Overview

"Sold!" wept Mary Anne on her deathbed. "Sold for a bottle of rum!" "Love him," her mother had said. "Loving is not always easy. It will mean caring for him, cooking and cleaning for him--and bearing his children. But it is a hard man indeed, who can resist consistent love for ever." It had all begun in peaceful Hertfordshire. But boredom, recklessness, his swashbuckling life in the army of the East India Company--had changed all that. Then had befallen a chance encounter in far away New South Wales--an enslavement to rum--and an overseer's words ...
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Mary Anne

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Overview

"Sold!" wept Mary Anne on her deathbed. "Sold for a bottle of rum!" "Love him," her mother had said. "Loving is not always easy. It will mean caring for him, cooking and cleaning for him--and bearing his children. But it is a hard man indeed, who can resist consistent love for ever." It had all begun in peaceful Hertfordshire. But boredom, recklessness, his swashbuckling life in the army of the East India Company--had changed all that. Then had befallen a chance encounter in far away New South Wales--an enslavement to rum--and an overseer's words "The establishment looks more favourably on married men. More chance of a pardon. And possibly of a grant of land." Gentle Mary Anne becomes an unwitting player in this heart gripping story of life as it was in the penal colony of New South Wales in the mid nineteenth century. Mary Anne--a compelling story with an imperative that drives the reader to the last page.
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Product Details

  • BN ID: 2940000076644
  • Publisher: Writers Exchange E-Publishing
  • Publication date: 3/21/2004
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 215 KB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The candle flickered fitfully in its brass holder on top of the high chest of drawers. The yellow light reflected from the polished cedar furniture, but it did little to dispel the shadows in the corners of the room.

The figure lying in the high brass bed moved slightly. Immediately the man and woman sitting on either side rose and bent over the quiet form.

The woman lifted the candle down and held it closer to the sleeper. "It's amazing the way she hangs on."

"She's not ready to go yet," responded the dark bearded man. "She's not very big, but she's got a mighty big will."

"Yes indeed." His companion gave a soft chuckle. There was a pause as each thought of their mother's life.

"James ought to be back soon. I hope he found the minister at home. If he didn't, Mother will probably be gone before he gets here. She'd want a blessing before she goes."

"Rose, let me relieve you. You must be tired," whispered her sister, coming into the room.

"Oh, Liza, you are a dear. I really don't want to leave her though. She stirred just now. She might just slip away when I'm not here."

"Carrie's making a hot drink and bringing it in.

"We'll sit here together. I don't think anything will really disturb her."

The door opened again and Carrie came in carrying a tray with four steaming cups. She set it down on the small table by the wall.

"No change?" she asked softly.

"Rum. Rum. Rum!" The quavering voice came from the bed. The words came in rising crescendo.

The old lady's arm flung back the covers then dropped onto the counterpane. The four watchers leaned over her.

"Do you think Mother wants some rum?" asked Thomas incredulously. "I thoughtshe hated the very thought of it."

"No. No. She's wandering. She'd never touch it. Not a drop."

"I wish James would soon come with the minister. It'll be a cold ride for them. But at least it's fairly moonlit." Eliza pulled back the lace curtain and looked out. The sky was clear, the stars bright with the brilliance of a frosty night. The rising moon cast deep shadows under the trees but on the open road the travellers would be able to see their way clearly. She let the curtain fall and turned back to the others by the bed.

Their mother's breathing was shallow and slow, although fairly regular.

"Come on. Drink your tea up," Rose said. "We might have a long sitting." They settled down in the cane chairs.

The room was comfortably, though simply furnished. The polished floorboards were scattered with rugs, sheepskin or cowhide, and a woven rug beside the bed. Starched white linen covers were laid out with brushes and combs on the duchess. A lace-edged runner across the top of the chest of drawers protected the polished surface.

"All for rum!" There was pathos in the tone. A cry.

"What is it, Mother? What's troubling you?" Rose leaned over the bed, pushing the sheet back from her mother's face. "Would you like a drink?"

The old lady's eyes were closed. The eyelids fluttered slightly, but didn't open. It was a small face, lined, but gentle in its repose, with a halo of soft silver hair. Two long plaits lay out over the pillows.

"Papa! No. No! Papa!" The voice was high. Panic in the tone.

They looked at each other. How far back down the years was her mind now? Or was it all delirium? Was it just rambling of the mind?

