Book by: Miranda J Taylor
Genre: Historical Fiction
Kit and her daughter followed the sailor through the rear door of the cottage. Inside, patients sat on a scattering of chairs and a young man and a middle-aged woman stood behind a long dining table.
“Over ‘ere." The sailor gestured towards the table. “Come with me and I’ll introduce ye to the doc.”
Kit followed with Clara stepping on the back of her heels as she hid timidly behind her mother.
“Ahoy there, Doc. Could you see to this woman and her family next?”
The doctor waved his hand for Kit to approach. A kind-looking elderly couple shuffled back from the table to make room. Kit stared at the doctor's face. He looked no more than a few years older than herself.
“Name?” he asked.
“Kit Monahan, and this is my daughter Clara." She placed her hand on her daughter's head.
The woman sitting next to the doctor smoothed over the pages of a ledger before writing.
Kit noted the likeness in their faces as the woman recorded their names.
“Is your child ill?” he asked.
“No, he’s passed.”
The doctor moved quickly from behind the table and pulled back the shawl from the boy’s face. “I’m sorry. The conditions on board that ship should never have been permitted I. . ." He stopped and gestured at a chair. ”Forgive me.” He peered around Kit’s skirts at Clara. "Please sit down and I will examine you and your daughter. Will you allow my mother to hold your child for you?”
Kit nodded and the woman rose and gently took Robert from her arms. Kit sat on the wooden chair at the end of the table. The doctor peered into her face before pulling down on her cheek, exposing the lower white of her eye. She peered back at her examiner. His eyes were a pale green and his golden hair, cut short at the back and long at the front, fell onto his forehead. His ears jutted out from the side of his head and she thought he looked just like a schoolboy.
“You are clearly dehydrated. How long has it been since you last drank or had anything to eat?”
“I - I don’t know. Yesterday morning, I think.”
He moved to Clara and dropped one knee to the floor.
“Do you mind if I examine you, the way I did with your mother just now?”
Clara nodded. He held a hand to her forehead before placing the horn-like end of his stethoscope to her heart.
He listened before standing and turning to Kit.
“Your daughter has a mild fever. I don’t think it’s the typhus, but she should stay in the hospital cottage so we can keep an eye on her. I’ll arrange a stretcher.”
“No, thank you.” Kit stood and straightened her skirts. “We have to bury her brother.”
“You daughter needs attention. She needs water, a good meal and plenty of rest.”
“And she’ll be given due care when I say so.”
“I have hundreds more people to examine today. Don’t cause a fuss and for God’s sake, do what’s right for your surviving child.”
The passengers in the room stopped talking and heads turned.
“Good day, Doctor.” Kit stepped towards the woman to retrieve Robert. “Sailor,” she hailed. The sailor who had escorted her in came to her side. “Fetch that labourer now, would you? I’ll be waiting outside.”
She turned on her heels, took Clara’s hand and exited the cottage through the rear door.
“I am thirsty, Mama,” Clara said.
“We’ll tend to your needs as soon as your brother is buried.”
The sailor returned with a young man carrying a shovel. His clothes were thick with dust and his sweat-beaded face smeared with dirt from his own hands.
“Follow me, Missus." He tipped his hat politely.
“Come, Clara,” Kit said.
Clara followed her mother to the edge of the cleared ground. The young man, about the same age as the twenty-six-year-old Kit, pushed his way through some low dense scrub, turning to ensure that mother and daughter followed. When clear of the scrub, they stood in front of a barren, flat piece of land that was already home to a dozen unfortunate passengers from the Ticonderoga.
“It has a nice view, hasn’t it?” The young man gestured out to sea.
“I care not for the view,” Kit answered.
“You can place him down if you want. The digging will take a while.”
“No, I’ll hold him.” She cradled him tightly to her breast.
“My name is Finley. Finley Grant.”
Kit did not acknowledge his words but rocked her boy in her arms as though she were lulling him to sleep.
Clara stepped forward. “My name is Clara. Nice to meet you, Finley.” She held out her hand.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you too.” He bowed dramatically and shook her hand then placed the shovel on the ground and used it to measure between the edge of the last grave and the new one he was about to dig, before turning over the first of the sandy soil.
After a few minutes of toil, he paused. He removed his hat and pushed his fingers through his thick brown hair. He fixated his eyes, dark and watchful like an eagle’s, on Kit.
“The sun in this part of the world is known to turn pale English skin red before you can say, God bless Queen Victoria. Why not take shade under that Eucalypt there?” He gestured to a large tree behind her.
“Well, you might be, but you have a daughter to think of too.”
She glared at the grubby man then focused her attention back to Clara.
“Come, Clara.” She ushered her daughter into the shade.
“Where are you from?” Finley plunged the shovel back into the dirt.
“We’re from Liverpool," Kit answered. "And where are you from?”
“I’m a currency lad.”
“A currency lad?”
“Yeah, I’m from the first generation to be born here. My papa was transported here when he was just a lad.”
“So, he was a - ”
“A convict. Yes, Ma'am. Him and mama both. They met on the ship, played together as kids then got married in Finley, New South Wales, before coming to Victoria.”
“You’re named after a settlement town. That’s so odd. Where are your parents now?”
“They’re both dead.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” She felt lost for a moment in the story until the mention of death recalled her own grief. She gazed blankly at the ground.
Finley paused from his toil for a moment.“It’s awful losing someone close to you, but this place … it’s so fresh, so new, you can’t help but to move forward, you know. It’s like it’s challenging you to make a go of it.”
