Authors: Belinda Murrell
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The Ivory Rose
ePub ISBN 9781742750729
A Random House book
Published by Random House Australia Pty Ltd
Level 3, 100 Pacific Highway, North Sydney NSW 2060
First published by Random House Australia in 2011
Copyright © Belinda Murrell 2011
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying (except under the statutory exceptions provisions of the Australian
Copyright Act 1968
), recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of Random House Australia.
Addresses for companies within the Random House Group can be found at
National Library of Australia
Author: Murrell, Belinda
Title: The ivory rose/Belinda Murrell
ISBN: 978 1 74275 071 2 (pbk.)
Target Audience: For primary school age
Dewey Number: A823.4
‘In a Southern Garden’ by Dorothea Mackellar used by kind permission of the Estate of Dorothea Mackellar and Curtis Brown Australia.
Cover design by saso content & design pty ltd
For my sister, Kate Forsyth, who introduced me to Shadow the
cat and the mystery of the Gothic Witches’ Houses, and whose
love and support has been truly inspirational
‘In a Southern Garden’ by Dorothea Mackellar, 1918
WHEN the tall bamboos are clicking to the restless little breeze,
And bats begin their jerky skimming flight,
And the creamy scented blossoms of the dark pittosporum trees,
Grow sweeter with the coming of the night.
And the harbour in the distance lies beneath a purple pall,
And nearer, at the garden’s lowest fringe,
Loud the water soughs and gurgles ’mid the rocks below the wall,
Dark-heaving, with a dim uncanny tinge
Of a green as pale as beryls, like the strange faint-coloured flame
That burns around the Women of the Sea:
And the strip of sky to westward which the camphorlaurels frame,
Has turned to ash-of-rose and ivory –
And a chorus rises valiantly from where the crickets hide,
Close-shaded by the balsams drooping down –
It is evening in a garden by the kindly water-side,
A garden near the lights of Sydney town!
Jemma pushed the ornate front doorbell nervously. It was the first day of her first job. The bell jangled somewhere deep in the house. Jemma glanced up. The house towered over her, covered in a mass of purple, flowering wisteria, its tall turreted roof spotted with lichen. Once it had been a grand house, a mansion really. But now the sandstone was cracked, the paint on the windows and doors a dull, flaking grey.
Rosethorne was one of the famous Witches’ Houses of Annandale – a row of creepy old mansions on Johnston Street, built with towers and gargoyles, turrets and crenellations, gables and conical spires. Many of them had been renovated over the years to reflect their former glory, but not Rosethorne. People said Rosethorne was haunted.
Jemma shivered with nerves. She pushed the bell again more urgently.
What was the story?
Jemma struggled to remember.
A little girl? Murdered over a hundred years ago? Her ghost
still haunts the house, begging for help and retribution …
Jemma glanced over her shoulder, feeling cold despite the warm spring sunshine. A black cat wound around her feet and miaowed, its tail tickling her bare legs. Jemma stooped to pat the sleek fur. She loved animals but wasn’t allowed any pets at home.
Too much fur, too much mess, too much trouble
, Jemma thought, her mother’s words echoing in her mind.
A sound of approaching footsteps thundered from inside, and the old grey door was flung open by a young girl wearing a maroon-and-white checked school uniform. Her hair was tied up in messy pigtails, and her button nose was sprinkled with freckles.
‘Hi, Jemma,’ whispered Sammy shyly, glancing up through her long fringe. ‘That’s my cat, Shadow. Mum’s in the studio. She said to bring you in.’
Sammy was seven years old, with pale-blonde hair, chocolate-brown eyes, a dimple in each cheek and two missing front teeth. She was so cute, Jemma wanted to tickle her.
‘Hey, Sammy. Did you have a good day at school?’
Sammy trotted off down the long hall, her shyness quickly forgotten, and chatted animatedly about her day. Jemma followed, glancing around, Shadow the cat at her heels. Inside seemed just as derelict as outside: the paint peeling from the walls, the timber floors scuffed, unstable piles of packing boxes cluttering the grand reception rooms on her left.
At the very back of the house was an old kitchen and a shamble of little rooms that must have once been a scullery, pantry and laundry but were now jammed to the ceiling
with boxes. Outside, the garden was overgrown with weeds and magnificent old trees; a mound of rubbish was strewn against the remains of a ramshackle fence.
Sammy led the way into a two-storey timber outbuilding in the far corner of the block. A rickety door opened into a huge dusty room stacked to the ceiling with shelves. Each shelf held bowls, vases, cups, platters, jugs and pots, painted in a rainbow of flowers and figures.
