“Are you going to tell me now why you were gone for so long or do I have to guess?” Allie asked as soon as they left the tearoom.
Bea took a deep breath and grabbed Allies hand, at the time it had seemed like a good idea. She'd had no arguments from anyone when she'd made the calls now she had to actually tell Allie what she'd done.
“I…I…well…you know…I mean…” Bea stumbled over her words again, she hated how even now that happened when she thought she'd got something wrong. She took another deep breath and started again. “You know what I said about a weekend on Stewart Island? Well I made some calls and it's too late now if you're going to say no.” Allie stopped walking and tugged on Beas hand making her turn to face her. “Well we both have another week off work. I called mum and dad and their going to take the kids home and stay with them.”
“Would you like to run that by me again only slow down a little next time.” Allie laughed. She'd got the gist of it but Bea had said everything so fast she wasn't certain if she'd got parts of what she'd just told her wrong.
“I called Will then I managed to track down the nursing director at the hospital, they both agreed to an extra week although we have to take it unpaid but a week is hardly going to bankrupt us. So I called mum and dad and their more than happy to take the kids home so they won't miss school for longer than is necessary. And before you say anything mum's going to call Franky so she can meet them at home with the spare keys. If you're going to be angry with me it's…well it too late because I've already done it so you'll just have to get it over with and shout at me now.” Bea quickly turned away although she didn't let go of Allies hand. There was a chance she'd be angry, every chance she might storm off but in a town the size of Alexandra she couldn't wander too far.
“Why would I be angry with you for that?” Allie asked as she let go of her hand and stepped in front of her. “Hey look at me, I think maybe this trip could have been planned a little better but I'm not angry.”
“No?” Bea almost whispered as she looked up.
“No.” Allie chuckled. “But you said you had everything under control and besides the deal was that I planned the wedding, everything else was up to you. I surprised you and you've more than surprised me so how can I be angry at you for that?”
“Right.” Bea smiled. “So shall we just find the museum or would you rather do something else?”
Allie took hold of Beas hand again. “Lead the way, babe.”
They easily found the museum in the small town, to Beas surprise it had changed a lot if the outside was anything to judge it by. The new sign said it was now a museum and art gallery. She was sure Allie was going to regret wanting to follow her here but she didn't say anything if she did. The museum housed an audio-visual display of Central Otago's gold mining geological, agricultural and social history and they spent a long time looking at the mining exhibits. Bea had remembered them mainly being photographs but like the outside of the museum a lot had changed. There were many more exhibits than there were the last time she'd visited dragging Franky along with her. Allie found the geology exhibit fascinating. She spent longer than Bea had imagined she would looking at all the gold mining artefacts and asked a lot of questions about gold dredging when she spotted a member of staff. Finding a working model dredge was defiantly something that interested them both. They both agreed that if they hadn't been keen on the idea before seeing the exhibit they were even less enthusiastic about trying their luck afterwards. The old gold diggers looked like a tough bunch and the job looked even tougher. Allie had been right wading around in freezing cold water was not a good idea.
They both enjoyed looking at everything about the history of the town before they moved onto the art exhibition space. It held a mixture of painting and sculptures by local artists, it reminded Allie of being back in Dunedin just in a less grander space than the train station. It was never about the art for Allie, her greatest guilty pleasure was always watching Bea. They stopped at one painting and Beas smile looked as if she were waiting for something good to happen in the next few seconds. Stopping to look at another Allie saw something flash beneath the surface of her hardened expression. She must have blinked and missed the change because the emotion seemed to have disappeared from her face before she even had time to identify it. It reminded her of reaching for an escaping balloon before the wind pushed it away and it was gone forever. When they moved onto one of the sculptures Beas facial expression was lacking all of its usual liveliness completely, as if she'd left all her usual spirit behind in their sleeping bag. Her eyelids dropped a little and there was a slight lolling to her head. The last painting they came to before moving on to an exhibition Bea was eager to see left her expression looking like a blank sheet of paper. She could have been in a coma Allie decided for all the life her face was showing.
There was a distinct hint of the smile of victory as they moved onto the Dick Frizzle exhibition and it had Beas eyes popping with delight as they moved around. Allie would always love it when Bea told her about what she knew best and it seemed to her that she knew a great deal about this particular artist.
