“So, you’re here by yourself it seems?” The sergeant's wild dark eyes stared at Kit.
“A man has gone to get a stretcher and some men. He’ll be back any minute now.”
“You mean that tall, brainless piece of shit, Wilkinson? I saw him. He was heading the other way from the hospital. Couldn’t find his way in the dark if the path was lit with a thousand lanterns.”
“Then you need to go to the hospital and get a stretcher.”
“I don’t need to do anything. I don’t take orders from you.”
Kit rose to her feet.
The sergeant waved a finger in front of his face as he spoke. “You shouldn’t be here all on your own. You should have stayed locked up with the other women for your own protection. You worthless
Kit snatched the lantern from her feet and turned and ran on to the beach. She glanced over her shoulder. The sergeant’s lantern bobbed and swayed in the blackness behind her, disembodied like a
She ducked into the saltbushes and ran. When she failed to see the sergeant's light behind her, she swung her lantern from left to right until she found what she was looking for.
The sergeant quickly gained ground on the now stationary lantern. He slowed his pace, relishing the moment, until only a few strides separated him from his quarry.
“Where are you going to run to now?" he shouted.
He lurched forward and raised the lantern to bathe its yellow light on his catch. Expecting to find Kit cowering and waiting for him to grasp her arm and throw her to the ground, a flash of anger
gripped him. The lantern revealed the smooth white bark of a long eucalypt branch and the lantern gently swaying in the blackness from its tip. He swiped at it, knocking it to the ground,
shattering the glass.
He ran back to the beach, not knowing which way to turn in pursuit, until the lantern revealed footprints in the sand.
Kit ran, staying close to the scrub where she could dart in and hide. The sergeant’s lantern revealed he was not far behind. Her long skirts and shorter strides gave her pursuer the advantage and
the distance between them shortened with every passing moment. She glanced over her shoulder as a yellow glow rose from the scrub. It lit up the sand and the foaming water’s edge. The scrub where
her lantern had hung from the branch was on fire.
Her efforts to run in the heavy sand made her lungs burn and her legs feel like concrete pillars. Without a lantern to guide her, she couldn’t see the small rock protruding from the sand. It was
just large enough to catch the side of her foot. She sprawled on to the sand. She was sure she heard a snap like a small branch breaking and the pain that followed confirmed her fears. She watched
his lantern draw closer.
The flames were clearly visible above the scrub and she marveled at how beautiful she found the sight in the face of imminent danger. The fire’s glow revealed her assailant quickly approaching. It
shone on the small sharp rock her foot had dislodged from the sand. She reached out and grasped it, turning it over and weighing it in her hand before closing her fingers around it and concealing
her hand beneath her skirts.
“You had to bloody run, didn’t you, you bitch?” He bent forward and placed his hands on his knees. “And now look at you: not so high and mighty now, are we? Well, no point in delaying the
inevitable, is there?”
He placed the lantern on the sand and removed his coat, flinging it to the ground. He stepped forward and stood over her. Without warning he bent down and grabbed the neckline of her dress. She
raised the rock, aiming a blow at his temple. His arm raised, deflecting the blow. She lost her grip on her weapon and it fell silently onto the sand.
He thrust his face in front of hers.
“Nice try. You’re a fighter. I’ll give you that.” His strong hand shot forward and pulled down on the front of her dress, tearing it apart like paper.
Her breasts felt the biting air of the southerly wind blowing off the ocean. She crossed an arm over her chest.
He grabbed her wrist and threw her arm aside and stared. “Ahh, you sure are a beauty. I’m going to enjoy this one the most of them all.”
Kit felt warm tears roll down her face. “You don’t have to do this. I’ve done nothing to you.”
“You’re a whore. The same as the rest of them. But you think you’re better than all of us, don’t you? Playing nurse with the Doc and all that, with your fancy talk. I’ve seen the way you look down
“That’s not true. I’m from Liverpool. I -“
His fist struck the side of her jaw knocking her onto her back. Her head hit the sand with such force her ears rang.
He undid his belt then the buttons of his pants.
She thought of Clara, Robert and Jimmy and the happy days they’d had back home, taking walks in the garden and chasing butterflies on hazy summer days.
He kicked her legs apart. She screamed as pain shot from her ankle. He sunk to his knees and gripped the hemline of her skirts, ripping them apart to her waist. She sat up and drove a clenched fist
into the side of his face. She may as well have hit an iron statue for the impact barely caused his head to turn.
His hand rose and he struck her as nonchalantly as swatting at a persistent fly. She fell back onto the sand and tasted blood trickling down the back of her throat.
He shuffled his knees to move a little closer.
She closed her eyes at the sight of his erect penis.
“You always have to struggle you –”
Kit opened her eyes as his last words mysteriously failed to reach her ears.
The sergeant stared at her with wide, unblinking eyes. His arms dangled by his sides and his mouth gaped open. The shaft of a spear protruded from the side of his neck and exited from the other
side. The tip lay firmly embedded in the sand. The sergeant hung in the air, threaded onto the spear shaft. He dangled like a puppet waiting for skilled hands to bring him to life.
A possum skin shawl gently wrapped around Kit’s shoulders and an old lady spoke to her from behind in her ancient tongue, calm and soothing.
A tall figure loomed in front of Kit, silhouetted by the fire burning in the distance behind him.
“I made that spear just for him,” Barungerin said. “He should feel honoured.”
Kit’s words caught in her throat. She paused as the shock passed and her thoughts gathered once more.
“I don’t think he’s feeling much of anything.”
“He a bad man. He got what he deserved. He can’t hurt no woman now. Not mine, and not yours.”
“You should go, Barungerin. There’ll be men after you and your people.”
“I know. White man’s law is shit.”