In the middle of the room sat a woman, Sammy’s mother, hunched over a potter’s wheel, her hands grey and sticky with clay. She frowned in concentration, a large daub of clay across her cheek, her caramel hair piled in a tumble-down bun and a shapeless smock covering her clothes.
‘Mama, Mama. Jemma’s here,’ cried Sammy, jiggling up and down with excitement, her pigtails flying and cheeks dimpling.
‘Thanks, Sammy darling,’ replied her mother, not taking her eyes off the clay on the wheel. ‘I’ll just be a moment, Jemma. I’m at a crucial stage.’
Jemma watched, fascinated as the blob of grey clay spun around, rapidly changing shape under those long, slim fingers. In a few moments the sticky blob had transformed into a tall, elegant vase, perfectly proportioned. The woman took her fingers away, nodding in satisfaction. The wheel slowly stopped spinning.
She stood up and wiped her hands on her clay-smeared smock, smiling in welcome. ‘Sorry, Jemma. Thanks so much for coming’
‘That’s a pleasure, Mrs O’Donnell.’
‘Please call me Maggie. Mrs O’Donnell sounds like a decrepit old grandmother!’
Maggie led Jemma around the studio, with its cobbled stone floor and rough timber walls, packing crates, kiln and splattered workbenches. ‘This was once the old stables but it makes a perfect studio now.’
Maggie pointed to the benchtop cluttered with pots of paint, brushes and glaze. In the centre was a huge platter. ‘This is my latest piece. What do you think?’
The platter was a deep, inky blue with a mermaid floating across the centre. Clouds of green hair billowed around her radiant face, and her silvery tail flickered with life.
‘It’s wonderful!’ said Jemma, stroking the platter with her forefinger. ‘The mermaid almost looks alive.’
‘She’s mine,’ Sammy announced proudly. ‘We’re going to hang her in my room. I’ve called her Clorinda.’
Maggie smiled indulgently, stroking Sammy’s hair off her forehead.
‘Come and I’ll show you around. I’m sorry everything is such a mess,’ apologised Maggie. ‘I’m trying to renovate, but I have a big exhibition coming up and there’s never enough time to get everything done, which is why I’m so thrilled you can look after Sammy for a few weeks after school.’
Jemma smiled warmly. The job was like a dream come true for her too, although she had to use all her powers of persuasion to convince her mother that she could still get her homework done, practise the flute and fit in three ballet classes a week.
Maggie led the way back into the kitchen, chatting about Jemma’s duties.
‘If you could stay for a couple of hours it would be wonderful,’ Maggie gushed. ‘You can make yourselves some
afternoon tea – just help yourself to anything you find in the pantry. Do some reading with Sammy – she loves her reading – and make sure she does her homework. She doesn’t have much. Then just play or draw or go for a walk, whatever you both feel like. The only important thing is to keep Sammy away from the studio while I’m working.’
Jemma nodded, taking it all in. The kitchen was old, with an ancient range hood crammed into the original fireplace. Piles of crockery were stacked on the open shelves; pans and pots hung from hooks on the mottled walls.
‘It will take forever to renovate,’ sighed Maggie, gesturing around at the stains and grime. ‘But we bought it for a bargain price. The old house had been divided into tiny flatettes for years and allowed to deteriorate terribly. It had been on the market for months, standing empty. Sammy and I have spent every weekend pulling out rubbish and scrubbing and painting.’
Sammy pulled a hideous face, rolling her eyes at Jemma in disgust. Jemma giggled.
‘The place was a rabbit warren of makeshift walls as thin as paper,’ Maggie continued. ‘We made an exciting discovery last week – two stunning marble fireplaces hidden behind a false wall in the reception room. It must have been a gorgeous house a hundred years ago.’
Maggie rubbed her forehead gingerly, overwhelmed by everything that needed to be done.
‘Anyway, you two have some afternoon tea and I’d better get back to work. Come and let me know when it’s six o’clock and you have to go. I forget the time completely when I’m working, and if you don’t remind me I’ll keep you here till midnight.’
Maggie bustled off back to the studio, leaving Jemma and Sammy alone to crunch on cheese and crackers with orange juice. Sammy read a chapter of
Adventures of the Wishing-Chair
aloud to Jemma, then she did her sheets of maths and spelling while Jemma tidied up.
‘Finished,’ announced Sammy, triumphantly waving her spelling sheet in the air. ‘I’m the best speller in my class. I can spell anything, even really hard words like “poltergeist” and “spectre”. I memorised them from the dictionary.’
‘Good work, Sammy,’ replied Jemma, taking the sheet. ‘Let me check that it’s all right, then we can go and play.’ She scanned the columns before handing the sheet back. ‘Fantastic – you got it! Every single word perfect. What would you like to do now?’
