‘Pleased to meet ye, Mr Fraser.’
‘And you, sir.’
‘I can’t recall seeing you in Ryan’s Place before.’
‘No,’ Fraser conceded, ‘tonight is the first time, but I’ve been out of the Cove for a little while now. Nearly a year.’
‘And what brings ye here tonight?’
‘Well, if you mean the Cove, then its wool. I’ve got a shipment to send off through the offices of Mr Campbell. But if you mean Ryan’s, well, that’s a good deal harder to explain… I”m not really sure…’ He drifted off, and took another sip of rum, appearing to enter the realms of his thoughts with some measure of disquiet. Momentarily, though, he remembered himself and brightened.
‘And what of you, Mr McInnes,’ he inquired. ‘You seem in fine spirits?’
‘On that score, Mr Fraser, ye’re absolutely right,’ he tapped the rim of his empty glass and looking at Fraser’s indicated that Ryan should see to the stranger.
‘Ye couldn’t have said it better,’ he said, raising his glass again in salute. ‘Fine spirits.’
‘And what brings on this levity?’
‘Two things, sir. Firstly, I have tonight secured perhaps the finest piece for my collection of Antipodean curios,’ he patted the hessian sack, ‘and two days hence I depart for Bonny Scotland by way of Plymouth and London, to sell my collection for,’ he lowered his voice conspiratorially, tilting his head to direct Fraser’s attention to the whalers in the corner, ‘considerably more than I paid for it, to find myself a wife and return to New South Wales a wealthier and more satisfied man!’
Fraser raised his glass in appreciation of McInnes’ fortunes and plans, and they both drank.
‘Curios, you say?’ Fraser asked.
‘Aye, curios of all sorts. Spears and the like from the Cadigal and others besides, some birds, a lizard with a tail the same as its head, the pouch of a kangaroo with a baby inside it.’
‘And this?’ Fraser asked, point at the sack.
Robert looked down, pondering whether he should show Fraser the sack’s contents.
‘Ye ain’t squeamish, are ye?’
Fraser shook his head.
Robert handed him the sack, and the other man looked inside. Clearly, though, he was unprepared for what was in side. He blanched, and covering his mouth with one hand, passed the sack back with the other. From the corner the whalers guffawed.
‘Who…?’ Fraser asked, waving his hand at the sack.
‘No idea. Some Maori savage. See those tattoos, though? Nearly his whole face, should be worth a bob or two. Why, that jade eating I could sell on its own, but the whole package, well…’
‘And people buy these things?’
‘Oh my word! Can’t get enough of them.’
The two men stood there drinking quietly a while.
‘There certainly are some curious things about this country,’ Fraser finally said, apparently as much to himself as to Robert. McInnes wanted to see if his drinking companion might expand on the point. That and, if they were to drink any more together, it was the other man’s turn to buy drinks. Clearly Fraser recognised this and indicated that Ryan should refill their glasses.