned to ask Martin about the humps, but his eyes were intent on the instruments, and he wouldn’t have been able to hear her anyway over the noise of the engine.

The lower they flew, the brighter green the ground became. It was the kind of lushness she’d expect to see in England or Europe at the height of spring, not here, in the sunburnt country; not even after the autumn rains. As they banked away from the mountains, if that’s what they were, a collection of buildings that must be Downe came into view. Some of the corrugated roofs were bright silver, some rusty grey, others the dark red of old blood, nestled among a tapestry of trees and bushes, a tracery of tracks, more like a village than her idea of a farm. She could see no town, no sealed road.

Then the Piper was rushing in to land in a field of grass, blown flat in the wind. The wheels bumped on the ground and the little plane slowed and taxied up to a corrugated-iron building.

Mary unfastened her seatbelt and flexed her cramped legs. These little planes weren’t built for comfort. She stretched her arms and looked at her watch. Yes, almost two hours: a long time in such a confined space, although it was partly her own fault because she’d brought such a bulk of baggage that some of it had had to be wedged under her feet.

Everything was as vibrantly green as it had looked from the air. The buildings, except for the hangar, were hidden behind a belt of trees. Across an expanse of grass, a group of sheep stood watching. Were these some of the famous Downe Merinos? But, no: these had brownish faces and she knew enough to understand that they must be some other kind. It hadn’t occurred to her that there would be other breeds of sheep here.

When Martin opened the cabin door, a gust of icy wind speared into the cockpit. She gasped and reached for the down parka she’d taken off in the stuffy cabin. She waited for Martin to offer to help her out, but he simply walked off, leaving her to slide across into his empty seat and let her feet drop to the wing. The wind drilled through her clothes; the skin on her arms contracted into goosebumps. She pulled on the parka, zipping the front and tugging the hood up over her head, then stood on the wing and contemplated the drop to the ground. Thanking providence that she’d worn jeans, cursing her short legs, and glad that Martin was nowhere to be seen, she jumped down.

The wind was sending leaves and shreds of dry grass skittering along the ground. One of the sheep looked at her and stamped its feet. It was much bigger than she’d expected, big enough to knock her over if it had a mind to. A bank of clouds was moving up from the horizon and would soon cover the sun. Mary tucked her hair into the hood of her parka and began dragging her baggage out of the plane.

Martin came back driving a dusty utility. He waited till she’d finished before reaching for his own bags, then stood back and watched while Mary struggled to heft her mismatched baggage onto the tray of the ute.

‘Like something out of one of those refugee camps,’ he said, indicating her baggage.

Mary gritted her teeth. In other circumstances, she might have laughed. There was a grain of truth in what he’d said, though: she’d chosen the ill-assorted baggage not as a fashion statement but to squeeze into the interior space of the Piper. She never travelled without her feather pillows, and her knives and cooking essentials, and winter clothes were bulky. She shrugged, hoisted another bag up, shuffling it against the back of the cab, hoping none of them would be bounced out. The vehicle smelt of dog and sheep and dust.

Now that she’d arrived Mary wondered again about the family. It was Martin’s father who had made the arrangements with the agency, but Mary hadn’t met him. Mrs Hazlitt had been sick, that was all Mary knew about her. Her brief was to keep the household running smoothly till Mrs Hazlitt was ready to take over again, which they expected would be in another two or three months.

But for now, with the dusty windscreen streaked with rain, the ute bumping over the dirt track and the noise of its motor no less insistent than that of the Piper, Mary told herself to sit tight, wait and see. She was committed.

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