Book by: Miranda J Taylor
Genre: Historical Fiction
By the time the coach arrived for Kit, most of the immigrants had dispersed. Some needed to save for a fare to the diggings after gambling away their savings, and found work in town. Friends and relatives collected others and the rest waited in town for coaches to take them to the diggings in the coming days. A few started the week’s-long walk to the diggings.
Lizzy and Clara climbed into the coach. They giggled and chattered excitedly to each other.
Tom passed the last of their luggage to the driver standing on the coach's roof. He turned to Kit and took her hands in his. “I suppose this is goodbye. It just wasn’t meant to be, I guess.”
“I never meant to hurt you. I –”
“It’s not your fault. You have a new life waiting for you. You should go now.”
Tom supported her as she stepped awkwardly into the cabin. He closed the door and the coach lurched forwards, pulled away and turned out of sight.
As the coach reached the outer limits of the station, just before it entered the main track on its journey to Melbourne, Finley appeared and walked alongside the cabin. He took his eyes from the ground periodically to peer up at Kit and Clara. Before they left the station, he hadn’t said goodbye.
Kit had stood at the edge of the quarry, watching him work and although he peered over at her, he didn’t break from his toil.
He lifted his hand and Kit grasped it in hers.
“Finley!” Clara called.
She reached out her hand and he took it and kissed it gently.
“I’ll never forget you, Finley Grant,” Kit said.
"Nor I you." He withdrew his hand as the coach turned and Kit watched him until the track twisted again, and he was out of sight.
After several hours the coach drew away from the shoreline, now so familiar to Kit. Looking down at the coast, she found a fresh appreciation for the sight of the soft blue hue of the sky stretching to the horizon to meet the emerald green sheet of the calm summer ocean.
She took delight peering out at the towering eucalyptus trees with trunks as wide as the coach was long. She beckoned Clara and Lizzy to sit on the edge of the seat next to the opening above the door. They breathed in the sweet scent of the giant trees hanging in the air in the soft, white mist. Ferns as tall as a house spread their bright green canopies like umbrellas and brushed against the roof of the coach.
Kit pointed as a startled koala rushed to the base of a tree and speedily climbed, its long claws ripping off thick shreds of bark as it rushed to the branches above. A distant chorus of kookaburras rang through the air as the coach bumped and swayed along the narrow dirt track.
“I love that sound, Mama.” Clara rested her chin in her hand and closed her eyes to listen.
“They sound like they’re laughing at us.” Lizzy giggled.
The elderly owners of the coach awoke as the cabin lurched into a ditch in the track, sending the man sliding into his wife, knocking her hat from her head. He retrieved his wife's hat and pulled his collar around his neck as the coach entered a thick dark canopy beneath the trees. He smiled at Clara and Lizzy before closing his eyes once more.
Just as the sun began to dip below the horizon and the light began to fade, the coach arrived at its destination outside the Melbourne Post Office.
“Wake up, sleepy heads.” Kit kissed the top of the head of each of the girls sleeping in her arms either side of her.
“Are we here?” Clara rubbed a hand across her eyes and blinked.
“Yes, we’re here.”
“Can you see Papa?”
“Not yet. But I’m sure he’s close by.”
“I’m hungry.” Lizzy's stomach growled.
The driver opened the carriage door and offered his hand to Kit, helping her to the ground. He lifted Clara and then Lizzy, setting them beside Kit.
“I’ll have your luggage down in just a moment, ma’am.” He looked to the darkening sky. "Might be in for some rain by the looks of things.”
Kit thanked the carriage owners while she waited for the driver to fetch the luggage.
The driver placed the bags at Kit’s feet, touched the brim of his hat and climbed back onto the coach. A quick tug on the reins and the carriage lurched forward and continued on to the stables.
Kit held the girls’ hands and looked up and down the street for Jim. She was about to begin searching for him when the sky darkened and thunder rumbled in the distance.
Across the street a rusty tin sign on the side of a grey wooden building advertised rooms for rent at a shilling a night.
