Andie swept into the shop in Geelong, his coat tails flapping in haste. Preceded by the doorbell, his strident voice demanded Jessie's attention.
"Jess! Where are ye, lass? I've got news!"
"Why whatever's amiss, Andie," she replied, rubbing flour off her hands onto her apron as she turned from the barrel shaped flour bin.
"They're away! It's all set. The Royal Society of Victoria. They're sending a party inland to find a way to the Northern Sea. I just heard about it down at the "Advertiser." It came through on the telegraph machine from Melbourne."
"Andie, Andie. Quieten down or the neighbor's think we're havin' a brawl."
"Och, lassie, it's so excitin'. Imagine trekking all the way from Melbourne right across this huge continent until you get to the Northern Sea. Why that must be well over a thousand miles! What an adventure! Seeing land that no living soul has ventured into before. I just know that 1860 will go down in the history books as the year that Victoria forged a pathway across Australia from South to North."
Andie was leaping around the counters in his joy. Jessie looked at his antics, bemused.
What has got into the man? she thought.
"And that John McDouall Stuart is setting off again as well, from Adelaide. You remember, he tried it early this year but was forced to turn back. Well, he's having another go. And so are we, at Melbourne! And we'll beat him, just you mind my words, lass. That police superintendent... Burke's his name, he's our leader...and they've just set the date for their leaving...twentieth of August..."
"I'm going to talk to Harrison at the paper... get him to send me up to Melbourne to cover the festivities. We must have our own reporter there... can't just leave it to 'The Age' and 'The Argus.' Harrison's got to send me... what a story it'll make."
Jessie looked at him with a smile. Just like a little boy...so excited. Still, the extra money the story would bring in, would be sorely needed as the shop's business had dwindled away with the decline in the gold rushes.
Jane managed to keep half a step behind Hamish as he strode past the clan's family groups, up towards the crown of the hill. He was more intent on getting away from prying eyes at present, but she knew the time would come when he would slow down and expect to walk with his arm around her. Lagging slightly behind would make that move just so much harder for him.
Down in the valley the sun had set, and the crowds were wrapped in shadow, dotted in places with the twinkle of campfires as families set themselves up for the night's festivities. The large bonfire had yet to be given its birth of flame and so it sat in the dark, waiting for life.
On the brow of the hill, the rays of the sun still painted the heather with brush strokes of fire, making it appear as if they were wading through a blazing inferno. Hamish headed towards the old standing stones and as they reached them, the sun dipped below the horizon. A wave of shadow ran towards them and blotted out the ground at their feet, leaving a dark carpet, feebly lit by the red streaked clouds above.
Reaching the largest of the standing stones, he swung around with his back to it, grabbed her wrist and pulled her close to him. His other arm snaked around her, holding her to him. Surprised by his swift move, she stayed against him, her breath panting against his shoulder.
"There now lassie, this spot should be right enough for my purposes," and with this he bent down and tried a rough kiss. She squirmed her head away, saying "Hamish Spittall, what d'ye think ye're doin'? Let me loose."
"Ye seem to ferget who ye're talkin' to, lassie. Just shut yer yap an' we'll get on fine, you an' me. I'm not wantin' anything that'll harm ye." And with this, he bent down to seek her lips again. Crushed up against his jacket as she was, left hand held behind her back by his strong grip, her movements were limited. She squirmed as much as she could, and stamped down hard on his foot. Cursing, he swung her around so she was backed up to the smooth hardness of the rock. He let go of her wrist, but his weight pressing her to the rock kept her arm wedged behind her. His arm came up across her throat and pinned her to the rock, immobile. His mouth met hers and his tongue tried to force an entry through her clenched teeth.
