Book by: Miranda J Taylor
Genre: Historical Fiction
Finley grasped Kit's wrist and led her aside. “I’ve found someone who knew your husband. They met on the diggings at Ballarat. He wants to speak to you in person – he won’t tell me what he knows.”
“Where is this man?”
“I’ve brought him to the east edge of the quarantine station, just on the other side of the scrub. He’ll wait for you there.”
Kit went back to the girls, now standing outside the meals tent.
“Clara, Lizzy, go inside and sit down and don’t move until I get back. Do you understand me?”
The girls nodded obediently and moved inside.
Finley led Kit to the edge of the quarantine station marked with white paint on the trees. An old man, dressed in a loose shirt and long pants held at the waist with rope, sat beneath a large tree with hat in hands. He rose when he saw Kit and Finley approach and stood to the side of a marked tree.
“Hello, missus,” he said quietly. “I’m Frank Riley. I believe you’re looking for information about your husband.”
“Yes, yes I am. You knew him?”
“That I did, missus. I knew him real well.”
“Do you know where he is?”
The man nervously turned the brim of his hat around in his fingers.
“It’s not good news I have to tell, you understand.”
Finley moved close to Kit.
“It was about five or so months ago now. He left for town to take his gold to the bank when he was met by bushrangers. He refused to give them his gold you see . . . and they . . . Well, they shot him dead, missus, just like he was a wild dog.”
Kit stumbled backwards and Finley caught her in his arms and steadied her on her feet again.
“I’m all right." She took a deep breath and stepped back towards the man.“Are you sure it was my Jimmy?”
“You’re from Liverpool, ain’t ya? He said he was from Liverpool. He was a tall man, about yay high.” He raised a hand above his own head. “He talked about you and your little girl and another child, a boy I think it was.”
“Robert,” Kit whispered.
“I don’t recall any names. He was a nice fella, he was.”
Kit paused, bowing her head and closing her eyes. “Where ... where is he laid to rest?”
“He ain’t in any grave, missus. He was shot out in the bush. He was with a mate, Billy Crowder was his name, but no one has seen him since the killing. He packed up their claim and disappeared. Billy said he ran when the bushrangers appeared and he heard the shot, but when he went back to look for the body, he couldn’t find the exact place they'd been. He swore he looked for hours.”
Kit held out a trembling hand to Finley who grasped it and steadied her with an arm around her waist.
“Are you saying that my husband’s body was left out in the bush to rot in the sun like a wolf-ravaged sheep?”
“I’m afraid I am, missus.”
“This country is full of barbarians.”
“I’m sorry, missus. I hate to be the one to tell you all this. He was a good fella, he was.”
“Yes, you’ve said that already, but it won’t bring him back now, will it?”
“No, ma’am, I guess it won’t. I’ll be going now.” The old man walked away, pausing only to place his hat back on his head.
“I’m sorry, Kit," Finley said. “I should never have brought him here.”
“No, you did the right thing.”
“He could have the wrong man. There’s thousands of them miners out there on the goldfields. It’s possible that one of them had the same name.”
"The same name yes, but also from Liverpool and with two children?”
Finely stared at the ground. “What are you going to do now?”
“I’m going to return to my daughter, and we are going to get on with our lives.”
She returned to the tent with Finley by her side. In the afternoon, she retired to her tent, unable to continue work for the remainder of the day. Before the evening meal, she found the courage to tell her daughter that she would never see her father again.
Clara clenched her fists in anger. “Did they get the men that did that to Papa?”
“I don’t think so. Finley said bushrangers wear neckerchiefs over their faces. They could have been anyone.”
“I wish we’d never come here.” She broke down in tears, falling to her knees on the bare earth of the tent. “When can we go back home, Mama?”
Kit kneeled by her daughter and drew her close.
“This is our home now, Clara. We are going to have good lives here.”
“But I want to go home to Grandma and Grandad.”
“I will look after you.”
The girl sobbed until she could cry no more. Kit lifted her to her stretcher and waited until she fell asleep.
* * *
The next morning, Kit left Clara with Ginny and gave her daughter strict instructions to find her if Ginny left her alone again. She kissed her goodbye and returned to her volunteer work in the cottage. As she leaned over a patient to tuck the blanket around her, she saw Tom approaching.
“I’d like to talk to you, Kit. Outside if you don’t mind.”
She followed him out the door. He gestured to the shade of a tree under which Finley had made a rough seat from half a sawn log.
“Finley told me about your husband. I’m so sorry. After the loss of Robert, and to now receive this news, you must be heartbroken.”