"She was only a child when they came out, wasn't she?" Rose asked. "She never talked very much about those early years. I suppose she didn't remember very much about England."

"Perhaps. But I think there were things she didn't want to remember. Whenever I asked questions about the voyage out, or things like that, she never seemed to want to talk about it. Not like most old people. They usually enjoy talking about when they were young." Tom looked thoughtfully at his mother. "But not our mother."

Carrie leaned forward.

"I came across a postcard the other day, when I was cleaning in here," she said. "It must have fallen from her chest of drawers. It was very old and addressed to Miss Mary Anne Ferguson. It was a lovely little note, obviously to a child, calling her Papa's little princess. It was from Grandfather. I could hardly believe it." The others were all attention. "I put it back in the top drawer. She's never mentioned having anything like that. I thought she might not want me to see it. The address was Hertfordshire."

Eliza nodded. "Father came from Hertfordshire, too, you know. I wonder if he knew her then. They never spoke of it"

"Father didn't say much about his home either. Of course, he was so much older than Mother. She would have been very young when he was brought out." Tom walked to the window again. "Still no sign of them." He turned back to the bed.

Carrie stood up and gathered the cups and saucers. "I'll take these out and wash up," she said quietly.

She had just gone out and closed the door when the old lady reared up, her eyes wide filled with a horror they could not see. "Sold! Sold!" she cried. Tears coursed down her cheeks. "Sold!" she screamed, her arms flailing the air.

They were beside her at once, trying to calm her.

"What can we do? We can't let her go on like this!" Rose wailed, almost in tears. "Mother, Mother. What is the matter? Don't cry. Don't be upset. You're all right. We're here with you." She put her arm about her mother, smoothing the older woman's hair. "There, there. You've been having a bad dream."

Old eyes looked up at her, not quite comprehending.

"Lie down, Mother. It's all right. Here, have a little drink." Rose eased her mother back on her pillows. She was quiet now.

Carrie came back with another candle.

"Hoofbeats!" exclaimed Tom. "Listen. Can you hear two horses?" He was on his feet but stood still to listen. "Yes. Yes. I'm sure there's more than one." He left the room quickly, calling softly over his shoulder. "I'll light the lantern and go and open the gate. Is the kettle still on?"

Carry followed him from the room. "Yes. They'll feel like something hot."

The cold air stung Tom's face as he opened the back door and stepped out into the night. It would be a good frost in the morning. The lantern bobbed across the paddock to the gate. He pulled the latch and stood waiting for the riders.

What had Mother been thinking about in her dazed condition? Perhaps she had been thinking about Grandfather and his rum bouts. It was odd. She never talked about rum. Never said anything against him. Oh, well, those were her ethics. He was her father. She would hear no word against him.

The riders slowed as they approached the gate.

"Goodnight, Mr. Rushbrook. Thank you for coming. Sorry to bring you out on a night like this," Tom greeted. The minister reached down and shook hands.

"Not at all, Tom. I would have been upset if you hadn't called me."

They were through the gate now and waited until Tom had shot the latch.

"A wonderful lady, your mother. An example to us all," the minister said as they rode across the paddock to the house. The riders dismounted and James led the horses away.

"Carrie's got something to warm you up," Tom called.

They were all round the bed. She was asleep again now.

"Sleeping like a baby. You should have seen her a while ago. We had a job to hold her," Rose told the newcomers.

"Happens sometimes. It's to do with the blood flow I understand," Mr. Rushbrook said.

"Or it's just dreams. Poor Mother. It was like a nightmare." Eliza stroked her mother's arm. "Poor Mother."

"It's really just age you know," Rose said. "After all, she's had a very long life. It can't go on forever, I suppose. She's been wonderful until this last couple of weeks. We are very lucky."

"She is confused when she comes to," Eliza added. "Then tonight there have been these other ramblings. Almost as though there is something troubling her. Perhaps it is just dreams. But maybe there are memories mixed in too."

The old lady moved. They were instantly alert.

Her eyelids flickered, then opened. She looked around. Recognition in her eyes.

"Hullo, Mrs. Dowling." Phillip Rushbrook moved to her side. "Have you had a nice sleep?"

She nodded slowly. "Sit down, Mr. Rushbrook," she whispered. Then a little stronger, "Rose, get Mr. Rushbrook a chair."

