It was with a sense of defeat that I waited for Miss Franklin at our agreed rendezvous in Robertson’s book store in George Street, aimlessly flipping through The Sydney Morning Herald. It seemed Mr Want, the Protectionist, was in a fury that the Victorians had rejected him as the Prime Minister of the new Federation. Dr W.G. Grace was warning England that it might never defeat a united Australia at cricket. Cecil Rhodes was smarting at being made the scapegoat for the Jameson Raid that had precipitated the Boer War. And King O’Malley was disgruntled about everything. I was pleased that Miss Franklin arrived to drag me from this mire of negative news.
She was out of breath, as if she had just been running at the speed of Carbine. I conveyed the futility of my meeting with Thompson. “Never mind, Charles,” she said, placing her gloved hand on my arm and sending my innards all atwitter, “perhaps we will have more luck with one of the others?” As it happened, that evening another of Miss Franklin’s co-passengers, the Norwegian-born Queensland surveyor Carsten Borchgrevink, was giving a public lecture at the Town Hall concerning his recent expedition to find the South Magnetic Pole. In my experience all men of the northern wasteland wherefrom he hailed were scoundrels and rogues. (Brisbane, I mean, not Norway.)
The lecture was interminable: his discourse on whale-blubber, seasickness and the lichen he had found at Cape Adare closed my lids. After the last of the audience had shuffled stiff-legged into the night, I confronted this massive man with drooping walrus moustache. He did not take kindly to the innuendo that he might have been a letter-thief, seizing a nearby whaling lance, a prop from his lecture, and threatening to impale me. I left the Town Hall expeditiously and turned down a lane towards my home in Elizabeth Street, newspaper advertisements for Christmas gifts from Anthony Horderns swirling about my feet like angry dogs. I felt an abject failure. I had advanced poor Miss Franklin’s cause not one yard. Perhaps this introspection made me deaf to the fast approaching footsteps, for I turned too late. A massive blow snapped back my chin.
I sought to regain my feet but my shadowy assailant grabbed my lapels and powered me into the wall. “You treacherous cur,” he muttered, drawing his fist back to smite me yet again. As he did, a loud rocket burst through the air from the Town Hall, startling all the horses in the hansom cab rank out front. I can only surmise the fireworks fellows were test firing for the display they were planning for next week. As the incandescent tail of the rocket passed by me it cast enough light to reveal the identity of my attacker. No wonder his blow had been so mighty, I was in the grip of Australia’s greatest batsman, Victor Trumper. This would teach me to criticise his off-drive. I shut my eyes and prepared to meet my maker.