“It has been a most difficult time, indeed. But we must go on, mustn’t we? What else is there left to do?” She grasped the edge of the seat and bowed her head.
Tom cleared his throat before speaking. “I know you must be wondering how you're to support Clara and yourself, and I have a proposition to put to you, so hear me out before saying anything."
Kit straighted to face him.
“I have seen first-hand the marvelous work you have done for the patients here – you are a natural nurse. Governor La Trobe has informed me this site has been proclaimed a permanent Quarantine Station. A hospital will soon begin construction and I would like to offer you employment as a nurse. You will be under my direction and I will arrange for lodgings for you and Clara to be built. You will be paid twenty shillings per week, regardless of whether there are sick to be tended to or not. When there are no sick, you will be expected to do the cleaning and dusting. Furthermore, I have made inquiries concerning giving you formal training in Melbourne, with both the training and suitable lodgings to be paid for by the Government of Victoria.”
Kit gasped and placed her hands to her face.
“I’m sorry, have I offended you?”
“Offended me? No, no, you have made me so happy. Me – a nurse. I can’t believe it.”
“Then you accept the offer?”
“Of course, I accept! When will I start?”
“I should be able to make the arrangements within a week.”
“This is truly a blessing from God.”
“Very well. You and Clara have a job to do then, picking out a suitable site where you would like a house built. I'll ask Finley to help you.
Kit threw her arms around him.
She felt his hand rest softly on the bare nape of her neck and his breath brushing her skin.
“I’d better get back to work,” she said, sitting up straight. She rose and turned to him. “Thank you. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t …Well, rescued me.”
He stood and gazed into her face. “I would do anything for you.” He paused. “ I mean, I . . . I need a good nurse and since the two trained nurses from around here left to follow their husbands to the goldfields, I would have been struggling to find one. So you have done me a favour, Kit, and it is I who should thank you.”
“It is my pleasure to be of service to you.”
“Excuse me, I must be getting back.” He walked slowly back to the cottage.
Kit could not continue work until she found Clara and Ginny to tell them of her news. She searched both tents, the beach, the meals tent and the women’s privy but they were nowhere to be found. She walked briskly between the rows of tents, stopping to ask if anyone had seen them, until someone pointed to the small row of sailors' tents, separated from the others. The Ticonderoga had been prevented from leaving before it could be cleaned from bow to stern. The sailors had been kept busy with the establishment of a quarry on the site to provide stone for the storehouse.
Kit found Clara and Lizzy sitting outside one of the tents in the hot sun, poking idly at the sandy earth with sticks.
“Where is Ginny?” she asked.
Clara pointed to the tent. "She's in there."
Kit approached to enter the tent, then paused when she heard the sounds of Ginny plying her trade with a customer.
“Come girls, quickly now.” She gestured with her hands for them to follow.
She sat the girls in the shade of a tree and stood with arms crossed, glaring at the tent. When Ginny emerged, her clothes disheveled and her fingers pushing around coins in her open hand, Kit pounced.
“What do you think you're doing?”
“Counting me money. What does it look like?”
“How dare you bring the girls to within earshot of your -- your unsavoury activities.”
“Don’t you look at me with them eyes. I can tell what you’re thinking, and before you start lecturing me on me morals and the like, you need to think about one thing: I didn’t have no choice but to bring them here. You are off playing nurse with the good doctor, while I’m left to take care of both girls.”
“Well then, no more, Ginny. I’ll find someone else to mind Clara.”
“Go ahead. It’s no difference to me anyways.”
Kit began walking away from Ginny, but hesistated and turned back.
“When you are … well, you know… doing that" -- she waved towards the tent Ginny had exited -- "you can leave Lizzy with whomever is looking after Clara. I’ll inform you of who that might be by the end of the day.”
“Yeah, all right.” She combed her fingers through her tightly curled ginger hair, attempting to make a neat bun like Kit’s.
“Very well." Kit collected Clara from under the tree and walked towards Robert’s grave.
Clara picked red flowers from a bush as they approached. She gently brushed her hand over them as they walked.
“They’re strange-looking flowers,” Kit said. “I wonder what they are.”
“Finley said they’re called bottle brush.”
“Well, that makes sense – that’s exactly what they look like. Clara, I have something to tell you. This is our home now. This is where Robert is buried and where your father lived when he died. This is where we will make a new life for ourselves. Doctor Walker has offered me a job as a nurse. We won’t be returning home to Liverpool.” Kit expected her daughter to protest, to cry, to even run away from her but she knelt in the earth and simply nodded. “Do you understand what I have told you, Clara?”
“Yes, I understand.”
