Finley, breathing heavily and his shirt soaked with sweat, bounded out of the cottage and ran to the beach. The heavy sand pulled at his boots, slowing his stride and making his lungs heave
with every heated breath. He struggled further down the beach where Barungerin and his people often camped during the hotter months.
Barungerin had been a friend of Finley and Tom’s when they were small boys. He remembered the three of them playing together at the water’s edge. Barungerin had taught them how to catch small
fish with their bare hands and where to look for mussels clinging to the rocks. He remembered cooking them on sticks over a fire and tasting their delicious soft flesh. They’d spent
much time together and learned to speak each other’s language. When Finley was old enough to leave school, his father forbade him to visit Barungerin's camp, telling him that he
was heading on a different path to the blacks.
Rounding the bluffs, he saw smoke ahead on the beach. The frightened face of Kit gave him the determination he needed to run the last mile to their camp. As he approached, four figures
rose from the sand, spears in hand. When he arrived to within hearing distance, he sank to his knees in the sand, bowed his head in exhaustion and gasped Barungerin’s name.
Three men and one woman talked softly amongst themselves before a hand landed on Finley’s shoulder. Finley tried to look up at the owner of a long brown arm that lowered an animal skin pouch in
front of his face, but the sun glared from behind the man’s head. Finley squinted and snatched the pouch. He drank the water, greedily allowing it to pour down the sides of his face as he
tipped it up to the sky. When he lowered the pouch, the arm extended again and took it from him.
“Why are you here?” the man asked in English.
Finley staggered to his feet.
The man, wearing only a possum skin lap-lap over his groin, stood patiently holding his spear. His dark skin was scarred and his arms were adorned with small dots of white paint.
“I came looking for Barungerin. I need his help.”
An old woman approached and shouted at the man.
He turned on her and shouted back, waving his arm at her. She spat at the sand at Finley’s feet and backed away.
“You remember me then?” the man asked.
“Barungerin! I’ve come to ask for your help. You saved a man from snake bite. Is that true?”
“A little girl has been bitten. There’s no time to lose. You must come with me.”
“Why can’t your own people help her?”
“Tom’s there, he’s a doctor now, but he’s not sure he can save her.” He removed his hat and ran the back of his hand across his forehead.
“Why should I go? The white people don’t make me welcome there.”
“She may die if you don’t.”
“Then it will be on your people’s head, not mine.”
“Barungerin. I’m begging you. Do you want me to fall to my knees?"
He stared at Finley before turning and speaking briefly to the people around the fire. He threw his spear into the sand and tied a small skin pouch around his waist before turning to Finley.
“Take me to her.”
The two men ran towards the quarantine station.
Barungerin stopped along the way and gathered the leaves of plants and stuffed them in the pouch.
As they approached the cottage, several men stood in their way.
Barungerin altered his grip on his spear.
“Your kind is not welcome here.” A small Irishman shifted his feet uneasily.
“He’s here to save Clara’s life,” Finley said. “And if any one of you wants to have a go at him, you’ll have to go through me first.” He moved in front of Barungerin.
The men regarded him for a moment, then the Irishman removed his hat and swept it through the air towards the door.
Finley led Barungerin into the cottage and joined Tom and Kit by Clara’s side.
“Barungerin,” Tom said. “Thank you.”
Kit took a step back. She ran her eyes over the man, noting the possum skin wrapped around his groin, the long scars across his chest, arms and legs and his smell – that of a dead animal she
“Kit, this is Barungerin," Tom said. "He’s a Ngangkari – a medicine man. He once saved a man from a snake bite.”
“Saved a man?”
“You can trust him.” Finley placed a hand on Kit’s shoulder.
“I've changed my mind. I don’t want him coming near my daughter.” She stepped in front of Clara’s stretcher.
“You don’t understand. I brought him here because he is the only one who can save her. You have to let him try.”
Her gaze travelled from Finley and Tom to Barungerin, standing calmly as she regarded him. She drew in a breath and stepped aside.
Barungerin lifted the cool damp cloth Tom had placed on the wound. “It might be too late. I can’t promise you nothing.” He drew some of the leaves from the pouch and put them in his mouth. He
chewed them into a poultice then placed it on the wound, pressing it down to form a small, sticky mound. A sour pungency arose, not unlike a mixture of milkweed and damp earth. Afterwards, he
requested a cup of hot water and into this he placed more leaves from his pouch and stirred them thoroughly. He lifted Clara’s head and gently forced some of the liquid between her lips and chanted
some quiet words. He placed the cup on the table next to her stretcher and turned to Tom. “The man I saved, he was much bigger than her. The venom, it took longer to travel around his body. You
know what I’m saying?”