"I heard you were not so well today so I came to see you. I thought you'd like us to have prayers together." He leaned forward, his hand on hers.

"Yes," she replied softly.

"We'll just ask God's blessing on you. And the girls might make another hot drink for us." He turned to them. "Perhaps I could have a little time alone with her after that. She may tell me if there is something worrying her," he said softly.

They prayed together a few minutes. Then they left him alone with her.

"Are you comfortable, Mrs. Dowling?" he asked.

"Yes"

"Are you content? Is there anything worrying you that you want to tell God about? Anything I can help you with?"

She was silent. Her eyes closed.

"Anything you have done that you want to ask forgiveness for?" He paused. "Anyone who has hurt you? And you are still hurt about?" He was sure she was conscious.

Then a tear slid down her cheek. Her face crumpled and she wept. "Sold," she whispered. "Sold for a bottle of rum."

Chapter Two

The setting sun made long shadows across the leaf littered lane. The trees, almost devoid of leaves now, made a canopy overhead and the brown leaves crunched underfoot.

One of the men trudging along shifted his reaping hook from one hand to the other. He was a burly fellow, thick set and muscly. He turned his head to his companion.

"Are you ready for tonight then?"

"Yes." The reply came promptly.

"Rabbit pie tomorrow night, eh?"

"Have to be careful though, Henry."

"Why? What's worrying you, Wally? It's not the first time the Major up here," he indicated the big house with his head," has extended to us the hospitality of the game from his park." He chuckled.

"No. And if we are caught, it won't be the first time for you either," the slighter man said grimly. "It was touch and go last time you know. And that was only eighteen months ago. You did a spot of time for that. The judge won't be too lenient if you're caught again."

"We won't get caught. Old Pinchim couldn't catch a flea. He's been here since Adam was a boy. Used to be always running around trying to catch poachers when I was at the prep school in the gatehouse. Stop worrying, Wally."

"You might be educated, Henry, but it won't save you if you're caught again. East India Company College or not. The Major has warned you."

Henry chuckled. "He wouldn't go so far as to charge me. Remember the rags we had at College? Now there was some fun. The old major was livid that time we painted the front of the town hall red. It took weeks for them to get it off." He laughed. "But when he calmed down he said 'Boys will be boys.' And didn't go any further.

"Of course he never discovered just who, or which of the students was responsible. He had suspicions though. He spoke to Father. But, of course, he didn't know either." He laughed again. "He gave me a big lecture."

They trudged along in silence for a few minutes.

"Seen a lot of water go under the bridge since then, Wally."

"Yes," the other agreed. "I suppose you have. For me the seasons come and go and I work here in the fields. It's a good life. In the open air. The soil and the sun. And the planting and the reaping. The harvest. But you now. You've lived. Been round the world. In the Company in India. In the army. You saw some skirmishes in India, eh?" He looked at his companion.

Henry nodded.

"And on the ships," Wally continued. "Aye. You've lived. You've seen the world." There was admiration, envy in his tone.

Henry stood a little taller. Yes he had seen the world. He'd sailed the seas. Fought in India. He'd been in the army of the East India Company. Now there was a man's world. Excitement. Always something happening. Nothing dull about that life. Always something to pit your wits against.

He looked around at the peaceful scene. The neat fields. The little patches of wheat and barley. A church spire in the distance. The solid big house up on the hill. The supine river meandering lazily between the fields. And the park with its big trees and bushes. And lanes like this one. Quiet. Tranquil.

Oh, it was beautiful. Almost too beautiful. It was so ordered. So manicured. There was no life! No adventure! A man had to make his own adventure. Had to throw a pebble, or maybe a rock into this still pool. And watch the ripples.

He chuckled. They'd make a little ripple tonight. He and Wally. After old Pinchim had been around his beat and had settled down with his port after dinner.

Pinchim by name, Pinchim by nature they used to call him at the college. He was getting a bit old for this job now. The major would have to get a new gamekeeper before too long.

It might not be so easy then. He'd have to watch his step when that happened. If he was still here.

It was so dull. He might not be able to stand it much longer. Farm work was all right. But it was dull.

He looked at his hand.

That contracted finger, now. That was no dull picnic by the river when he got that. A Muslim sabre had almost severed that finger. He was lucky to still have it even if it wasn't much use. And the scar up by his eyebrow, and the one on his cheek near his nose. They were chukar memoirs.

