Book by: Miranda J Taylor
Genre: Historical Fiction
The Police Sergeant
The next morning, a small crowd gathered at the southern end of the quarantine station. Three uniformed men sat on horseback. One of them addressed the crowd. As Kit neared on her way to the cottage, she stared curiously at the policeman. His neat black beard rimmed his jaw and chin and tapered neatly beneath his ears, reminding her of Father Dixon. But this man’s face was not soft and fleshy, but long and stern. His dark eyes ran steadily over the crowd. His hands clenched either end of a truncheon with one end resting on his shoulder, as though displaying his intention to use it.
“We will see order and adherence to the laws of the Colony of Victoria in this place,” he shouted. “Anyone who steps out of line will be punished. There is no special consideration because you are in quarantine. In return for your compliance, we will protect you from one and all, including bushrangers and native troublemakers.”
The other two mounted policemen sat quietly in a subordinate position slightly to the rear of their sergeant. They too, cast their eyes over the crowd, peering sternly into the faces of the men.
“We need fit and able men to assist in the erection of our houses," the sergeant said. "Each man will be paid two shillings per diem. Raise your hand if you so wish.”
Some men raised their hands immediately, while others spoke amongst themselves and peeled away from the others, uninterested in the task.
“Follow me,” said the sergeant. He pulled on the reins and turned his horse to the rear.
Margaret spotted Kit and moved from the front of the dispersing crowd to stand by her. “I don’t like the look of that sergeant," she told Kit.
“Neither do I. He looks like he just rode out of the flames of hell.”
“I don’t feel any safer with him at the station. I think I’d rather take my chances with the bushrangers and the blacks.”
“Well, looks can be deceiving. We shouldn’t judge him so quickly.” Kit stared at the back of the sergeant.
“Right you are. I’ll give him the same amount of time I give most men before I lay judgement on them: a day or two.”
The two women giggled, linked arms, and walked to the cottage.
Tom stood by Clara’s stretcher. His hand rested on her back to support her as she sipped water from a cup.
“Clara!” Kit said. She hurried to her daughter’s side.
“Mama!” Clara held out her arms to receive her.
Kit hugged her and stroked her long hair. “You gave me a deathly fright young lady. Don’t you ever do that to me again.”
“I won’t, Mama.”
“I know you won’t, my darling. I’ve been so worried about you.”
Clara grinned at Tom. “Tom says I’m going to be fine.”
“You can see for yourself,” he said.
“And the wound?” Kit asked.
Tom bent over Clara and removed the dressing from the wound.
“It’s not even inflamed,” Kit said.
Tom stood back, as though admiring a painting. “I couldn’t have treated it any better myself.”
“How much longer will she be here?”
“I’d like to keep an eye on her for another night. You can collect her tomorrow morning.”
“I want to help Finley today,” Clara said.
“Not today, Clara. You heard Tom - you need more rest.”
“All right, Mama.”
After staying with Clara for a few hours, Kit left to ask a favour of Finley. She wished she did not have to see him so soon following their last conversation, but he was the only one she could rely on to help.
She visited the quarry and found him standing in front of a wheelbarrow load of rocks. He bent his back and gripped the wooden handles, lifting the heavy load. She watched closely as the weight caused the muscles in his arms to bulge beneath his tanned skin. As he turned towards her, her eye was drawn to the smooth skin visible between his open shirt. The sweat shone on his skin and ran in droplets down to the tight muscles of his stomach. When his eye caught hers, he lowered the wheelbarrow to the ground and walked towards her.
Kit’s ears warmed and she bowed her head to hide her flushed face.
“Is Clara all right?” he asked.
“Yes, she is just fine.”
“Would it be all right if I visited her during lunch?”
“Yes, yes of course you can. She’d be more than glad to see you. I’m here on another matter. I need your help.” She lifted her head.
“You know I will help if I can.”
“I want to take some stores to the blacks who live with Barun. . . Barung -”
“Barungerin is his name.”
“Yes, to Barungerin.”
“And you want me to take them because you can’t leave the station. Is that it?”
He removed his hat and ran his fingers through his dark hair. It fell back over his ears and the ends bent upwards at his shirt collar. He peered at her as he always did, from under his brow, still feeling his way around her. He ran two fingers over the ends of the neat moustache on either side of his mouth and replaced his hat.
“In return for your assistance, I’ll cut your hair and give you a shave, if you wish.”
His hand dropped to his waist.
“Are you saying you don't like the way I look, Kit?”
“I'm not saying that at all. But shorter hair would keep you cooler in this heat.”
He placed a hand on his hip and turned his head to the side. He stared unfocused into the distance.