“What do you think about it then?”
“It’s all right, I suppose.”
“Just all right? Have you nothing more to say?”
Clara sunk to her knees at the foot of her brother’s grave and arranged the flowers over the earth.
Kit knelt beside her and put her arms around her. They stared at the grave, both lost in their own thoughts, until they heard the sound of footsteps behind them.
“Finley!” Clara jumped up and ran to him.
“What are you up to, little one?” He placed a hand on her head. “I thought it was you two I saw disappearing through the trees. How is everything?”
“We’re going to stay here,” Clara said.
“You are, are you?”
“She means we are going to stay here, at the Quarantine Station, even after we’ve been given a clean bill of health," Kit said.
“Stay here?" Finley asked.
“Tom has offered me a position as a nurse. He’s going to have a house built for us too.”
“That’s great, Kit. That’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time.”
“I’ve kind of got used to having you two around.”
Clara wrapped her arms around Finley’s waist.
“I now see why she didn’t put up a fight when I told her we wouldn't be going home.”
“Clara and her friend have been visiting me at the quarry from time to time. They love it there. It’s right next to the beach and I’ve watched them build sandcastles and explore the rock pools. I’ve been trying to find time to teach them how to fish.”
“You can see them clearly from the quarry?”
Kit took a few steps closer to Finley.
“I have a favour to ask you. When I am working with the sick, I need someone reliable to watch Clara for me. When all the passengers leave it will only be when there are patients to be tended to. I can pay you.”
“No, I mean yes. I mean no, to no payment.”
“Oh! That would be wonderful, but I can’t let you do it for nothing.”
“I’ll tell you what, when you get established in your house, you can cook me a meal once in a while. I live with me sister and her husband, and I love her dearly, but she’s a lousy cook.”
“That sounds fair.”
Clara beamed. “Mama’s a great cook."
“It’s settled then. Now, you best come with me while your mama gets back to work.”
Clara waved, then followed Finley back to the quarry.
Kit sighed and rested her hands on her hips. For the first time since she had embarked on the Ticonderoga, she felt that everything was going to be all right. As she walked back to the cottages, she stopped to explore the wild flowers growing along the shore. She looked out to sea, its still waters reflecting the welcoming calmness she felt deep within herself. She decided at that moment, that the very place on which she stood, would make the ideal site for a house for her and Clara.
© Copyright 2023 Miranda J Taylor. All rights reserved.
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The story is progressing well . Kia will become a professional nurse, which was a job popularized by Florence Nightingale, heroine of the Crimean War.
Your characters are good, and your grounding in history is solid. The diggings in Ballarat produced ample amounts of both gold and bandits. Australia had more than its share of criminals, thanks to the penal deportations of Mother England. Australia continued the tradition by throwing its criminals on the shores of Tasmania. Sauce for the goose.
Thank you again for your review. Yes, Australia did have its fair share of criminals but in line with our self-deprecating sense of humour,, if you're an Aussie descended from a transported criminal, that's regarded as a badge of honour.
But it seemed there was no confirmation her husband was dead. The guy heard a shot, and then couldn't find the body. Maybe they wanted him to sign over the gold claim to him instead of killing him. If Kit really loved him, wouldn't she want confirmation. And if he had gold claim wouldn't she want to have it, or at least sell it for a profit. What if the guy that said he was dead was now the owner of the gold claim. I can see her excepting it at first, his death, but later she might think through this further. And telling her he is dead is a good way for him to keep the gold claim.
So the doctor is looking for a partner, a beautiful woman with the same goals as he, I think he might swoon her. But Finley seems interest in her 13? year old daughter? This might backfire with Kit. Maybe Ginny is a better baby sitter.
One thing for sure. This is just coasting along. Time for some serious upsetting.
Thank you for your review. In the 1850's a lot of 'news' was delivered through word-of-mouth so I think I can get away with Kit not seeking confirmation on her husband's death. She's eager to get on with her life in the new country and leaving to go in search of her husband whom she's been told is dead, is just not practical for her. There is some major drama happening in subsequent chapters that culminates in some action. Thanks for reading.
Hey, Miranda. This was a very uplifting chapter indeed. Then again, perhaps it's kind of the proverbial calm before the storm...
Great that Kit now has a job. I don't "know" Tom Walker real well yet, but I wonder if he's employing her partly to use it as "leverage" to win her over...who knows, huh?
I was somewhat surprised by Ginny's "employment", lol. I like how Kit stood up for the kids!
Yes, it's looking a lot more like Kit and Finley will be married. But I'm expecting some interesting plot twists, so all bets are off.