The Queen's Constabulary
During the night Ginny roused from her sleep, often calling for help and lifting her arm in defence against a phantom attacker. Kit whispered her stories remembered from favourite childhood
books and held Ginny's hand until she again fell asleep. As the rising sun cast a yellow light on the side of the tent, a dark figure appeared on the other side, startling Kit.
Finley called softly and she moved outside to greet him.
“I've just heard what happened to Ginny. Is she all right?”
“It’s going to take some time, but she’s going to be fine. How did you find out?”
“Tom told me. He wants me to watch out for you and Clara until they find out who did it.”
“That makes sense. I’m Tom’s nurse, that’s why he’s concerned. Who else is he going to get to look after the sick?”
“I thought it was more than that.”
“If this happened to her it could happen to any unaccompanied woman. I have a hunting knife in my tent. I think you should consider carrying -"
"Finley." She rested a hand on his arm and smiled. "I appreciate your offer, but I can look after myself. Did Tom report the assault to the police?"
“He did and they want to talk with Ginny as soon as she’s able.”
“That won’t be until at least tomorrow.”
Finley removed his hat and drew a hand across his forehead. “I’ll ask around and see if anyone saw or heard anything last night.”
Kit arched her back and sighed. “That would be of great help.”
He waved his hat at her. “From now on, if you leave the cottage after dark, I want you to return to your tent in the company of another. Do you understand me?”
“I can look after myself, Finley.”
“I know you can, but there’s no harm in being careful.”
“I’ll give it some thought.” She yawned. “Today though, I’ll be staying with Ginny all day.”
“Let me know if you need anything.”
“I will, and thank you.”
Late in the morning Tom came to the tent to check on Ginny. She stirred as he unwrapped the bandage on her arm in preparation for attaching the splints.
“Try to get her to wake, please, Kit.”
Kit leaned over her. “Ginny, it’s Kit, can you hear me?”
She turned her head towards Kit and opened one eye, the other still a deep purple and almost unrecognisable.
Kit took her hand and cradled the side of her face. “You’re going to be fine, Ginny. Doctor Walker is here looking over you now. Are you in any pain?”
“I hurt all over.”
“Here," Tom said, "I’ll give you some more laudanum."
“Ginny, do you know who did this to you?” Kit said
“I’m afraid not. It was dark.” Her eyes widened and she clutched the blankets. “I was walking past the lime kiln when he grabbed me from behind and dragged me into the bushes. He used his
fists on me over and over, then ...Then he had his way with me, Kit. There was naught I could do about it. He was so strong.”
Kit turned her face, drew in a breath, and exhaled before turning back.
“Did he say anything to you?”
“No, I don’t think so. No, wait, he said that mothers shouldn’t be whores. That’s all I remember.”
“Did you recognise the voice?”
Her forehead wrinkled. “No, it wasn’t a voice I recollect having heard.”
“Would you know it if you heard it again?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think so. I was so scared.”
“How did you make it to my tent in the dark?”
“I can’t tell you that either, Love. I don’t even remember walking here. Perhaps He guided me from above.”
Tom tapped Kit on the arm and showed her the bottle of laudanum. Kit stood aside and he lifted Ginny’s head to administer the medicine. Within minutes she was asleep once more.
“The broken rib is sitting nicely in place and the swelling on the arm has subsided considerably," Tom said. "She’s a fast healer."
“We have to find who did this to her, Tom. Perhaps someone saw something of the attack or saw her walking to the tent. Maybe someone even escorted her. It’s a good few minutes of walking from the
lime kiln to here.”
“I’m sure the police will do all they can to find him.”
“I can’t just sit here doing nothing.”
Sighing, Tom put his hand on her shoulder. “You need some sleep. I’ll fetch the girls to watch over her. Why not come to my tent and sleep in there while I’m at the cottage. It’s away
from everyone and it’ll be quiet. I’ll ask Finley to check on you and Ginny from time to time.”
She shook her head. “You don’t understand, I have to stay here with Ginny.”
“Please, Kit.” He gently grasped her arm. “Let me look after you.”
He helped to lift her from the chair, and she rose and stepped into his arms. For a moment he pressed her body to his chest and cradled her head under his chin before they exited the tent and
met the girls standing outside.
“Look after your mother, Lizzy,” Tom said. “And don’t either of you leave each other’s sight, do you understand?”
The two girls nodded and went inside.
Tom escorted Kit to his tent and waited for her lay on the stretcher.
“I hope no one saw me come in here,” she said.
Tom pulled the blankets up to her chin.
“No one saw. I was careful. Now, I want you to stay here until Finley or I come for you. No getting out of bed before then. That’s the doctor’s orders.”
“Thank you, Tom.”
Nightmares came uninvited to Kit as she slept. She dreamed of the unnerving figure of the police sergeant standing by a grave and throwing Ginny into its depths. Eyes wide in
terror, stared up at Kit and Clara standing on the opposite side. Lizzy ran at him as he lifted a shovel. Her nails scraped flesh from his bare arms and the blood dripped
below onto Ginny’s ashen face. Kit reached for Lizzy, but the grave widened to a cavern, separating them. The only way to her was to jump across. Kit backed away from the grave and leapt into the
air, but Clara grabbed frantically at her skirts, and she plummeted into its unfathomable depths.
