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Prudence Throws a Party

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Prudence Swanson beamed as the guests began arriving. She loved throwing parties, particularly when the guest list held such illustrious names. Sir Robert and Dame Pattie Menzies were there, but even the Prime Minister had to take a back seat this time. Today was a fundraiser for the planned Sydney Opera House, and Prudence had arranged an appearance by one of the opera world’s brightest stars, Joan Sutherland, back in Australia for a brief visit after her smashing success at London’s Royal Opera House, where her aria from Handel’s Samson had garnered a ten-minute-long standing ovation.

Next to Prudence and smiling even more broadly were Elizabeth and Douglas Goddard. The fundraiser was Douglas’ idea. He had enthusiastically embraced Eugene Goossen’s vision of a large performing arts venue to be built on Bennelong Point, and continued to promote the idea even after the symphony conductor’s hasty departure once his pornography scandal was revealed. Two years had past, the scandal had receded, and it was time to push forward on this grand project.

A string quartet provided a melodious background to the spirited buzz of conversations all around the grounds. Carolyn Duncan’s engaging laugh could be heard in many places as she easily maneuvered from group to group, trailed by her dutiful husband Jack. He was much more at ease with his patients in Inverness than he was in Sydney society.

Jack searched the crowd for any familiar face, someone he could talk to. He perked up when he saw George Bligh. Thank goodness, someone from home. Maybe he could just talk to George and not worry about small talk with strangers. And if Sarah were with him, so much the better. Yes, there she was. Jack headed in their direction. Elizabeth had noticed how Jack visibly relaxed when he saw George and Sarah. She knew he didn’t really like these society affairs. For some reason he was always a little afraid he would embarrass himself, and she never wanted him to feel that way.

Elizabeth had felt very differently at the party she and Prudence had thrown for Pattie Menzies when she became a dame. That day Elizabeth fervently had hoped that someone would be embarrassed and shown to be out of her depth. But Sarah Adams had charmed everyone at that party, especially Dame Pattie. Elizabeth had conceded defeat that day, and her grudging respect had turned to genuine, deep affection over the next months. And now, finally, Sarah and George were married. George had given up politics in order to stay at home, but he had gotten a bit restless, and was looking for something new in which to invest his time and interest. Perhaps the answer was right here at this party.

The architect of the Opera House, Jorn Utzon of Denmark, was not at the fundraiser, but several other important people were, most notably Dick Dusseldorp, who had won the contract to build the podium. George was quite anxious to meet him and hear about his new company, Civil and Civic. Dusseldorp had quite progressive ideas on how to run a company, and George wanted to learn as much as possible. Sarah was also interested in meeting the Dutch immigrant. She knew that he had been a prisoner of war, and felt an immediate kinship with him, although neither talked about their war experiences.

The three were so engrossed in conversation that Jack reluctantly turned away without trying to interrupt. He turned to face the person he despised more than anyone else in the world, Sir Richard Bennett. Sir Richard looked at Jack, and grinned a slow, condescending grin. He knew his presence would make Jack miserable, so he decided to stay as near to Jack as he could for the remainder of the party. Jack was afraid he would lose his temper and embarrass Elizabeth and Prudence. He knew Carolyn wouldn’t dare get close to Sir Richard again. Four years had passed since that awful night, and Jack’s relationship with Carolyn had grown even deeper as they overcame the trauma together, but Carolyn could not bear even to hear Sir Richard’s name, much less be anywhere near him. Suddenly, the grin disappeared from Sir Richard’s face, and he began to work his way to the exit. Jack turned around and saw Elizabeth, standing with a devilish look in her eye and a fruit knife in her hand.

Prudence and the other guests were oblivious to that little scene. By all accounts, the party was a great success. A great amount of champagne was drunk, an even greater amount of money was raised, and everyone was enchanted by Joan Sutherland’s rendition of “Let the Bright Seraphim.”