Tom nodded, and touched Clara’s forehead. “You’ve done your best. No one will say the worst of you if you don’t succeed."
“Keep her still, always. If she moves, the venom will move more quickly through her blood.”
“What was it you placed on the wound and gave her to drink?”
“That is black man’s secret. But maybe I show you one day, so you don’t have to send Finley here running after me.” He chuckled and slapped Finley hard on the back. “You wait now. If the medicine
work, the fever should break before nightfall. If it doesn’t . . . ”
“We understand.” Tom walked with Barungerin to the door and waved as he left.
Finley brought a chair for Kit and another for himself. “You don’t mind if I stay, do you?”
"No, of course not.” She placed her hand over his.
Tom returned and cast his eyes away as Kit's fingers curled beneath Finley's hand. His jaw twitched as he clenched his teeth. “Remember to keep her cool and I’ll be back to check on her a
Kit nodded and plunged the cloth into the dish of water beside her and arranged it over Clara’s brow. She stared down on her as she lay silently, her breathing shallow and her face as
pale as Robert’s had been shortly before his death. She drew in her breath and looked to the ceiling, pleading within herself for God to save her remaining child.
Finley rose from his chair and took a Bible from the front table. He returned to place it on the stretcher beside Clara. Kit smiled warmly at him and again took his hand in hers and placed them
beside the book.
Margaret entered the room and rushed over to Kit. “I just heard. How is she?”
“It’s too early to tell. But we’re praying hard for her.”
“Tom has ordered the bushland on the boundary of the quarantine station be made out of bounds and all long grass and low-lying scrub near the tents be cleared immediately.”
Kit barely heard a word she’d said, but nodded just the same.
“I’d better get out there and make sure they do a proper job.” Finley rose from his chair. “But I’ll come back soon.”
“There’s nothing you can do here now,” Kit said. “I’ll send someone to find you if her condition changes.”
“She’s going to pull through. I can feel it.” He grasped Clara’s hand before leaving.
Margaret gently kissed the top of Kit’s head. “If she’s as tough as her mama, and I think she is, she’ll be up and running around again in no time. Now, you need to keep your strength up for when
she does, so I’m going to get you a cup of tea and a piece of bread and jam.”
“No, really. I’m not hungry.”
“I won’t hear another word about it.”
Kit leaned in close to her daughter and whispered. “I remember the day you were born. I’d dreamed what you would look like and when I saw you, you were exactly the same as in my dreams, right down
to your green eyes -- the colour of new leaves on clover. When your papa walked into the room, I’d never seen such a look on his face. I thought he was going to sink to his knees and cry
into his hands." She smiled and pushed a stray hair from Clara's face. "He was head over heels about you the second he saw you. He never felt the same for Robert. I never told you that,
but I’m telling you now, you were his special little girl. If he were here now, he’d be telling you to fight with everything you’ve got. But he’s not, so I must tell you, Clara - don’t let this
take you. Fight, my daughter. Fight.”
The little girl moaned in her sleep and Kit took the cloth from her forehead and rinsed it in the water basin and placed it against her face.
When Finley entered the room several hours later, he held his hat upside down in his hands. He jiggled it and peered down into the crown as he walked towards Kit
.“How is she?”
“Unchanged.” Kit’s head slumped and she placed the palm of her hand to her forehead.
“The people here think a lot of Clara. Take a look at how much I was given when I passed the hat around.”
Kit crossed her brow and beheld the pile of coins resting in the bottom of his hat.
“There must be ten pounds sterling in there.”
“I reckon probably a little more. They want me to go into town and get her anything that you say she needs. Oh, and they want me to tell you they’re all praying for her.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything. Make a list and I’ll be back after I’ve finished work to get what I can.”
“You’ve done so much already, Finley.”
“If I could change places with her I would, but I can’t. But there are things I can and will do.”
“I believe you mean every word of it.”
“Too right I do. Is there anything I can do before I leave?”
“Just keep praying for her, Finley. That’s all I ask.”
He upturned his hat onto the table at Kit’s side, spilling out the coins, before placing it on his head and heading outside. Just as he was about to exit the door, he moved quickly to one side as
Lizzy bounded past, followed by Ginny. They rushed over to stand beside Kit.
“Is she going to be all right, Kit?” Lizzy asked.
“I don’t know."
“But she can’t die.”
“Now, Lizzy,” Ginny said. “Don’t go speaking like that, you’ll be upsetting people by using them words.” She placed a hand on Kit’s arm. “How are you holding up, love?”
“I’m doing the best I can.”
“It’s a horrible thing all of this. Them snakes are plentiful around ‘ere and not a word of warning was any of us given.”