Only a soft moan escaped her body as she fought for a breath. Her right arm flailed at his side to no avail. She felt his hand drop to the front of her skirt and bunch up the rough material. Her legs were bared as he pulled the garment up, carrying his kilt with it. Cold evening air played on her upper thighs and with a shock she realized that she could feel his rod probing at her waist. Keeping her legs tightly together, she wriggled her hand behind her searching for the small dirk she always carried in her waistband. But his pressure was too strong. She had to use cunning against his superior force.
Hamish was groaning with desire now as his tongue forced its way into her mouth. She relaxed her jaws to feign surrender as she felt his hand probing for her sex. He guided himself to the junction of her thighs and started pushing. His hand came up to crush her breast under the rough bodice. She relaxed her mouth even further as his attention moved from pinning her to the rock, to entering her.
Her fingers sought and found the hilt of the small knife and slid it deftly from its sheath. With a quick motion, she edged the blade in between them, just below his scrotum and with a tug, nicked his flesh.
Feeling the sharp unexpected sensation, it took him but a moment to realize that she had cut him. With a yell he stepped back, both hands going to his groin. Looking down, he saw blood trickling through his fingers and stared at it in disbelief, as more threaded its way down his leg. She had only nicked him as a warning, but for a moment he believed she had emasculated him completely.
"There, that might teach ye to keep yer filthy hands to yersel' Hamish," she gasped as she sucked in a lungful of evening air. "I'll not be taken by the likes of ye, that I won't." And with that she ran fleet footed into the gloom, leaving her attacker holding his rapidly shrinking manhood in dismay.
Realizing now the extent of his injury, he took the new white kerchief from his sporran and bound up the wound as best he could, cursing her and spitting oaths as he went.
Jane flew downhill away from him as quickly as her shaky legs could take her, holding her skirts up so they didn't trip her, and looking behind her to make sure he was not following.
Her toe caught on a patch of heath, and she felt herself fly forward before measuring her length on the hillside, the breath knocked out of her in a whoosh.
"Och, what's amiss?" a querulous voice came out of the dark. "Who's that disturbin' an old woman's rest?"
Jane got to her knees and crawled towards the voice. Her breath rasped in her throat as she called softly. "Please help me. I've been attacked by a lout of a man, an' he's probably behind me right now." Her fingers felt the edge of a plaid lying on the ground and she sat back on her heels.
"Come, lass, sit ye doon here, an' he'll think yer one of us," came the old lady's voice again.
"Thank ye kindly, ma'm." Her eyes roved around in the gloom, picking out the shape of an old woman wrapped in the end of the plaid. "But are there no others here?"
"No, lass, my youngsters are all down at the dancin'. If ye lie here next to me, no one'll find ye."
She lay beside the old lady, her heart pounding in her chest. Surely anyone nearby would hear its thumping and the raw rasp of her breathing. Pulling the edge of the plaid over her, she lay still as her ears strained for sounds of pursuit.
In the wooly warm softness between sleeping and waking, Robbie rolled over on the soft mattress of heath beneath his plaid to escape the rays of the morning sun.
He and the rest of the family had found their way back to where Mother Agnes was camped in the wee small hours of the morning, having left the festivities down below in the valley when tiredness overcame the need to socialize. Slightly the worse for drink, they had made much of not wanting to wake Mother Agnes, and has rolled themselves up in their plaids with much 'shush'-ing.
His eyes opened slightly giving him a misty view of brown hair spilling out from the edge of the tartan next to his face. His eyes drooped again while his brain accepted the information.
Something seemed different.
He opened his eyes again as he thought to himself, Mother Agnes's hair is gray. Isabella's hair is russet. But... who's is this?
Oh, God! In the dark, we must have curled up in some other family's spot. Mother Agnes will be furious at being left alone all night. Well, I'll just lie here a wee bit more 'til my head clears, then we must be up and away.
The edge of the tartan dropped away and he found himself only a couple of inches away from a soft face framed by shiny brown waves. The sun's rays were picking out strands of hair straggling across her face. A lock traversed her lips, which pursed and blew softly against it. The sun rose while he stared at this vision, and the shadow's edge dropped to reveal her closed eyes. She blinked twice, the lids still fast shut, then they opened slowly to reveal in close-up the same green eyes he had been taken by, the previous day.
