Marathon Downs shed was the happiest of sheds because Gretchen Schillingberg was cook-ing for it. Gretchen had learnt to cook in the kitchen of Frau Kochenweg who cooked for Herr Sandenberg and his wife, the odious Vil-lafrau of Gluckmutter. Frau Kochenweg was a genius whose ability to enhance food to the realms of cuisine was never compromised and she’d taken Gretchen, the humble and perse-cuted laundry maid at the villa, under her wing and passed on to her everything she knew about the serving of excellent meals.
Thus, nothing that Gretchen cooked was run of the mill. Tough old mutton turned mouth wa-teringly tender in her stews and chops dressed in new egg and bread crumb garments would have been at home in the palace of a king. The pies and pasties and roast meats and vegetables that emerged from her oven would have de-lighted Queen Victoria and her consort.
Rarely, however, does anyone get a free run through the leafy avenues of fortune and Rob-ert Burns got it right when he proclaimed that the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. So it was that the second last evening meal that Gretchen served up for the shed seemed to stray from the well- established path of excellence she had demonstrated. Gretchen was entirely satisfied with the meal she’d pre-pared so she was quite unprepared for the fla-grant condemnation that followed its consump-tion.
A horseman came galloping across the paddock through the fading twilight and flung himself from his horse at the door of the Schillingberg cottage. Georg, responding to the commotion outside, opened the door to a burst of invective from Scotty the shepherd.
‘You bastard! You’ve poisoned Cedric with your fancy bloody meal. He’s vomiting his guts out and he can’t stop! We’ve got to get him in to the hospital.’
‘What! I poisoned Wilden! You’re crazy,’ Georg shouted his response.
‘I’m telling you he vomited up the dinner he had down at the shearing shed and he’s in a bad way.’
‘He’s eaten something that didn’t agree with him, but he didn’t get it down at the shearing shed. We all had the same meal down there and none of us are sick.’
Gretchen intervened then. She was standing be-side Georg and her body was trembling reacting to the thought that she could have been negli-gent, but she managed a reasoned response that focused fully on Mr Wilden’s condition.
‘This is serious, Georg, and it’s not the time to be sorting out who’s to blame. Mr Wilden could be critically ill if it’s food poisoning. We have to work out how to treat it. You’ll never get him in to the hospital tonight.’
‘I know what food poisoning is,’ Georg said. ‘I had it in Bismarck's army when something poi-sonous got into the stew while we were living off the land.’
Gretchen got in quickly with a question before Georg went on to mention the number who died. Scotty was upset enough without any con-firmation of certain death.
‘Yes Georg, but how did the army doctor treat food poisoning?’
‘We had to drink plenty of water. Lots and lots of water we drank.’
‘That’s what Mr Wilden needs, lots of water, and, Scotty, is he in pain?’
‘Terrible pain in the stomach and he’s got a splitting headache,’ Scotty said.
‘Codeine tablets. I’ll give him codeine tablets,’ Gretchen responded. ‘Doctor Fraser prescribed them for seasickness on the ship. He said they wouldn’t cure seasickness, but they’d relieve the discomfort that came with it.’
Gretchen lost no time getting to the sick room, riding behind Georg on his horse. Scotty had put aside his former belligerence as he pinned his hope on the treatment that Georg and Gretchen had talked about. He took the jug of water from the kitchen table as they hurried through and handed it and Cedric’s pannikin to Gretchen so that she could begin the treatment.
Cedric Wilden was just semiconscious as he writhed and groaned in his bed, but she man-aged to get him to swallow the water. He brought it up again almost immediately and Gretchen assuming that the body was washing out the toxin followed up with another pannikin to be swallowed.
‘Georg,’ she said, ‘this is very unpleasant to watch and there’s no need for you to be here. It’s much more important for you to be check-ing everyone in the shearing team to make sure that nobody else has been poisoned by my cooking.’
‘Nobody was poisoned by your cooking, Gretchen,’ Georg said.
‘Cedric obviously was,’ Scotty spat back, ‘and who knows who else.’
Scotty strode out of the room saying as he went, ‘I’ll get Cedric’s water bag. If he’s got to drink water, he’d much prefer it from his own water bag.’
Georg was furious with Scotty for his continuing certainty that Gretchen was to blame.
‘I’ll check the rest of the shed,’ he said ’and I’ll find that nobody else was poisoned. Wilden was, but it didn’t come from your cooking, Gretchen.
‘Thank you, Georg. I can only hope and pray that you’re right,’ Gretchen said as she raised another pannikin of water to Wilden’s lips.
As Georg walked through the house to the back door his mind was busy recycling the words of his army doctor back in Holstein. He’d drilled it into the minds of the soldiers that they were to drink only running water and swamp water was to be treated like the poison that it was and even well water was to be boiled if there was a lot of sickness around. The army doctor told them about Doctor Snow in London who was fighting a cholera epidemic back in the 1850’s. He’d discovered that all of his cholera patients had drunk water from a certain pump in Soho. Doctor Snow investigated the pump and dis-covered that its water source was contaminated by a nearby cesspool. He had a lot of trouble getting the authorities to close the pump down because the water from it tasted no different from any other pump water, but eventually they did close it and the cholera epidemic ceased abruptly. The army doctor had finished his little talk by saying that water can look clear and it can taste sweet and it can quench your thirst, but it still can’t be trusted.
‘Like the water in Wilden’s water bag!’ Georg cried out and he turned and raced back to the sick room.
Scotty was pouring water from a waterbag into a pannikin. Georg knocked the pannikin off the bedside table and snatched the waterbag from Scotty’s hands.
Dappled Sunshine begins with Gretchen Schillingberg reminiscing over the family’s journey from Townsville to Marathon Station near Aramac and agonizing over the disappearance of the Aboriginal girl, Bindi whom they’d befriended on the journey.
Gretchen’s husband, Georg is turning his dream of building fine buildings into a reality with the near completion of the new Marathon homestead. Gretchen’s dream of being a cordon bleu cook in their own inn also seems to get off the ground when she’s asked to cook for the shearers, but her dream comes crashing down when the unpopular station Manager is poisoned, presumably by a meal she has cooked.
With the Marathon homestead built, the family moves to Aramac where Georg has no trouble getting building work, but it’s the friendship that the Schillingbergs develop with the school teacher, Jerry Pershouse, that threatens Georg’s future in the town. Why is the building project, that Georg undertakes for Jerry, so toxic for so many in the community?
Gretchen opens a café in Aramac and woos the town with her cooking, and all the Schillingberg projects including their newly built Wayside Inn promise prosperity for everyone in the now the extended family.
Days before the grand opening of the Wayside Inn, however, history deals them a malevolent hand that could see the Inn destroyed or at least, boycotted in anger.
Will the Schillingbergs emerge triumphant from this last deep shadow?
About the Author
Neill Florence is a former high school principal and English teacher in Queensland. In retirement he has written eight novels, four of which have been published. The Schillinberg trilogy, a fictional story, emerged from a set of letters that were written by members of his wife’s family in Germany to family members who had migrated to Queensland in 1883. Neill and his wife, Ellen, live in the Compton Gardens Retirement Community at Aspley in Brisbane.