‘I can show you my room, and you can meet my friend Georgie. We can play up there.’
‘Sure,’ Jemma agreed, wondering who Georgie was. ‘Guide the way, fearless leader. Just be careful of any poltergeists or spectres on the way.’
Sammy galloped out the door and up the wide cedar stairs, with Jemma hurrying to catch up. A threadbare Persian carpet, splotched with the stains of many careless tenants, partially covered the dark timber steps.
Upstairs was a wide landing with numerous panelled cedar doors leading off the hallway. Sammy disappeared into one. This bedroom was the prettiest of all the rooms Jemma had seen so far with crowded bookshelves, a fireplace, a rocking chair packed with soft toys and a wide pink bed. Portraits of fairies and mermaids were hung on the
pale pink walls. Jemma recognised Maggie’s style, while others were obviously drawn by Sammy.
The black cat was curled up asleep in the middle of a patchwork quilt, breathing deeply. Sammy stroked Shadow, who stretched and purred. Jemma perched on the side of the bed, patting the cat.
Sammy introduced Jemma to all the toys on her bed, one by one.
‘And this is Purple Lambie,’ explained Sammy, holding up a shabby, grubby, well-loved lamb of indeterminate colour, which might have been purple once. ‘I’ve had her since I was a tiny baby and I sleep with her every night.’
Shadow suddenly started and spat, arching her back. The fur stood up along her spine in warning. Shadow hissed and jumped, darting off the bed and out the open door, which banged shut behind her.
‘Georgie’s here,’ Sammy explained glumly. ‘Shadow doesn’t like Georgie.’
Jemma shivered, suddenly cold.
‘What do you mean?’ asked Jemma. ‘Where’s your friend Georgie?’
‘In the rocking chair,’ explained Sammy. ‘She likes my toys.’
Jemma glanced in disbelief at the rocking chair full of teddies, lambs, bunnies and dolls. A lop-eared rabbit fell off the chair and onto the floor. The chair creaked on its rockers.
‘There’s no-one there,’ Jemma contradicted, her voice a trifle shaky. She remembered back to her own childhood. As an only child, like Sammy, she had spent many hours playing on her own and had invented a whole family of
sisters to keep her company, each one with her own name, personality and dislikes. ‘Do you mean Georgie is your imaginary friend?’
‘No,’ replied Sammy, adamantly. ‘She’s not imaginary. Georgie comes to see me all the time. Georgie’s sad. She wants me to help her. Mama can’t ever see Georgie, but I can. She has beautiful, long, dark curly hair and wears the prettiest dresses. Can’t you see her, Jemma? She’s right there. Maybe you could help Georgie?’
A frisson of fear rippled up Jemma’s back, making the hairs on her arms stand on end. She gulped, then laughed nervously.
‘Well, Sammy. I’d help Georgie if I could. But I can’t see her. Why don’t we go downstairs and do some drawing in the kitchen?’
Sammy nodded in agreement, pulling out her pencil case and a sketchbook. Jemma glanced at the fluffy rabbit on the floor but couldn’t bring herself to go near the slowly creaking rocking chair to pick it up. Sammy did the job, tucking the rabbit gently back into place.
The two drew pictures and played games, chatting happily.
At six o’clock there was no sign of Maggie. Jemma waited for a few moments, then headed for the studio and softly knocked.
‘Come in, come in,’ Maggie called. ‘Oh goodness me, it can’t be after six already? Sorry, Jemma. I told you I lose track of the time in here.’
On the table beside Maggie was a tray of wet, grey objects ready to be fired. Shadow lay serenely curled up on a cushion under the table.
‘Did you have fun, Sammy?’ asked Maggie, unconsciously smearing another daub of clay on her nose.
‘I did my homework and we did some drawings of horses and we played pick-up-sticks and Jemma met Georgie.’ Sammy ticked off the list of activities on her fingers.
‘That does sound like fun,’ agreed Maggie. ‘Thanks so much, Jemma. Here’s some money and we’ll see you at four o’clock on Wednesday? Will you be all right walking home by yourself?’
‘S-s-sure,’ Jemma stammered, disconcerted by Maggie’s calm acceptance of the invisible ‘Georgie’. ‘That’s great. I’ll see you both then.’
Jemma clutched the notes. Despite her misgivings, she felt a rush of pride – this was the first money she had truly earned all by herself. On the walk home she entertained herself by adding up the money she could earn in the next few weeks and thinking of all the things she could do with it: save up for something special, buy some new clothes or music, buy her mum a nice birthday present …