The next Sunday, Tom gave Kit the whole afternoon to spend with Clara, free from any duties at the hospital. She and Clara decided to explore the bushland at the far end of the quarantine station,
hoping to find some wildflowers and see a mysterious animal the labourers called a wombat.
“What does the wombat look like, Mama?”
“Well, I’ve heard it told it’s bigger than a cat but smaller than a calf.”
“That’s not telling me anything. Does it live in the trees? Will I see one up there?” She pointed into the branches of a tall red eucalyptus.
“No, darling, the wombat lives underground, in a burrow.”
“Where will we find a burrow?”
Finley approached from behind them. “Your best bet is to look for one in the side of a mound. I saw the two of you walking down here and wondered what you were up to.”
“So, you thought you’d follow us?” Kit smiled and winked at Clara.
“Well, there aren’t too many things to do on a day off. I often come here and look for birds.”
“What kind of birds do you see?” Clara craned her neck to scan the trees.
“There’s all sorts of birds around here. I think my favourite is the cockatoo." He turned his hand up and curled his fingers towards his palm to resemble a claw. "I like the way they grab the
gum nuts in their claws and open them up with their strong beaks to get to the seed inside.”
“What colour are they?”
“Well, there’s white ones and there’s black ones.”
“I want to see one.”
“I might be able to help you. I know where there’s a small water hole where they like to drink on hot days like this one. But, it’s in the middle of all this scrub and it’s hard to get to. I’ll
need your mother’s permission to take you there.”
“Please, Mama. Can he take us there?”
“All right. But we’ll take it slowly.”
Finley led the way, pointing out fallen logs and dips in the ground where they might trip as they made their way through the scrub. He stopped often to pick flowers, encouraging Clara to smell
them, and describing to her the birds he had seen feeding from their nectar.
While stepping over a small fallen tree, Kit’s skirts caught on a branch and she fell behind.
“Finley. I’m stuck.”
“Stay here, Clara." He pointed to the ground. “Don’t move.”
Finley returned to Kit to find her struggling to free her skirts.
“The bottom of my skirt is caught on this stick. I can’t quite reach it and I don’t want to pull because I fear it will tear.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll have you out of here in the wag of a dog’s tail.”
Finley knelt on the earth and carefully lifted the hem of her skirt off the stick.
“It doesn’t look like it’s torn. You can step away now.”
“Thank you, Finley.”
As she stepped away she stumbled on the uneven ground. Finley caught his arm around her waist.
She giggled. “I thought I was going to fall.”
“Not while I’m around you won’t. I’ll always protect you if I can.”
She placed her hand on the side of his face. “You’re very dear to me.”
“And you to me.”
He leaned his face towards hers. Their lips had barely touched when they heard a scream.
“Clara! Kit shouted.
“Come on. It came from this way.” Finley grabbed her hand. She lifted her skirts from the ground and ran. As they approached Clara, they saw her sitting on the ground with her skirts
pulled to her knees, her stockings and one shoe beside her.
“Are you all right?” Kit yelled as they ran towards her.
Clara screamed again.
They dropped to the ground beside her and Finley grasped her foot and turned her leg, spotting the small puncture wounds he feared he’d find. “It’s a snake bite.”
“Oh, my God.” Kit cupped her hand to her mouth. “Please don’t take her too.”
Finley scooped Clara into his arms.
“We have to get her to the Doc.”
“You go as fast as you can. I’ll follow. Don’t look back. Don’t worry about me. Just take her.”
Finley nodded and moved quickly through the thick dry grass and debris under the towering eucalyptus trees.
Kit followed, pushing at branches whipping at her face as she struggled to keep the pair in sight. When they’d cleared the trees, Finley ran with Clara towards the cottage.
“Where’s the Doc?” he asked as he approached a small group of people on the path.
A small boy pointed to the cottage. "He's in there."
He ran through the open door and scanned the room for the familiar form of his friend. Clara sobbed softly in his arms.
"Doc, it’s a snake bite.”
Tom pointed at a spare stretcher in the corner of the room.
“Put her over there, quickly.”
“It’s her right ankle.” Finley gently lowered her to the sheets as Tom stood ready beside the stretcher.
“What type of snake was it?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t see.”
Tom leaned over Clara and listened to her heart. “Her heart is racing and her breathing is shallow. Whatever it was, it was venomous. I’ve never treated a snake bite before and all treatments I’ve
heard of inevitably fail." He straightened and brushed his hand down the length of his face.
“You have to do something, Tom.”
“Barungerin. Go find him. I heard that he saved one of his own from snakebite last summer.”
“He could have gone walkabout by now.”
“You have to try. Go now. I’ll do what I can here to keep her comfortable. You don’t have much time.”
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