“We’ll be all right, once I find my husband.”
“Where is he?”
“I don’t know. He was digging on the goldfields of Ballarat. He sent us money for our fare then there was no more word from him.”
“I could ask around for you. Some of the blokes working around here are from the Ballarat diggings.”
“Would you?” She brightened a little despite her grief. “That would be very kind of you”
“It’d be no trouble. What’s his name?”
“James Monahan. But his friends call him Jimmy.”
“I’ll remember that. I’ll let you know the minute I hear anything.”
“Thank you, Mr Grant. You are most kind.”
The man toiled away at his digging until the lower half of his legs disappeared into the hole.
“I reckon that’ll do it." He took a small rag from his back trouser pocket to wipe his brow and the back of his neck and, using the shovel as a support, stepped from the hole. “What do you think, Missus?”
Kit didn’t answer. He followed her gaze to the tree line on the other side of the clearing.
A tall man wearing a long black cassock and carrying a bible made his way towards the group. His hand batted at flies as he strode quickly across the ground and approached Kit. He bowed his head slightly.
“I am Father Dixon.”
Kit frowned. "Who sent for you?"
“Oh, I must explain. Doctor Walker sent for me to conduct a service for your child. I am so sorry for your loss.” He looked over the small grave. “I see that all is in preparation. I’m rather busy, so if you don’t mind, shall we begin?”
Kit nodded and stepped towards the edge of the grave.
Finley struck the head of the shovel into the ground at his feet and grasped its handle. He lowered his head and listened to the words of Father Dixon. The service, as such, lasted only a few minutes. At its conclusion, Finley slid into the grave and waited for Kit.
“Oh, my little one." She pulled back the shawl and peered at Robert’s face. “I will never forget you and will always hold you close in my heart.”
Clara stood beside her mother as she prepared to lower her brother to Finley.
“Goodbye.” Clara sniffed back tears.
Kit kissed Robert's forehead before pulling the shawl over his face and slowly lowering the bundle into Finley’s arms, who laid him carefully at his feet and stepped out of the hole.
Father Dixon began the Lord’s Prayer as Kit took the shovel from Finley’s hands and scattered the first earth over the body of her child.
The priest grasped Kit’s hands, said his condolences and bid his farewell. She turned back to the grave and placed her arm around Clara as they watched Finley cover the small body.
“When I get time,” he said, “I’ll make a cross for him and carve his name onto it.”
“His name was Robert Monahan, and I am Kit.”
“Pleased to meet you, Kit.”
“And I you. Thank you for what you have done here today.”
The man nodded, hoisted his shovel to rest on his shoulder and strode back to the camp.
“I like him,” Clara said. “He’s very kind.”
“Yes, he is, isn’t he." They watched him walk away until he disappeared into the scrub.
© Copyright 2023 Miranda J Taylor. All rights reserved.
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This was a good third chapter. The quiet dignity of Kit is plain to see, and so refreshing to read in a historical tale. Her sense of duty to her dead son overrides her devotion to her daughter, which will cause problems later. The only mistake I can see is that Ballarat good fields consisted of hundreds of claims, and finding one man would have been very hard. Also, crimes such as robberies and claim-jumping were common, so it’s probable that Kit’s husband is dead.
Keep writing! This is good stuff.
Thank you for your encouraging review. I've visited on many occasions the very large recreated village called Sovereign Hill at Ballarat. It has recreations of the gold diggings there and the type of buildings that were established around the diggings. Fascinating stuff!
It's not necessary to take my opinion so seriously. I have a lot of issues with parents because my parents were control freaks you see but if my opinion matters to me here it is. If you want to make it look a little better then I suggest you not have her respond aggressively to the doctor's decision and instead just have her say "we need to bury my son first and then I'll take her back to the hospital cottage when it's over."maybe have the doctors say that he understands and then have him give them some water and some dinner rolls and maybe some beef jerky and have her give them to Clara before they set out on their way and I wouldn't have her act so defensive around the gravedigger either. If you want her headstrong and stuff that's fine but don't make her a b**** because that's what she was in this chapter. Having her be emotionally distant and defensive towards men and may be withdrawn and testing the waters to see if a man's character is safe is fine but that's different then ignoring people and acting snappy and aggressive she was really aggressive and cruel in my my eyes. I would just tone her down a little bit.
also I wouldn't have her argue about the shade thing to the grave digger it made her look like a b**** to me because she basically didn't care that the gravedigger would be digging out in the hot sun for her no less and that really irked me and her child had a fever it was just weird behavior being all aggressive like that not thinking about anyone except herself. If you want her to seam less cruel, have her be able to have empathy towards people that she thinks is lesser than her and this case Clara and others around her.
Thank you for your review. I guess she does come across as being more aggressive than headstrong. She does settle in and become more friendly with the main characters in later chapters, but these first two chapters need some reviewing. Thanks for the feedback.
Hey, Miranda. Long time. Been meaning to get back to you...
This is a emotional chapter with Kit obviously on the edge...she's got a lot of spine, it appears, and is very watchful and careful.
I'm thinking Finley and Kit will be together if Kit's husband, James, is dead or is never found. I think she might have already begun to like him.
Thanks for revisiting. I wonder how you find the time to read when you are so wonderfully prolific with your own writing. Yes, I've built Kit to be a strong character, and I think you'd need to be to make a go of things at that time in history without a husband by your side. Life can be difficult for our generation, and I often wonder what it was really like for people back then.
Thank you for the review and the encouragement!