“His work is best described as pop.” Bea started telling Allie who just listened because they both knew she didn't know a great deal about art. “I mean it's a mixture of Maori art and iconography, a lot of people find his cartoonish painting and lithographs offensive and I suppose you might be one of them.” Bea laughed lightly as she watched Allie closely as her eyes wandered over the picture in front of them. “As you can see he doesn't stay with just one particular style and he does often adopt an unfashionable painting style. I doubt you'll have seen it but he's the one who was responsible for the lithograph Mickey to Tiki.” Bea pulled her phone out when she watched Allie start to look puzzled. “Here look.” She passed her phone over showing Allie the picture of Micky Mouse changing in stages to a tiki. “It's a best selling print in New Zealand. Mum and dad went to the exhibition at Gow Langsford Gallery in Auckland when it first opened. There was a lot of controversy over it at the time, I don't think many people were impressed with his reworking of the tiki image to resemble other subjects.”
Allie passed Bea her phone back. “Like what?”
Bea thought for a few moments. “Casper the friendly ghost and a Picasso abstract to name a couple.”
“Hmmmm…sounds a little strange I guess.”
“This place has changed a lot since I was last here, I can safely say we wouldn't find anything like this back in Christchurch. Hey I bet even Franky wouldn't object to coming here now.”
As they walked back out of the museum Bea wasn't quite ready to leave Alexandra behind. There was something else she wanted Allie to see she just wasn't sure she'd be up for the walk. She'd gladly drive through the night if Allie would agree to taking the short and rather steep walk she had in mind.
“We aren't leaving are we? I mean since you were so sneaky and I've got you all to myself for the next…what nine days shall we stay here tonight?” Allie looked hopefully back at Bea, she'd spotted a small hotel as they'd walked to the museum.
“If that's what you want. Shall we walk back to that hotel and find out if they have any vacancies?” Bea asked and Allie nodded enthusiastically. They had just turned around when an idea hit Bea, the small place they'd passed didn't look like anything like it would be luxurious. “Wait!” Bea stopped them both dead in their tracks as she pulled out her phone. She knew a much better place where they could stay that was only a few minutes away in Clyde. ‘Of course they have rooms available.’ Bea thought as she smiled at her phone, Allie just remained quiet knowing that she was up to something again. “We have a much better room for the night now.” Bea grinned. She'd tell her that they were staying for two nights later. A little longer break meant she had the luxury of spoiling Allie more. She'd regretted her idea of borrowing the van after the first night, she knew Allie wasn't into that kind of thing. She was going along with it for her but she wouldn't really enjoy it. She'd already had another idea but she'd have to look into that when Allie was distracted. Another idea hit her when Allie started to speak again.
“I have a question, you do have a key for your parents house don't you? I mean most of our stuff is still there.” Allie asked, it hadn't been something she'd thought about when Bea had first dropped her bombshell on her. Any extra time that just involved the two of them was more than welcome even if she was missing Debbie and Shane.
“Relax, mum said she'd leave a spare with their neighbour. Now how do you feel about a walk up to the Alexandra clock?”
“How far is it to where we're staying and how long is the walk? Not that I don't want to but we can see it from here.” Allie pointed out the huge clock that could be seen from all over the small town.
“You're so hard to please sometimes do you know that? It's about five minutes away in the van over in Clyde. And in all honesty I'm not sure how long the walk up to the clock is it's just a little steep. There are some fantastic views…” Bea tried to give her a little encouragement, Allie had loved the views around the island so far, a few more might be tempting.
Allie looked a little sceptical, steep walks were never her thing no matter how short, all Bea could do was cross her fingers. “Alright you talked me into it but only because I trust that wherever we're spending the night will make up for it.”
Bea knew it was a short but steep walk up the hill to the iconic clock and Allie had agreed to do it with her. They made the short walk over to Kerry Street where the shaky bridge was. Allie turned a little pale when she first saw the old suspension bridge that was a relic from the gold mining era of the area.
“It's not as bad as looks.” Bea tried to reassure her as they stopped by the information board. She knew she was a little nervous as she held onto her hand a little tighter while Allie stalled for time by reading what the board said. “You know I could have told you everything that's written on there.” She chuckled.
“Is that true?” Allie asked.
“Which part? When it was opened or about it costing almost two thousand dollars to build and then being sold for two dollars?”
Allie just shook her head, if Bea was asking it made sense that it was all probably true and she turned her attention back towards the bridge. If you asked Allie it didn't look exactly safe not to mention it's name, that hardly filled her with any confidence.