“Well, I guess I can’t pass up the attentions from a pretty lady, and Barungerin and his people would be grateful for the stores. Billy Chan, the cook, would let me buy them from him. He’s resupplied often enough.”
“Wonderful. When will you be able to get away?”
He turned back to face her.
“Just after supper.”
“I’ll meet you at your tent, with money to purchase the stores.”
“I’ll see you then.”
He winked at her before turning his back to return to his work.
She watched his tall slim figure walk from her before leaving. She was just about to step onto the path leading to the cottage when a man emerged from behind the lime kiln and blocked her way. She recognised him immediately. He was the police sergeant from earlier in the morning.
“A beautiful day, isn’t it, ma’am?
“Yes, it is.”
She moved to step around him. He straddled his legs across the path.
“Where are you going in such a hurry?”
“I work at the cottage, tending to the sick.”
“What, a bunch of lazy Italians and Irish riff-raff? They’re worse than the blacks.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Anyone who is ill deserves to be treated with kindness, Sergeant.”
“In my experience, if you show those people kindness, they’ll have their hand on your breast wallet and your wife in their bed before you know it.”
“I’ve found the people on this station to be most agreeable.”
“Well, you’re a pretty lady ain’t you? Of course the men are going to be good to you, because they want something in return.”
“On that, we must agree to differ, Sergeant.”
"There’s nothing for the likes of you in this place. Me, I came over here for nothing else but the gold. I got free passage for promising to spend three years in the service of His Majesty’s police force; not a bad trade." He thrust a thumb behind his belt. "Even though I’ve worked my way up to the rank of sergeant, I’m leaving the police and going off to the goldfields in ten months.” He drew a pipe from the belt, placed the end in his mouth and spoke through clenched teeth. "That's if those lousy Chinese haven't dug every damn piece if it out of the ground by then."
“I have sick people needing my attention, Sergeant. So unless you have a matter you wish to discuss with me, I ask you to kindly get out of my way.”
“I was only trying to make conversation with you. There’s no harm in that now, is there?”
He stepped aside and swept his arm through the air.
Kit glared into his hard, dark eyes. She moved past him and continued on her way.
“I’ll be seeing you around then, Missus.”
Kit felt a cold chill run through her at his words. She didn’t turn around but quickened her step.
© Copyright 2023 Miranda J Taylor. All rights reserved.
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Another very good chapter. Well-written, and a harbinger of future tensions. Kit's empathy is pleasing to see, especially against the backdrop of the villain with the sergeant's stripes.
The ethnic tensions you've described here are spot-on, as is the aggressive machismo displayed by the sergeant. Men of the 19th Century were encouraged in their aggression by a combination of hostility from other men, military backgrounds (which most men had), and the rapidly-changing social mores of Victorian society.
Social scientist Eric Hoffer postulated that the frontier areas such as Australia, the American West, Asia and South America were magnets for outcasts, and misfits. Hoffer stated that after reading descriptions of frontiersmen, scouts, gold miners, he believed most of them would be judged as criminals or slightly insane. He believed frontiers acted as "a pressure release valve", encouraging the disaffected who couldn't get along anywhere else to move out.
As H.L. Mencken later wrote, "The frontier was tamed not by bold heroes, but by unhung murderers, grifters, and a variety of rascals such as you might find in a city lockup." Your sergeant certainly fits the bill.
Thank you for your review and the great information.
I learned about the ethnic tensions from the amazing story of the infamous bushranger, Ned Kelly. The English disliked and mistrusted the Irish and vice versa. Ned is a very divisive figure in Australian history with some believing him a hero and others nothing more than a thief and a murderer. If you don't know the story of The Kelly Gang, it's well worth a little research. It's like something out of a story book.
So she wants Finley to go instead of her. He might want her reconsider that. You have lovely descriptions through out this chapter, the policeman on horse back, Finley at the quarry but the dialogue could be a little less informative and spoken with more zest. I mean there is tension between Findley and Kit, slip it in the dialogue. And I'm still looking for such careful attention to Clara's appearance and character reveals.
What was Finley's wink for? didn't get that.
Thank you for your review and again, excellent suggestions. Kit asks Finley to deliver the stores because the tribe is outside the quarantine station and Kit is unable to go there. The wink was just a friendly one, but now that I've read back on it, I'll remove it. Australians often give a wink when they've made arrangements to meet up with someone - it's like an I've understood and you can count on me wink.
Hey, Miranda. That police sergeant is like an ice berg. You run into him and DOWN you go! My guess is that he will try to secretly attack Kit, but Finley's radar will working...
You're keeping this story very lively! It's fun to read :-)
Glad Clara's alright. I kind of fig. she would be.