A large group of dark figures spilled onto the beach in front of the fire.
“Before I go, I want to make sure you all right.” Barungerin lifted the sergeant's lantern and swung it back and forth. Two figures broke off from the others and ran towards the
swaying lantern. “We go now.” He motioned towards the old lady.
She rose from the sand behind Kit and stood next to him.
“Where will you go?” Kit asked.
Barungerin shrugged. “Up north, maybe.”
“But you’ll have to leave your people.”
“My people are all across this land. Besides, it’s not so bad. It warmer up north. None of these bloody cold squalls.”
Despite the pain in her ankle Kit laughed. “I’ll miss you.”
He gestured towards the sergeant’s body. “Shame about having to leave that spear. It the best bloody one I ever made.”
Barungerin and the old lady melted into the darkness before Kit could thank her for the shawl.
“Kit.” Tom sunk to the sand in front of her.
Finley raised a lantern and looked over the body of the sergeant.
“We heard you’d come out her. Are you all right?” Tom removed a kerchief from around his neck and dabbed at the blood oozing from the cut across Kit's cheek.
“I wouldn’t be if it hadn’t been for Barungerin.”
Tom stared at the body of the sergeant. “Did he –”
“No. It didn’t come to that.”
Tom placed his forehead against hers and whispered. “You’re safe now. You’re with me and I’ll never let anyone hurt you again.”
Finley turned away from the sight of Tom’s arms wrapped around Kit, her head nestled safely under his chin and her face resting against his chest. His gaze wandered despondently out to sea.
Kit stretched her leg to the side. “My ankle’s broken. I heard it snap.”
“I’ll get some splints,” Finley said. He headed towards the scrub.
When Finley returned, Tom tore strips from Kit’s ruined skirts and tied her ankle with the small tree branches. He squatted beside her. “Now, place an arm around my neck and I’ll put my hand under
your legs and lift you up. I’ll carry you back to the station.”
Finley stepped to the opposite side. “I can help.”
“It’s all right, Fin. I can handle this.”
Tom lifted Kit off the ground but before he could straighten, she slipped awkwardly from his grasp and slid back onto the sand.
“Let me help,” Finley said.
“No, it’s all right. I lost my grip is all.”
Tom wrapped his arm around Kit’s back and placed a hand beneath her arm, but as he lifted her, she groaned.
“You’re hurting me,” she said.
"Step back, Tom."
Finley bent over and scooped her from the sand as easily as he would a child. She tightened her arm around his shoulders and turned her head to peer into his face. She had always thought his
dark eyes hardened by having seen so much more of life than a man of his years should, but now they seemed softened and uncertain as they peered back at her.
Tom, holding the lantern in front of him, watched the exchange between the two. If he had not known for certain, he could have thought they were lovers once lost to each other and now reunited.
“This way.” Tom turned toward the station.
“You’re lucky the fire brought us here,” Finley said.
“Yes, I’m very fortunate.”
“Does your ankle hurt?”
She clasped her hands around the back of his neck.
“Not so much anymore.”
They returned to the station. On stepping inside the hospital cottage, Finley found Kit a stretcher nearest to the fire.
Tom busied himself removing the splints. “I need to remove your stocking.” His eyes wandered from Kit’s face to Finley’s.
“It’s all right. Go ahead,” she said.
Tom folded her tattered skirts back to her knees. He glanced at Finley again. His hands disappeared beneath her skirts. His cold fingers searched for the stocking at the top of her thighs. He
rolled it down to her ankle.
Finley’s dark eyes peered up at him from a slightly bowed head, watching his every move.
Tom placed his hand gently beneath her heel and lifted her ankle, slipping the stocking from her foot.
She grasped the sides of the stretcher as he lowered her foot back to the sheets.
“It’s twice the size of the other,” Tom said.
“That’s not surprising given the amount of soft tissue damage caused by the breaking bone,” she remarked.
“Very good, Kit. You’re learning.”
The two exchanged a warm smile.
Finley’s jaw muscles twitched as he glared at Tom.
A young boy flung open the cottage door, disturbing the few patients lying in stretchers near the entrance. He strode towards Finley, beginning to talk before he reached him.
“You have to come quickly, Fin. The veranda on the police hut is about to collapse. They need your help to shore it up.”
Finley turned to Kit. “Will you be all right.”
“Of course, I will. I’m in good hands. You go.”
“I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Finley followed the boy from the cottage.
Tom placed flat boards on the sides of Kit’s ankle and began wrapping it with a bandage. He drew in a long breath and looked up from his work as he spoke.
“He’s worried about you. I believe he’s in love with you.”
“Who else would I mean?”
“He’s become a very dear friend to me and Clara.”
“Do you love him?”
“Why are you asking me this?”
“I need to know. You haven’t said whether you’ll marry me. I figured there must be a reason.”
Kit fell silent for a moment. She remembered what Finley had said to her when she told him of Tom’s proposal. ‘Security,’ he had said. Tom would give her and Clara security. She'd come to
realise it wasn’t an easy thing to come by in this place.
“Finley is not the reason why I haven’t given you an answer. I needed some time to think it over and I’ve arrived at a decision."
Tom's hands stilled and he looked up from his work.
"I will marry you, Tom Walker.”
He left the foot of the stretcher and kneeled beside her.
“I’ll make you happy, Kit. I’ll do everything in my power to make sure you and Clara have a good life.”
“I know you will.”
He kissed her forehead.
The door opened again, and Clara rushed in.
She leaned across the stretcher and hugged her mother. Clara sat up, sobbing. She wiped her nose on her coat sleeve.
Kit held her face in her hands. “I’m all right, Clara. You can stop crying.”
Clara snapped, “Don’t you ever leave me again.”
“I promise. I won’t ever leave you again.”
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