A man had to be alert. His pulse throbbing. Had to be on his toes.

Yes. He'd seen a bit of life. And death he supposed. Oh well with that sort of life you had to expect that. Had to take the bad with the good.

The family couldn't understand that. They really thought he was a bit wild. Embarrassed by him even. Father had been a soldier. You'd think he'd understand. But he'd settled down to this dullness here in England. Had to keep the family name up he kept saying. Had to remember the family escutcheon. He expected his son to bring honour and glory on the family name.

They had reached the end of the lane now. Where it joined the road to the village. And home.

"I'll meet you by the big oak just South of the gate house at ten o'clock. There should just be a bit of moonlight. Enough to see what we want. We'll be over the wall in a trice and into the woods before anyone can see us. Even if old Pinchim is around." He grinned at Wally. "We'll be moving shadows. Until the rifle goes off. Then we'll have to grab our quarry and run for it. The shot will bring the dogs and Pinchim. I don't fancy getting caught by those dogs."

Wally shuddered. Maybe he was looking for trouble doing this with Henry. All for a rabbit.

I don't know why I listen to him, he thought. But he did seem to get a lot out of life.

"Come on, Princess. Mama will be waiting for us for tea."

Robert Ferguson watched his little daughter picking berries from the hedges. What a pretty little thing she was, her curly hair in ringlets about her face. Such a sweet expression she had. It came of course from her sweet nature. Such a sweet nature my little Mary Anne has, he thought. Emma was so headstrong. Should have been a boy, that girl. She was lovely to look at, too. And growing up. Soon be a woman. There would be suitors to contend with.

But little Mary Anne. She was such a joy. It would be a few years yet before he would have that worry with her. The apple of his eye really. Josephine was always telling him he must not make more of her than Emma. He so often clashed with Emma. He'd have to try harder.

But girls must do as they were bid. He was their father after all.

They walked along together, Mary Anne swinging her bunch of berries until they reached a break in the hedge where it met the road.

They scrambled through.

Two men were just approaching.

"Good day, Henry, Wally," Robert called. "Been hot in the fields today."

"Good day, Robert. Hullo, Mary Anne."

Mary Anne swung behind her father.

"How's your older daughter, Robert? Growing a lovely young lady is Emma."

They stood talking a few minutes, then parted, the two men going on their way, Robert and Mary Anne going in the direction from which the men had come.

"Why did you not say good day to Henry, Princess? That was not very polite."

She swung his hand and was quiet a minute. Then looking up at her father she said shyly, "He scares me."

"Scares you? Why does he scare you? He was very civil."

"But he's got those scars on his face. They pull his face about. And all those marks on his hands and up his arms. They are terrible!"

Robert laughed. "Oh the tattoos! He certainly has got a lot of them. But they are only drawings and writings you know. He had somebody do that. Only you see they don't wash off. They are there for good."

She shuddered. "I don't like them."

"He had that done when he was away around the world. I suppose he likes them. Thinks they are smart."

She hung on his hand. Then smiling a little self-consciously looked up at him again. "He scares me," she repeated.

A weak moon shone through the breaks in the low cloud, which had come up. It wasn't going to be as easy to see as he had thought. But then that could be to their advantage as far as the gamekeeper was concerned. The dogs didn't need the moon. They'd have to be quick and over the wall before the dogs could get to them.

Where was Wally? He should be here. He looked up into the tree. It wouldn't be hard. A rustle sounded behind him. Wally appeared.

"Ready?"

"Yes."

Henry slung his rifle over his shoulder and shinnied along the great bough, then dropped noiselessly onto the ground. He melted into the shadows of the woods.

When they reached the thicket they stopped and loaded the rifle. Then continued, approaching the area where they expected to find their prey.

A rift in the clouds allowed a patch of moonlight to fall in the clearing.

Sure enough there was a rabbit. Sitting washing its face. It had not as yet picked up their scent.

Henry lifted the rifle and aimed. He pulled the trigger.

The shot shattered the silence.

The rabbit twitched. Jerked in the air and dropped.

Pandemonium broke out at the house. Voices shouting. Dogs barking.

Running feet.

Henry grabbed the rabbit and raced for the tree that would get them over to safety.

"Good shot," Wally gasped. They could hear the dogs. They were getting closer. The rift in the clouds had closed. It was dark. They were scratched, the thorns in the undergrowth clutching them greedily. Slowing their progress.