She in return, stared into his face in the half light as she struggled to come back from her land of dreams.
Her eyes opened wide and she sat up suddenly, stifling a harsh intake of breath with her hand.
Robbie sat up as well, his hands combing his hair roughly into place.
"Och, I must apologize to ye, lass. We thought this was our mither's doss here. She must be further on up the hillside. We'll be away about our business as soon as I can rouse the others." And he turned away to shake George into wakefulness.
"Robbie, is that ye?" came his mother's familiar voice from the heap of plaid material behind the young girl.
"Aye, it is," he replied, his jaw slackening in wonder. "If this is our right spot, then who are you, and what are ye doin' here?" he requested of the young lady who had turned away from him and was now hugging the end of the plaid tightly to her body.
Visibly upset by waking to find a male face so close to her after her escape of the previous night, she started to her feet.
"I thank ye for yer hospitality an' I must be away now," she aimed at Mother Agnes, who was surfacing from her tartan cocoon. "Thank ye," and she was off down the hillside as fast as her nimble legs could take her, dodging in and out of the recumbent family groups.
Realizing his mouth was open, Robbie snapped it shut, turned to his mother and croaked, "Och, what was that all about?"
Smoke from the meager campfire wound its way into the morning air, met the roof of the cave and wormed its way along it towards the sun rimmed opening. A black billy sat on a couple of blackened stones above the fire as the melaleuca branches spluttered in flames. The remains of larger logs turned from black to red as the fresh heat renewed its attack on them. A crackle of exploding sap cells was the only sound in the cave.
Small bubbles gathered on the bottom of the billy as the water above them swirled with the currents. John squatted on his heels, watching the water as it came to the boil. He turned his head.
"Ben, are ye goin' to stay in bed all day? Again?"
"Nothin' much else to do, nah, is there me old cock sparrer."
"Ye may be right there, but ye'd not be wantin' to be in bed if the troopers were to come boundin' in, now would ye."
"Cor, you an' yer troopers. Ye're off yer 'ead. They don' know where we is, an' that's supposin' they are still lookin' for us at all. It's been years an' years now we've been 'ere. They 'ave probably forgot all about us, got it?"
"Aye, it's all very well fer ye, all ye did was rob a few tents an' knobble a few diggers outside the liquor tents. Me, I'm wanted fer a killin' I didna commit. There's a difference, ye ken. They never forget a killin'."
A slight rattle of stones outside caught their attention and brought them to their feet. John felt the pain of pins and needles in his legs as the blood forced its way down them again.
The strains of "Annie Laurie" wafted through the air and they relaxed again.
"Kelly's early this week. Must have been doin well, eh?"
"Aye, I suppose," and his eyes squinted through the smoky haze to see the slim form of Kelly coming in, backlit by the morning sun.
"Mornin' all," 'Red' Kelly greeted them. "Are ye out of yer kip yet, old Ben?" as his eyes grew accustomed to the gloom.
"None of yer cheek an' impudence, ye young horse thief, or I'll put yer teeth so far down yer throat ye'll be chewin wi' yer arse," grinned Ben as he pulled on his striped gray trousers. "An' what 'ave ye brought us this fine mornin'?"
"The usual flour, salt, sugar an' tea, an' a slab o' mutton what roamed off its own property, just as I was ridin' past yesterdee."
"That'll do fine, lad. An' what news is there o' the great world outside?"
"Well now," Red replied slyly, "the troopers are still lookin' for anyone who was in the Eureka Rebellion an' askin' questions of all sorts of folk. So ye'll still 'ave to keep yer head down, won't ye. But they're also keepin' a sharp lookout for some scalliwag what's gone an' lifted a couple o' good nags not so far from here. An' more-so 'cause one of 'em belonged to a sergeant o' police."