“It is safe.” Bea told her as they made their way closer. “I know it's an extremely old suspension bridge that's been around for more years than it was probably intended to last. Look at it this way if it was able to handle horses and wagons crossing it back in the gold rush days I'm sure it can handle a couple more people crossing it. I'll be right here and do you really want to miss the views down the Manuherikia River and the gorge below it?”
Allie didn't want to miss anything but it wasn't just the bridge that made her a little fearful. The name of the road they would be crossing over to wasn't the best for filling an already nervous person with much confidence. ‘Graveyard Gully Road,’ Allie thought sounded like it was giving up more secrets from its past. It was a landmark though and she knew Bea would never leave her to cross it alone. There was only one thing for it, suck it up and hope for the best possible outcome. Bea had never put her in any danger before why should this time be any different? The bridge, just as Allie had guessed, did shake and rock as they walked across it. She was a little happier when Bea pointed out that the river running below them was an excellent swimming spot in the summer. At least her continuing to talk to her helped take her mind off what was happening on the bridge. “It's a great source of entertainment watching the locals jump off the bridge into the river.” Bea laughed as they neared the other side of it.
It felt to Allie as if they'd been walking for hours already as they passed alongside the vineyard that was at the foot of the hill track that lead up to the clock. The further they walked it climbed steeply and the track was rocky and uneven all the way up to the eleven meter wide clock. Bea attempted to take her mind off the rough terrain by telling her as much as she could remember about it. How it's components had been installed by volunteers, that it's mechanism had been upgraded several times over the years so that it would always keep time reliably. “At Easter they have an illuminated cross placed on one of the nearby hillsides.” Bea finally told her as they reached the clock. She might not have enjoyed the walk up to it but was pleased that she'd agreed to tackle it when she turned around and took in the panoramic views of Alexandra and the countryside that surrounded it. The view was definitely a reward after putting in all the effort of getting up there. Every mountain range in the area could be seen from their position, the Old Man Range, Bea told her extended fifty kilometres from the Fraser River to the Umbrella Mountains. She pointed out the Hawkdun Range with its characteristic appearance, it was very long, almost completely flat and looked smooth. “It also stretches for approximately fifty kilometres but in a slightly southeastern direction and it's aligned with St. Bathans Range.”
“You should have reminded me to bring the camera with us.” Allie grumbled after taking more than a few photographs on her phone. “You know…” Allie snaked her arms around Beas waist pulling her in close. “If you ever get tired of being a detective I think you'd make an excellent tour guide. It amazes me that no matter where we go you know so much.”
“Maybe, I didn't want to be carrying too much around with us. And you know you have dad to blame really, we went everywhere and anywhere while I was growing up. I always just wanted to know more and more, guess I never forget anything.” As they'd walked back down Bea was regretting even more her decision to borrow the van. It could easily be rectified she decided, a few phone calls the next morning should easily work things out.
The drive over to Clyde was a rather short one, Allie gasped when Bea pulled the van over outside Olivers Central Otago Lodge and Stables.
“We're staying here?”
“Yes, from now on it's only the best for you. I think I've tortured you enough.”
As they got out of the van Allie had a quick glance around their new surroundings. It looked like a really pretty town, very small and had an undiscovered feel about it. She knew this was the kind of place that they would both enjoy wandering around if they had the time. Maybe Bea would want to leave early the next morning. Just because she didn't seem to want them to sleep in the van again Allie still had no idea what Bea had actually planned.
As they walked inside they were greeted by David and Andrea who owned the place. Just like the last bed and breakfast they had stayed in it had been sensitively restored from what they had already seen. Bea got them checked in before finally admitting to Allie that they would be staying for two nights. David showed them around the restored buildings, the elegant homestead, the old store, coach sheds, stables and barns. He then walked them through the landscaped courtyard and gardens before showing them to their room. The whole place was a dream experience for Allie and Bea knew that. Nothing would ever be too good for her and after their time spent in the van without her complaining she wanted to take her somewhere really special.
“Here we are ladies, The Naylor Room.” David smiled as he handed the key to Allie after he unlocked the door. “This room is dedicated to Benjamin Naylor who arrived here in Clyde in 1862 at the time of the gold rush. He was responsible for building the old homestead, barn and the stables. He also built the New Victoria General store. If you need anything just give one of us a yell.” He quickly made his exit as Allie pushed open the door.