They burst out of the copse wood. There was the tree.

Henry was on Wally's heels as they raced towards the overhanging tree.

The next instant his foot went into a hole and he pitched headlong onto the ground. The rabbit flying from his hand.

Chapter Three

"Mayor Litchfield was talking to me today Josie," Robert said.

Josephine turned from the stove to look at her husband. "Mayor Litchfield? What did he want?" she asked.

"He says there's still no work here in Hertford for someone like me. They are putting more people off. Not taking them on." He looked around the small kitchen. The oil lamp burned on the table. It was already dark outside. It was better than some had. But he wouldn't be able to stay long if he couldn't soon get work. He glanced back at his wife. "We can't last long here without money coming in," he said solemnly.

She brought the pot to the table. "I know. I'm trying to stretch things. Make the money last."

He nodded. "I know," he said. "But even so it won't last long." He paused. "Where do we go then?"

"Find cheaper housing I suppose. I don't know where."

He looked uncertainly at her. Would he tell her now what else Mayor Litchfield had said? What he had suggested they might do? Another course of action to consider. He took a deep breath. "Mayor Litchfield made a suggestion that just might solve our problem."

Josephine looked up, surprised.

"He told me about a scheme the government has introduced."

"What sort of scheme?" she asked, puzzled.

"It's a scheme whereby they arrange positions for people and also their transport to the place of work."

"I have not heard of this," she said, surprised. "Where is this work? Is there any suitable for you?"

"Yes. He said there is a need for bookkeepers. And there are other opportunities also. Opportunities to even own land. Become your own landlord." He paused. "There is just one thing. It's not in England."

"Then where?"

"In New South Wales."

"New South Wales? But that is where they are sending all the convicts!"

"Yes. But it's more than a convict settlement now. That is how it started. But now it's developing. Growing. There are many free settlers going there. And not only from England. From other countries as well. As far as we are concerned there is work available, and accommodation. And our passage there would be paid for by the government." He watched her, trying to gauge her reaction.

She had sat down at the table, the meal forgotten, her face thoughtful. "And he is sure all this is true? There really would be work and a cottage to live in. We would have hardly any money when we got there."

"So he says. He can arrange it all. He even knew of a position as bookkeeper available. Such people are hard to get in the colony. And highly thought of."

She lifted her eyes to his. "Then what do have we to lose? We cannot stay here long. Our money will soon be gone. And there is no prospect of work. What can we lose?" She stood up and proceeded to serve out the meal. How good it was to have some course of action. To end the frustration of inactivity. To find some escape from the threatening disaster of being destitute and being turned out on to the streets. "I say we accept the position and go," she said calmly. "I have been praying for a solution. Here it is." She smiled at him. Confident. "When can we go?"

Robert's eyes opened in surprise. So, Josephine was willing to go! Perhaps it would be all right. At least it would be work, and food on the table and a roof over their heads.

They talked with the children over the meal, telling them of the possibility. Josephine made it sound exciting. An adventure. Perhaps it was. But it was also worrying. He wished he had a drop of something to dispel the worries. But there was no money for that.

Morning brought purpose. Josephine hustled him from the house. "Go and see Mayor Litchfield and get all the details," she said. "No doubt there are papers to fill in and sign."

He looked across the fields as he made his way to the Mayor's office. How strange it would be to leave his familiar world. The neat ordered world he knew. Life had been good until he lost his job. They had to reduce staff in the county office. Two of them had been put off.

"I'll give you a good reference though, Robert. You're a good bookkeeper," Mayor Litchfield had said. What sort of place would he get in New South Wales? The mayor had said something about a big property. He would ask about that.

As he drew near to the gatehouse at the entrance to the Big House a little knot of people was congregated, gesticulating vigorously, and obviously excited about something.

"Good day to you, Robert. Have you heard the news? Poachers caught last night here in the Park."

"Caught, you say? I didn't think anyone would ever be caught in there. Poor old Pinchim is too old for the job. And too soft I guess."

"Aye. But the major's got a new gamekeeper. Pinchim is retired. This new fellow doesn't know the locals. And doesn't care. If they're caught, that's it."

They all added their comments.

"Who was caught?" Robert asked tentatively. No name had been mentioned.

"Henry Dowling. You know him. Went to school here in the gatehouse. Then to the college. Clever fellow. But wild you know."