"Kelly, ye didn't! A sergeant's 'orse? Gord blimey, that's really 'ittin' 'im where 'e lives, ain't it."
"Oh, an' ye'd be after askin' us to mind 'em for ye until ye can find a buyer, no doubt?" John asked.
"One 'and washes the other, as they say. You mind a few 'orses an' cattle for me, I'll supply yer food an' necessaries for as long as is needed, all right?"
"Of course, of course, we don' mind doin' that at all, now do we, Johnny?"
"No, I reckon not. But these troopers now, how far off are they?"
Kelly thought for a split second, his mind spinning up a convincing tale, then smiled.
"Why, I ran into 'em just the other day. They was headin' towards Ballaarat, an asked me if I'd seen anyone matchin' your looks, wanted fer a murder ten year ago. Corse I sez 'no', an' went on me way. So ye'd better make sure as ye keep out o' sight real well. I'll keep nit for ye, as usual."
"Dear Lord. How much longer must we stay in these God-forsaken rocks? Are we to live out the rest of our miserable existences here, an' never see the likes o' people an' towns again? It's too much to bear, entirely." John wailed as he slumped to the ground.
"We're much obliged to ye of course. An' how's yer young family," asked Ben to steer the conversation into safer waters.
"Well, Ellen's had the dreaded lurgie for the past week an' has kept to her bed, so I've had to mind the brats. They're not too bad to look after, 'cept that young Ned. He's got a mind of 'is own, he has. Only five year old, but up to all the skullduggery ye can think of. Why, only yesterday he snuck all the clothes out o' the house afore we woke up, an tried to sell 'em back to us, a penny a piece. The bloody little rogue. Should do well in a few years time, eh. Keep me an' Ellen 'in the manner to which we've been accustomed', orl right."
"Ye never know, 'e might go on to be someone famous," added Ben in an attempt to keep in sweet with their only contact with the outside world.
"More likely a bushranger," muttered John, and saw a wide grin break out on Kelly's face.
It was a short sharp blow, but what it lacked in distance, it made up for in force. Hamish was caught totally unprepared as Robbie's fist pulped his nose, spraying crimson over his cheek and new jacket. His face snapped to the side with the force, and he felt his knees giving in the microseconds before his hands sought the damage. Robbie stood there, wild as a Scottish steer, his breath coming in short pants as he mouthed, "...and that's for wee Jane Young. You keep yer filthy hands off her, d'ye hear. Or next time I wilna' be so forgivin'."
Without looking back, he stormed off. No man should do what Hamish had done. The fabric of the community was fragile and would not stand being torn by such happenings as his mother had related after Jane had decamped so hurriedly. Hardly waiting to buckle his plaid firmly, he had set off towards the main camp, where he knew Hamish would be found.
Flipping his bruised hand to relieve the pain, he strode back up the hill towards his family group. It made no difference to him if Jane preferred the company of other lasses, he assured himself. No woman should have to go through the type of ordeal she had faced.
Looking down at his swollen knuckles, he wondered if he would have any trouble using the saw or drawblade when he returned to work. He knew that the third day was the worst time for bruises or strains and knew he was in for a rough time if the hand was going to hurt more than it did already.
This morning marked the end of the Games, and most families were already starting to pack up their things before heading off to their villages. Some families had walked for three or even four days to be at the Games as the McCubbins had done, so they were eager to be off.
As Robbie approached, Isobel and George were shaking out a plaid and folding it for travel, along with their basic cookware.
"Robbie, find our things and we'll be off," called Mother Agnes. "An' did ye find the friend ye went to say goodbye to?"
"Aye, mither, I caught up wi' him, right enough."
"Fine then. Me feet are killin' me already. An' I'm keen to find out how our Jean is farin'. She is getting' so big with the bairn inside. Meybe Thomas has left a message for us back at Penpont. Come on, now, let's be away."
