“What are you going to do about the native woman?” Kit demanded of the sergeant.
“Nothing. She’s not one of ours. It’s their problem.”
“But it had to be someone from here on the station that … mutilated her.” Kit remembered the woman lying in her arms and placed a hand on her stomach.
“Who was it then?" He sighed and rose from his seat on the verandah. “Did she name someone? Did she even speak English?”
The constable sitting by the sergeant tried to conceal a smirk by bowing his head.
“She said it was a big white man.”
The constable hid his face in his hands as his shoulders rose and fell with laughter.
“Well, then.” He swept an arm in front of him. "That narrows it down to about three quarters of the station’s population.”
“Are you going to their camp to question her? Maybe she could give you a better description of this man.”
“Well, I would, of course, but the aboriginal camp lies outside this station. I’m here to keep an eye on you people. The blacks can do as they please.”
Kit pressed her lips together, turned on her heels and trudged back to the cottage. She grabbed an apron and fumbled with the strings, choking back tears.
Margaret approached and stood behind her.
“Let me help you with that.”
“Why won’t they do anything? We’re like fish in a barrel here.”
“Well, not that I’m defending our hardworking police force, but no one has seen this man. He’s been so clever in concealing his identity. It’s as though he can wander freely and no one will ever
suspect him. It’s almost like he’s invisible.”
“Or everyone trusts him and that’s how he’s caught them all unaware.”
“I don’t trust a single male on this station except for Tom and Finley, so he must be someone special." Margaret moved in front of her. "Look, you’re clearly exhausted. Why don’t you spend the day
with Clara? There’s only a half dozen patients in here anyway. I can handle them.”
“Thank you." She pulled on the apron strings. "That sounds like a lovely idea.”
Kit found Clara playing happily with Lizzy at the quarry under Finley’s supervision.
“I don’t dare take my eyes off them."
“I’m going to take them with me for the day. I’m very grateful to you for watching them this morning.”
“You know I don’t mind.”
She called the girls and turned to leave as they began running to her, but hesitated.
“Tom’s asked me to marry him.”
Finley ran a hand over his short dark beard and nodded.
“What was your answer?”
“I haven’t given him one yet.”
“Why not? He’s a doctor, he’ll be able to offer you and Clara security, respectability - everything a lady could want.”
“But I’m not interested in marrying a man for things like that.”
“Then what do you want? Why did you marry your husband?”
“For love. I loved him the moment I saw him.”
“That doesn’t sound very practical.”
“Practicality has nothing to do with love.”
“I’d better get back to work.” He glanced over his shoulder at the large group of migrants toiling in the heat. He turned back to Kit. “I’ll be seeing you then?”
“Yes. I’ll see you later I suspect.”
“You keep safe. Don’t leave the cottage after curfew tonight. Not for any reason.”
Kit nodded and smiled. His genuine concern for her and Clara had warmed her heart from the first day they’d met.
Towards late afternoon, a squall swept in from the ocean. The sand, once confined to the beach, swept up onto the grassed areas around the perimeter of the station. Work at the quarry ceased and
families returned to their tents. The single women, now confined to the second cottage, settled in for the night.
Margaret and Kit sat near the fire, listening with amusement to the loud snores of Ginny sleeping nearby.
When the door unlatched with the sound of clunking metal, Kit and Margaret approached the visitor.
The man outside the door raised a lantern to his face.
“One of the men has been hurt by a falling tree near the beach. You have to come.” The young wiry man shifted impatiently from one foot to the other.
“Where is Doctor Walker?” Kit asked.
“He was called into town an hour ago. The blacksmith got kicked in the guts by a horse and the town’s doctor is busy delivering a baby.”
“I’ll get my shawl.”
“I’ll come with you,” Margaret said.
Kit grasped Margaret's arm. “There’s no need for both of us to go out in that storm. This young man will help me.”
Margaret nodded and reached onto a table and thrust a medical bag into Kit’s hands.
“You stay close to her, you hear?" Margaret waved a finger at the man. "Don’t leave her alone, not even for a minute.”
The man gave a tight nod.
“Follow me,” he shouted over the roaring wind.
Kit took a lantern from inside the door and clutching her shawl at her neck, stepped through the door. She followed the man past the lines of tents and down to where the last of the vegetation met
“Where is he?” she yelled.
“I think he’s over there.” The man pointed.
“I can’t see anything.”
“I think he’s a bit further down. We’ll follow the beach to the left.”
The two figures turned head on into the squall, narrowing their eyes against the wind.
“The tree's over here,” yelled the man.
Kit struggled to follow against the howling force and found the injured man lying in the sand next to the trunk of a large eucalypt.
“I managed to pull him free and he screamed like a man being torn apart.”
Kit kneeled and passed the lantern over his body from head to toe.
His eyes opened and closed as he peered up at Kit.
She hovered the light over his blood-soaked lower leg.
“Oh, God." The wiry man covered his mouth and looked away.
A shard of bone protruded from the skin just below his knee.
“He can’t walk to the hospital,” Kit said. “We’ll need two men and a stretcher. Go and get them.”
“I’ve been told not to leave you, Ma’am.”
“This man needs help. I’ll be fine. Now go.”
“If you say so.”
He stepped away and was instantly swallowed by the darkness.
Kit pulled the bandages from the bag and beneath the pale light of the lantern, she packed them around the base of the dagger-shaped piece of bone.
The man screamed. His eyes closed and his head fell to the side.
“What are you doing here, Miss?” a voice asked from the darkness.
Kit lifted the lantern and moved it in the air around her.
“Who is that? Who’s out there?”
A light rose from behind a bush and revealed to Kit a police uniform but not the face of the lantern’s bearer.
“Is that you, Sergeant?”
The lantern lowered and the figure moved towards Kit. When he again raised the lantern, the light rested on the side of the sergeant’s face.
“Have you brought the stretcher?”
He didn’t answer. He stood over Kit watching, motionless, a smile forming on his lips.
© Copyright 2024 Miranda J Taylor. All rights reserved.