“It wouldn’t have made any difference anyway. Clara is afraid of nothing. She’s just like her papa was, launching herself headlong into any sort of trouble without thinking. She was
chased by a bull when she was just five. Even after Jimmy and I told her a thousand times to keep out of its paddock, she just had to go and pat it.” Kit smiled and grasped her daughter’s hand.
“And she’ll use that same courage to get through this. You mark my words. Now, is there anything I can get for you?”
“No, thank you, Ginny.”
“Well you just give a holler if there’s anything I can do for you at all.”
“I will, and thank you for coming.”
“It wasn’t no trouble. Come along now, Lizzy. Clara needs peace and quiet.”
“I’ll be praying for her, Kit.” Lizzy followed her mother outside.
Kit woke from her vigil beside Clara's bed when she heard footsteps.
Tom leaned over Clara, felt her forehead and lifted the poultice off her wound.
“The fever has broken and there’s no sign of puss in the wound. She’s going to be all right.”
“Are you sure, Tom?”
“As sure as I can be.”
“Oh, my darling.” Kit rose from the chair, threw her arms around her daughter and kissed her cheek. “You’re a strong girl, aren’t you.”
“I’m going to fetch a clean dressing for her wound.”
Kit nodded and stroked Clara’s hair. “We’re going to survive this place. We’re going to build a life here, just you and me, and no one or nothing is ever going to take you away from me.”
Tom returned and removed the poultice from the wound and placed it in a bowl.
“I don’t know what this is, but it has kept the wound from festering.” He placed a piece of gauze over Clara’s ankle and secured it in place with a bandage. “I’ve always wondered how those people
survived out there without modern medicine, but appears they have their ways.”
“I must go and tell Finley.” Kit rose and turned towards Tom. “Will you stay with her?”
Tom nodded. “He’s been like a father to her these past weeks, hasn’t he?”
“I suppose he has in a way. She’s very fond of him, that much I know.”
“And you . . . are you very fond of him too?” He finished securing the gauze and moved around the stretcher to stand beside Kit.
“I don’t know what you're getting at, Tom.”
“I thought it was quite plain. Are you in love with him?”
“I’ll not discuss my feelings of affection with you or anyone. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have that errand to run.”
“I’m sorry, Kit. I didn’t mean to -”
“I don’t know what you meant, and I don’t care to discuss it. My daughter is my only concern right now.”
“Of course." He stepped aside.
Kit collected an oil lamp near the door and stepped from the cottage. She held up the lamp and watched her step on the rough paths the labourers had dug and made her way towards their tents.
Outside the tents she hesitated and thought about what she was doing.
What will people think of me visiting the labourers’ tents at this time of night? They might think I'm plying the same trade as Ginny. I would rather go and live with the blacks than to
have my reputation in ruins.
She was about to turn back when a man gave a small cough behind her. She raised the lamp until it glowed on the fresh, youthful face of one of the labourers.
“Excuse me, ma’am. I hope I didn’t startle you. What are you doing out here after dark?”
“I am here on a very important errand. I have news for Mr. Grant. Is he available?”
“Available? Well, as far as I know he’s not attached, so yeah, I guess he’s available.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it. Watch your manners, young man.”
He straightened himself and nodded. “I will fetch Mr. Grant directly for you, ma’am.”
“Thank you. That would be greatly appreciated.”
The man disappeared inside the tent. Finley appeared a moment later.
“Is there news of Clara?”
“Yes, the fever’s broken and Tom says she’s going to be all right.”
“Oh, Kit.” He took her in his arms. “That is the best news I’ve heard in my entire life.”
She thought about stepping out of his embrace, but was glad to accept his comfort.
“Yes, it is wonderful news. I thought for a while there that I was going to lose her. If it hadn’t been for you fetching the black man, I may well have.”
He released his embrace and placed both hands on the sides of her face and traced the curve of her brow with his thumb then over her velvet-soft lips.
“I would run to the ends of the earth for you and Clara if you asked it of me. Don’t you see? I’ve been in love with you from the moment I saw you.”
“Finley.” She stepped away from him. “I am a new widow. There has not been an appropriate time of mourning. I could not possibly-”
“An appropriate time? How long will that be?”
“You don’t understand.”
“What is there to understand? I want to be with you. Do you want to be with me?”
“Oh, Finley, I am very fond of you, but I can’t even think about such things in this place. I have a daughter to care for and I’m going to start training as a nurse.”
“So, what you’re saying is that you don’t have room for me in your life right now?”
“I suppose that is exactly what I am saying.”
“I will wait.”
He turned and ducked his head under the tent’s entrance and was gone.
Kit lifted her face to the sky and shook her head. She pleaded to the stars. “I don’t know what to do.”
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