She jerked awake, turned on the narrow stretcher, and tried again to sleep, but Robert came to her. His body fell from the side of the ship and plunged into the turbulent, leaden ocean. Daylight
penetrating the surface water above faded as his corpse quickened its descent, as though being pulled from the depths below. Shredded pieces of rotting flesh tore away as he sank, erasing the
little boy that once was, until his journey ended on the sandy bottom. His eye sockets glared prominently from an empty shell. His bones existed now as nothing more than a sorrowful curiosity
for passing fish.
She awoke with a start at midday. Sitting on the edge of the stretcher, she ran her hands down her face as though that alone would erase her dreams. She wiped unwelcome tears from her eyes
and fixed her hair as best she could, then stuck her head through the flaps, looked each way, and exited the tent. She went in search of Finley to ask him if he’d found out anything
about the attack and stood on the edge of the quarry until she had his attention.
He dropped his pick and hurried over to her.
“What did you hear?” she asked.
He swigged water from a pouch, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Not much, I'm afraid. A couple of men thought they heard a woman scream just after supper, but all they did
was stand outside their tent for a moment and lift a lantern. They didn’t see anything.”
“A woman screams and that is all they do? What is wrong with them! That could have been Ginny’s only cry for help, and they all but ignored it.”
“I’m sorry, Kit. I asked around for hours and no one saw or heard anything more.”
“Someone must have seen something. The lime kiln is just off the path leading from the meals tent, they think they heard a scream just after supper, and no one saw anything on returning to their
tent. Doesn’t that strike you as odd?”
“A little, I guess. But why wouldn’t anyone speak up if they knew something?”
“Because Ginny is nothing but a whore in their eyes. She’s not worth worrying about.”
“Even so, she seems well-liked amongst most of the women and they happily let their children play with Lizzy. You’d think they’d speak up, if not for Ginny’s sake, then for her daughter’s.”
“I’m going to speak with the police. Maybe they know something by now.”
“I’ll come with you.”
They approached the men playing cards on the verandah of the police sergeant’s hut.
“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” Kit said.
Two of the men stood, but the surly police sergeant didn’t look up.
“What do you want?” he asked and dealt cards onto the table.
“I have come to ask whether your recent enquiries of Ginny Billingsley’s assault have yielded any clues as to the perpetrator.”
“No one saw or heard nothing,” said the sergeant. He held his cards up to his face.
“When will you be making more enquiries?”
“We’re not. The matter is closed.”
The other two policemen sat back in their chairs and remained silent.
“But surely you’re not going to leave it at that. A woman has been assaulted and violated under your very noses and you’re going to sit there and -”
“Enough!” shouted the sergeant. He fixed his dark eyes on her for the first time. “We’ve done all we can. Besides, she wasn’t killed. The Doc said she’ll be as right as rain in no time.” He
shifted his gaze to the men opposite. He lowered his voice and added, “And back to her old tricks no doubt.”
“Too right,” one of them said.
Kit stepped closer. “This is most unsatisfactory. I expected more of the Queen’s constabulary.”
“If there’s nothing else we can do for you, missus, we’re busy,” said the sergeant. He placed his hand on the table and called “full house.”
“What, again!” one of the policemen said. “I’ll have to investigate you.”
The other policeman laughed, and threw his cards down. He leaned back in his chair, stretching his arms above his head.
Kit moved to step onto the verandah and the sergeant fixed his eyes on her again. She stopped when Finley grabbed her arm and shook his head.
“It’s no use.” He gestured his head towards the men. “They’re not going to help.”
Kit cast sad eyes over the three uninterested men before turning and walking away.
“I’m not going to let him get away with this, Finley. Somehow, I will find out who did this to Ginny and he will be brought to justice.”
“I’ll continue to ask around. I can’t think of anything more I can do.”
“Thank you, Finley. I know I can always trust you to do as you say you will. I had better get back to Ginny.”
“Let me escort you.”
They turned their backs on the three men still jeering the sergeant for his win.
“Why did they bother bringing police here? They are of no more used than a three-legged horse,” Kit said as they walked.
Finley jerked a thumb over his shoulder towards the sound of the policemen shouting as they playfully argued over who was to deal the next hand. “I reckon they’re putting more effort into playing
cards than policing the station.”
“Then I’ll go over their heads." She lifted her chin and stiffened her torso. "I’ll write to Governor La Trobe and demand an immediate investigation.”
“I’m afraid Ginny will have her bill of health and be long gone before then. The governor is too busy dealing with riots at the goldfields, poor sanitation in Melbourne and expediting his next
shipment of whisky from England. He wouldn’t even take the time to put his glasses on to read a letter coming from here.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Finley, but judging by the time it takes us to get more medical equipment for the hospital, I suppose you’re right.”
“Sooner or later someone will come forward with information.”
“I hope so. I can’t help but wonder whether this is going to prove to be an isolated incident or just the beginning.”
Two weeks later, a scream pierced the still night enveloping the station.
© Copyright 2023 Miranda J Taylor. All rights reserved.