Allie walked in first and a slow slightly shaky smile started to build as she looked around her new surroundings in amazement. Bea certainly knew how to surprise her with very little effort. Bea stepped in behind her and looked around. Their room was defiantly a testament to the principles of timeless design and it spoke volumes about the concept of less is more, this was truly a restful and uncluttered bedroom space. It was elegantly furnished with handmade furniture in an Art Deco style. She glanced up at the ornate plaster ceiling above them. The geometric design incorporated an intricate leaf, flower and vine design. The Art Deco fireplace and hearth was covered in ivory mottled tiles and had curved features, adding to the character of the room.
“I know what you're thinking.” Bea mumbled when Allie hadn't said a word as she walked over to the large bay window.
Allie turned around and raised an eyebrow at her. “And exactly what is it you think I'm thinking?”
Bea looked away for a few seconds, they were standing in some of the most historic accommodation in New Zealand, not to mention some of the most expensive. Turning her head back to face Allie she shrugged slightly. “You're thinking that this is too much, too good for you and you're wrong. I was wrong to think that dragging you around the island in a beat up old van was what you deserved…this…” She stepped closer to Allie and slid her arms around her waist. “All this is what you deserve…this is what I should have organised if I'd have engaged my brain a little more. You gave me something so special that it still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it. You gave Debbie and Shane something special because you included them. I included them when we were with mum and dad but now I realise that what I've been giving you wasn't special, memorable probably but not for the reasons I want it to be memorable.”
“You are without any shadow of a doubt the craziest person I've ever met.” Allie whispered against Beas ear as she leaned in closer. “Everything we've done has been special to me because you're here with me.” She pulled back. “Now if there's no bath in that bathroom I'm going to be pissed.” She giggled.
Bea laughed and released her arms taking Allie by the hand and leading her over to a contemporary bathroom that contained a claw foot bath. “It was worth paying for this room just to see your face. Something tells me I might have to do some serious remodelling of ours when we get home. Did I also mention that we have private access to the gardens?”
“Hmmmm.” Allie hummed as she walked back out of the bathroom and headed for the super king size bed that looked like a snow drift, all white and feathery, because of the high quality bed linen it was covered in. “Everything is just so lovely, all warm and inviting. And this bed looks very comfortable.” She sat down on it looking at Bea as seriously as she could. “If you have anymore surprises planned though I'd appreciate it if you'd just tell me now.”
“I'm getting rid of the van.” Bea blurted out as she crossed the room. “I need to make a couple more calls, first though I think I should take you for dinner because I'm sure any minute you're going to tell me you're starving.”
“Yeah!” Allie chuckled. “You are a mind reader.”
Twenty minutes later they were sitting in Olivers Restaurant glancing at each other over the menus.
Allie had been trying to continue fishing for Beas plans, getting rid of the van didn't seem as if it would be easy after all they were miles from Christchurch.
“Are you planning to drive all the way back?” She asked as she lowered the menu she was holding.
“Nope.” Bea smiled her face still obscured by a menu.
“Then how can we get rid of it? Your dads friend lives back in Christchurch, he's hardly likely to come all this way to get it. And if you get rid of it are we going to walk because we'll need longer than nine days to do that.” Allie continued to question her.
“I'm…we're…” Bea thought about what to say without giving the game away. Allie always claimed to hate surprises, it hadn't seemed that way earlier when they arrived in Clyde and she'd seen where they were staying. She lowered the menu mirroring Allies position. Her face hardened a little before Allie tilted her head a little. “I'm just…” Bea took a breath. “Can you just trust me? You know I'd never let you try walking that far.”
Allie nodded, pushing any further probably wouldn't get her any answers. A few moments of silence passed between them as they looked back at their menus finally deciding that the house baked mini grain sourdough loaf with a selection of dips sounded perfect. They fell into a comfortable silence again until their starter arrived.
“Why have we never had anything like this before?” Allie asked as she dipped some bread in one of the dips and fed it Bea.
“Don't remember ever seeing anything like this on a menu before.” Bea answered because to the best of her knowledge she didn't remember it ever being an option.
“Do you want to go for a walk around town or just go back to our room?” Bea asked after she'd paid the bill without any complaint from Allie.
They both knew nothing would be open but a slow walk before calling it a day wasn't a bad idea. They took their time walking down one side of the main street and then back up the other deciding as they went what shops Allie wanted to have a better look around when they were open.
“Clyde used to be called Dunstan.” Bea suddenly pulled that fact from out of nowhere earning her a questioning look as they walked back to their room. “Because it's so close to the Dunstan Mountains.” She added.
“Now if I could just get what I really want to know out of you that easily my life would be so much simpler.” Allie laughed as she slipped the key in the lock.