“Hold on to one of these.” Kit gave each of the girls a bag to carry and took the heaviest one herself. “Follow me and stay close.”
They made their way across the street which emptied quickly as the light faded.
The sign pointed down an alley paved with large bluestone blocks. Kit stopped a few doors down where a similar sign hung from a bent nail on a pale green door. She reached for the rusty metal knocker but the door handle turned and the door opened. She stepped back as a portly man stood in the doorway.
“Excuse me, sir,” Kit said. “I’m wondering if you know if there are any vacant rooms.”
“Go in and see Vera.” The man belched loudly and Kit took another step back. “She owns the place. She’ll fix you up.”
He grunted as Kit edged past him, urging the girls to follow.
The interior smelled of sweat, damp wood and an unsavoury aroma that appeared to be emanating from a noisy kitchen at one side of the long hall. Kit could see bedraggled women rushing about in dirty aprons.
“Is Papa here?” Clara asked.
“No, darling. We’ll have to look for him in the morning. It’s too dark outside now.”
Kit thought twice about her choice of accommodation and was about to leave when she heard stairs creaking behind her and the sound of high heels tapping on wood.
A trim woman descended the stairs twirling a long strand of glass beads from around her neck between her fingers. She eyed the visitors suspiciously. “You looking for a room?” She stepped onto the rough floor boards at the end of the stair case.
“Yes. For myself and my two girls.”
“You got money?”
Kit stiffened. “Of course, I have. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
“Yeah, yeah, settle down. Just that some folks think I’m a charity. But I ain’t. I’ll give you one of me best rooms for a shilling, and halfpence for your daughters.”
“The sign says just a shilling a room."
“That’s for just one guest. Believe me, you won’t find nothin’ cheaper in town.”
Kit looked at the tired faces of the girls. “Very well."
“Follow me.” The woman lifted the hem of her faded green velvet dress and slowly began to ascend the stairs.
At the top she turned right down a long hall lined with a thin red and green striped carpet, so worn in places that her heels clicked on the floor boards as she passed over holes in the fabric.
The woman stopped. “Here. Number twelve." She fetched a bunch of keys from a pocket in her dress and unlocked the door. She pushed it open and lit a lantern on a table. “It might not look like much, but it’s clean. I take pride in me establishment, you know.”
Inside was a wide bed and one single. They were covered in blue spreads that looked clean, but had seen many a guest.
Kit ushered the girls inside and turned to the woman. “This will do just fine. Thank you." She gripped the side of the door to close it, but the woman’s foot shot out.
“I forgot to mention, it’s payment in advance.” She held out her hand.
Kit took her purse from the bag at her feet and placed the coins into the woman’s hand.
“Much obliged, missus. Vera’s me name. Just ask if you need anything.”
“I’m sure we’ll be fine.” Kit closed the door.
The two girls were so tired, Kit helped them out of their clothes and into their night dresses. They groaned when she asked them to sit next to her on the bed to comb their hair, so she pulled back the covers on the larger bed, beckoning them to lie down, and wished them a good night.
Kit undressed. Too weary to slip into her night dress, she climbed into bed in her pantalettes and chemise. She lay awake while imagining what could have happened to Jim, before the soft, rhythmic breathing of the girls sent her to sleep.
© Copyright 2023 Miranda J Taylor. All rights reserved.
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And as strange as it is, it will be even stranger when she meets her husband. To come all the way from England to meet him, to lose her son, to lose a life she has finally built for herself, and he isn't even there to greet her. You write beautifully. You don't even have say it. It's there. Amen.
Thank you very much for reading and for the kind words. I was blown away! But I lack two things that you have in abundance: an amazing imagination and a great sense of humour. No amount of studying how to write, or practicing, will ever get me those two things.
Hey, Miranda. This was much less action-packed, but still a very enjoyable read. My favorite line: "...the soft blue hue of the sky stretching to the horizon to meet the emerald green sheet of the calm summer ocean." Awesome!
That Vera is probably going to be Trouble. Seems one who wouldn't mind much if she caused anyone grief. Just my take.