An epic and lyrical tale

Ex­tract of Where Fortune Lies

Central and North Burnett Times - - LIFE­STYLE - BY MARY-ANNE O’CON­NOR

MEL­BOURNE, Aus­tralia, 6 De­cem­ber 1879

The bowl had long been stained by the dye, but Chrys­telle scrubbed it re­gard­less be­fore pat­ting it dry and plac­ing it on top of the over­flow­ing pile that spilled from the large wooden trunk in her cabin. Silks and satins, cot­tons and wools vied for space in a tum­ble of bril­liant colour, await­ing Chrys­telle Amour’s choice each day. Hold­ing up a green, yel­low-trimmed dress, she de­cided to make it to­day’s cos­tume, her ‘wel­come to Aus­tralia’ out­fit. It seemed fit­ting, based on the coun­try­side she’d seen so far.

The great south­ern land boasted a shore­line bathed in myr­iad hues. Sheer golden sand­stone cliffs and pris­tine jew­elled coves shone from her shores along the Bight, the thick green bush­land that ran above it now in­ter­spersed with civil­i­sa­tion as Mel­bourne came into view. She’d heard much about the city from the other pas­sen­gers dur­ing the jour­ney, and the busy port bus­tled with ac­tiv­ity as the ship moored at last, al­most seem­ing to sigh as it came to rest af­ter its long, ar­du­ous voy­age.

Chrys­telle donned the dress and tied her boot­laces, re­lieved to be dis­em­bark­ing and look­ing for­ward to feel­ing solid ground once more. It had been a safe trip, and rel­a­tively in­ci­dent-free if you dis­counted one very drunken evening enout joyed by the other pas­sen­gers and crew dur­ing a stopover in Perth, but a sailor she was not. The coun­try girl within her craved the earth.

Out­fit se­lected, she took out her hand mir­ror to put on her daily mask of colour, trac­ing lip­stick and pow­der­ing her nose to hide the traces of that girl she used to be, the one whose skin soaked in the sun too eas­ily as she day­dreamed in her tree. Then she ar­ranged her glo­ri­ously red hair into a chignon and placed a bright green hat atop, fix­ing each strand un­til she was sat­is­fied that she was per­fectly groomed from head to toe. And brown­free, save her eyes. The only part of her ap­pear­ance that be­trayed her. The colour in­side.

Cast­ing one last look at her re­flec­tion she packed the mir¬ror away and stood to take a deep breath, paus­ing for a mo­ment to place her hands across her swollen belly, and stared out to the sprawl­ing town that would be her new home. The place she would raise her child, alone. She spared a thought for John Wor­thing­ton then, the first man she had been set up with af­ter Ruby Starks had found her at Kings Cross sta­tion back in Lon­don and taken her on. She’d made it sound a per­func­tory un­der­tak¬ing, turn­ing whore, telling the pen­ni­less girl in her only blue dress that she would be the one in con­trol of her life from this day for­ward.

‘Ev­ery woman is a pros­ti­tute, in one way or an­other,’ Ruby had said as she’d pulled dar­ingly low dresses from her wardrobe and held them up against her. ‘Men are fu­elled by lust and they need to sat­isfy it. At least we pro­fes­sion­als are hon­est about that and face it head on,’ she’d added, tak­ing her make-up case and click­ing it open with rou­tine aplomb. ‘We’re in con­trol.’

Con­trol. How she’d latched onto that word, al­low­ing it to numb all the pain and des­per­a­tion that had led her to whore­dom, and the fear of what that would en­tail. She’d let it in­flu­ence ev­ery de­ci­sion from that mo­ment on.

‘What’s your name?’ Ruby had asked then, hold­ing up a crys­tal neck­lace and match­ing it to a red silk gown.

‘Chrys­telle,’ she’d said on im­pulse, star­ing at the neck­lace. Her first grasp at that con­trol. Ruby had merely raised her eye­brows, sug­gest­ing Amour be tagged on.

‘You’re in the busi­ness of love now, af­ter all.’

Chrys­telle Amour. A woman in con­trol even of love. Never to be so weak as to feel it again. Strong enough to im­per­son­ate it each day.

‘Con­trol,’ she whis­pered now as she stared out at Mel­bourne and clenched her purse strings tight. Ruby had given her good ad­vice that day, and John had been the per­fect choice for Chrys¬telle’s first client; kind and at­ten­tive, and not un­gen­tle as she lay be­neath him and he used her body for his lust. He’d wanted her ex­clu­sively, which suited Chrys­telle fine. One lover was an eas­ier re­al­ity to ac­cept, and by the time she’d re­alised she was preg­nant, and that new-found con­trol threat­ened to crum­ble, he’d helped her keep it to­gether. He’d talked of love and sup­port, but not mar¬riage, of course. A whore is never a wife. And you could never be sure whose child she car­ried.

But Chrys­telle knew. She knew it as surely as she’d known John was gone when he died in her arms a few weeks later, and as clearly as the fact that one day his son would hunt her down to try to use her past to take back the pre­cious fortune John had left her. Even here, on the other side of the world.

She knew it with the same cer­tainty that the hori­zon would al­ways be there, just be­yond reach, and that the Beltane fires would scour the sky in Ir­ish vil­lages come spring.

But above all she knew it with the same stone-cold con­vic­tion – she’d stand on her own two feet in this new land, never let­ting any­one take her con­trol again. For never again would she ever be Anne Brown.

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