Finally I am returned to the desk and the laptop.
After the Boer, before the Great War, on a road passing Longview, destination New Norcia, a young women held rein whilst perched high upon the seat of a cart that had seen its hey-day a good fifty years earlier. Whilst sturdy enough, in its way, the years and carpenters of dubious qualification, generally none at all, had done their best to keep it on the road; their best proving no more than barely sufficient. Lashed into traces was a bay mare lovingly named ‘Lucy’ by the very same woman driving her, albeit some fifteen years earlier. The father of the woman driving, however, had named the hard mouthed, moody, flighty, pig rooting nag ‘You Bastard’, a secret kept silently and to himself at around the same time as his then four year old daughter had called ‘You Bastard’, ‘Lucy’. Being a father, and a man with an excellent eye for horseflesh, his name for the horse proved far more accurate, and after a short stint as a beast under saddle whose sole purpose was behind and around livestock, she was retired after she threw him, bit him, then killed a dog under hoof all in the same day. He would have preferred retiring her to the plate, however, needs must, and into traces she went.
Not more than a mile and a half from the front gate of ‘Longview’, to the Post Office at New Norcia, bush, slowly being cleared, surrounded the track on either side, gums stood tall, white bodied beasts with noisy darkish green leafy hair infested with pink and grey galah’s, painfully noisome beasts of the feather; the track itself was a sandy one, narrow, and not accustomed to an abundance of traffic. A gum, twisted, scarred and slightly larger than its neighbour’s, stood on the eastern side of the north-south track, at its feet was a large ‘Bull Ant’ nest. The gum, over the years, had become a nesting place for a pair of white tailed black cockatoo’s, whose sanctuary come nursery was three quarters up the tree, situated in a broken off and hollow stump of a branch. A yard to the north east of the base of the tree was a nest of Gwada’s, their young were an orange come copper shade, all baring shiny black heads and fierce demeanour as is the norm with such snakes. And there, leaning against the trunk of the gnarled behemoth some hundred yards ahead of her was a man; immediately catching the lass on the cart’s attention.
Dressed in a neat white shirt, collar unpinned, with a well tanned face just visible beneath a curly ginger mop of hair that had been reasonably well maintained, if not slightly longer than was the fashion. Something along the lines of a ‘naval officer from a hundred years earlier’ she thought to herself. Broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hip, to her he appeared to be in his early twenties, yet on reflection, she believed he bore the air of a ‘dashing rogue’. Neat brown strides that may have been moleskin covered his legs, stopping above a pair of shiny black boots, and if he wasn’t five feet six inches tall, she vowed she would walk east. How he came to be standing beside a track on a July morning, dew still yet to evaporate from the grass and leaves, and without a jacket to warm him, mildly perplexed her. The gap between she and he taking an eternity to diminish ─ all thanks to the slow plodding of Lucy.
When the gap had closed to ten yards between man and beast, he stepped away from the tree, his eyes of a piercing blue startled her, flashed her the most wolfish of smiles. To her utter dismay, accompanied by the squawking of the feathered inhabitants, walked away from her, around the tree. By the time she reached the gnarled old tree, however, he had disappeared from sight. Believing he must have hidden himself from her, she gently slowed Lucy to wander past his spot, feigning interest in him should he be watching, however much she found the dashing six footer appealing, still, however, secretly scouring the ground for him. Yet, by the time the intrepid pair had passed the tree entirely, he was gone. Angered at this, she put him from her mind by focussing on the memory of his eyes ‘blue enough to swim in’.
Her return trip from town proved uneventful, and when the weathered and wizened tree came into view, hope being what it is, she found his absence quite depressing.
Time and lifestyle being what they are, his appearance haunted her briefly, only to fade after a day or two on return to the farm. When, some eleven days later her father passed on to her that she needed to go to town in the morning to collect much needed equipment from the rail yard that should have arrived by train that night. At the crack of dawn, Lucy, aka – ‘You Bastard’, once more did her level best to remain out of the traces she was currently in, stomped off to town, the lass seated above and behind, reins in hand. As with the last trip, some hundred odd yards to the south of the old tree, ‘he’ faded into sight standing and leaning as he had the previous time she had gone to town. Clothes and manner identical to their last encounter; ten yards from the tree, as had happened before, she found herself mesmerised by his amazing blue eyes flashing at her as he rounded the tree and was lost from sight to her. To her disgust, on closer inspection as they past the tree and its raucous inhabitants, he, once more had vanished; Lucy could not have cared less.
This was to become a routine for her every time she ventured to town for the next six or eight months. Always appearing from a distance, disappearing without so much as a footprint to prove he had existed at all. His blue eyes now indelibly embedded within her mind, ensuring she woke in a sweat in the middle of many a cold and lonely night in her small camp bed. The false memory of her held passionately within his heavy muscular arms the main cause.
Another year passed, and sadly Lucy had passed on (“Shot the bloody old bitch when I had the chance. I knew there would be good eating on that one” Father to son a fortnight later.), and a new old horse had been relieved from mustering livestock, filling the trace as Lucy could never have done. The girls’ trip to town, mutating into something casting an almost narcotic effect over her, and the unspoken liaison it offered.
Feeling as though kicked by a horse, she noted from a distance that something was terribly amiss. Not only had he not appeared as she approached the usual spot, the tree itself looked as though it had been torn from the ground by a giant, cast into the middle of the road, and then burnt. Tendrils of smoke still lingered about it, and the noise of its pink and grey inhabitants made conspicuous in their absence. Roots and branches lay bout it, torn and twisted and ruined; leaves scattered like fallen hail appeared in the surrounding tree tops and low dried grass. A hole like an entry to Hades all that remained in the spot the tree had been rent from. Gasping for air, an ‘O’ taking place of her pretty mouth, she reined in and sprang from the risen seat, and ran to the tree. Her tree. Their tree. And stalked around it. No other piece of vegetation had been in anyway changed or harmed in its surrounding. Not a leaf nor patch of grass had been molested, just the one, only, tree that was hers, and the absence of him.
Skirting, staring, interpreting everything from skyline to the dirt beneath her boots, she explored the area for a good hour in the valiant hope that there may have been some trace of him, yet nothing, not one thing, showed that he had ever been there before; she wept, torrents. Heat felt, gut drawn sobs came from her; tears cutting tiny wriggling tributaries through the grime on her cheeks. Sucking in a deep breath, gaining a relative semblance of composure, she dragged her feet back to the to the waiting contraption; crestfallen, climbing up into the seat, picked up the reins, giving them a slow flick, and away plodded the horse.
Rounding the obstacle on the track, she ventured off the road, and the cart jumped with a jolt of the offside wheel bouncing over some hard lump in its path. Surprise bringing her figuratively back to earth, she looked over the side and behind the tall wheel to see what she had run over. All she found was a broken branch from her tree, now with an added wheel track from the steelbound rim. Starting to look back up and toward the rear of the horse before her, something bright reflected from the ground, catching her eye immediately. Turning to inspect what it was that had drawn her attention, it took her a moment to find it and what she saw drew her back from the seat and onto the ground in a single swift movement. Feet on terra firma, two incredibly quick steps had her at a fallen limb with a smaller branch sticking out at an odd angle, its end a mass of green gum leaves. With both hands she lifted the branch with the leaves, snapping the green stick off at its junction on the larger limb, hastily tearing it away, casting it away from her, brushing ants from both arms and hands before it hit the ground. There, what she saw beside the broken limb chilled her to the very quick of her marrow. A gasp escaping her beautiful lips, and she bent down, hand extended, and picked up…………….
To be continued.
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