"Released? What d'ye mean 'released'? D'ye mean ye're sackin' me Mr. McGrath? I thought I was doin' right well here carvin' the finials on these stair posts."
"Aye, lad, that ye are. I've had word from the Factor that your services are no longer required. Not that he said it so politely, mind. But his instructions were clear enough. Ye're to leave the grounds immediately. I'll pay ye up until this afternoon, and I'll slip in another shillin', as ye've done such a fine job an' it'll be hard to find another as good. I canna go against the Factor, d'ye see. Or it'd be my position that would be next to be vacant."
"But what'll I do? Who else around here is in need of such carvin' skills?"
"No one that I ken, laddie. But the Factor surely has it in for ye. Ye must have done somethin' right bad."
"I just taught his son Hamish a lesson his father should have done years ago. Maybe if I go and see him?"
"I wouldna', laddie. His face was as black as thunder when I called on him a while ago. No, best ye just keep low an' let it blow over. He'll have left for the North by now, anyway.
"I might be able to put ye on again in a few weeks if this all goes away. I've always said ye're good wi' yer hands. Maybe too good by the looks of it. But tell me now, why did ye let go wi' such a punch?"
"Och, Hamish did somethin' he shoudna', an' I couldna' let him get away wi' it, for her sake." Realizing he had said too much, Robbie turned away and bent over his leather roll of tools. "Well, if that's the way of it..."
"What an adventure, Mr. Harrison. To be with the Expedition, and be one of the first men to cross Australia. And Geelong has its own member of the Expedition. Edward Mitchell. You will know of him, of course. What a story. What a great item for "The Advertiser." Surely ye can see that for a fact. Not even the Melbourne papers are sending any reporters. We would be the only ones. Come on Mr. Harrison, send me, and you'll never regret it."
"Do you realize just how risky this would be, and you with a wife and child. And anyway, I can't afford it. Why there would be a horse....no...probably two horses, and at least six months food and supplies, a rifle, and God knows what else. And the paper's not selling anywhere near as well as it used to. No, it's out of the question. And anyway, any money I can spare, I need to help build my ice-making machine for ships so we can send meat back home to England. You know, I can feel it in m'bones...I'm so close to makin' it work. And when I do, I'll be rich. Richer than in my wildest dreams. No newspaper for me then, with its long hours and ink black hands. No, I'll be a gentleman of independent means. So, ye see, I can't afford to send you off on such a long quest."
James Harrison's office was a square partitioned off from the main printing works in Malop Street. The partitioning was flimsy and allowed all the sounds from the press room to enter. The new printing press started up with a rattle as they stood facing each other and Andie's disappointed answer was lost in the clatter as it gained pace to print up about a thousand copies in an hour.
Momentarily defeated, Andie dropped the news items about the "Emperor of India" on to Harrison's cluttered desk, scowled in disgust, turned and headed out through the printer workers to the drizzle of the street outside. His cracked leather boots splashed through the muddy potholes as he headed east towards his shop.
Hamish sat gingerly on the stool to prevent the bandage from pressing sorely on his scrotum. His nose was badly bruised, as was his ego. Twirling the white goose feather quill in his fingers, he thought, Oh, if I was only the Factor! If only my father had left me in charge for a few months, instead of only the week it will take him to escort the visiting Shinty team back to their Highlands. What power I would possess. What I could do to that impudent Robert McCubbin.
I would pen a grand decree... like this,
'BY ORDER OF THE FACTOR' he scratched in capitals.
'Robert McCubbin, carpenter, having disobeyed public laws and having foully and cowardly injured a member of the Factor's family and staff, is hereby to be arrested and imprisoned without bail or recourse for a period of twenty years.' and signed it 'Hamish Spittal, for Malcolm Spittal, Factor.'
We'd see who had the last laugh, he thought as he sprinkled sand on the wet ink.
Go on to Chapter Three