"Only got to look at all those tattoos on his arms to guess that," one of them added.

"Eeh. But what will his father say? He's been in some skirmishes before. Did a bit of time not long ago. Now this. Wonder what he'll get?"

"He's in prison then?" Robert asked.

"Aye. Held 'til the assizes," one contributed.

"No doubt about it. Jacobs the new gamekeeper caught him. Put his foot in a rabbit burrow and fell and twisted his ankle. Couldn't get up. And there on the ground were his rifle and the rabbit. Shot in the head."

"He's a bit too clever with that rifle of his. Thinks he's smart having been in the army." The man nodded knowingly. "Well it's got him in trouble now all right. Wouldn't be surprised if he was transported to New South Wales for this."

"What! For shooting a rabbit?" Robert gasped.

"Wouldn't be surprised. Second offence you know. It was poaching before, too."

Robert walked on leaving them still discussing the event.

Well, if he was going to New South Wales, he'd rather be going on his kind of assisted passage than Henry's. By all accounts that sort of passage wasn't to be envied.

He found the mayor and secured the necessary information. Perhaps it would be all right. It sounded promising. He picked up the papers and returned home to fill in the information required. Josie was all interest in the news he had to tell of the night's excitement.

"Henry probably thought the major wouldn't press charges," she said. "After all he and Henry's father are friends."

"Yes, but if he's got a new gamekeeper to look after the park, he can't very well give him a list of people not to apprehend," he said. "Henry is a bit too cocksure. It could be really serious because it's his second offence in a short time. But think of his family. His mother and father. They are good respectable people. They will be so embarrassed. So ashamed."

Josie's face was troubled. "He's a clever, educated man. He's not a lad now. He ought to have got rid of all those irresponsible ways."

Emma and Mary Anne had been listening to their parents' conversation. Mary Anne looked at her father. "He scares me," she said softly.

Emma looked at her little sister with disdain. "He doesn't scare me. I just think he's horrible."

"I'm sure the major would have given him permission to shoot a rabbit if he asked," Josie said.

Robert grunted. "Yes. But that wouldn't be the same for Henry," he said.

The cell was dark. The little window high up didn't admit much light. Henry leaned back against the stone wall. What a fool thing to do. Put his foot in a rabbit's hole! The rabbit getting his own back eh? He shuddered at the memory of the dogs, their snarling jaws above him, ready to tear him to pieces.

But what a fool he had felt! To be lying there helpless on the ground and the keeper standing over him.

Thank God the gamekeeper had the dogs under his control, else Henry would have had a few more scars on his face. There were some cuts, but nothing compared with what it could have been. The flesh could all have been ripped off his face.

His ankle throbbed. It was twice its normal size. What would happen now? The major would let him off. Especially if his father spoke to him.

"Here's yer soup." The jailer pushed a bowl through the door. "Better make the most of it. Wouldn't be surprised if ya get transported for this. Won't get much on that one way ticket to New South Wales."

"I won't get transported. I'll be out of here before the assizes come up." The jailer didn't say anything. Just walked away shaking his head.

Why did he do that? This fellow usually argued he was right. Did he have some inside information? Why hadn't Henry's father been to bail him out? And why didn't the major send word to release him? He wouldn't charge him. That was sure. Wasn't it? It was this confounded new gamekeeper. Fancy him being appointed, and Henry hadn't heard.

Old Pinchim would have given him a fright and then let him go. Not have the police come and take him in. Father would come. But he would be in a filthy mood. Could be a bit of a stuffed shirt sometimes.

Oh, this confounded ankle! The pain seemed to be going right up his leg. How long would he have to put up with that? If he could only get home he could get some hot and cold packs on it. Why didn't Father come?

He heard the jailer tramping down the passage to answer the bell being pulled at the gate. Did he know anything? The little door shot open. The jailer's face appeared.

"Visitor for you 'Enry," he said, and opened the door.

Chapter Four

Henry looked up eagerly. His father had come! Or was it someone from the major? He stood up. The jailer would have his rifle no doubt. Have to get it before he left. The door opened wider and a big thick-set man came into the room. The gamekeeper! The major's gamekeeper! Had the major sent him?

"Sit down, Dowling," the man said. "Have you had time to reflect on your night's activities?"

Henry didn't answer. What was this fellow up to?

"As I understand it, you didn't even have need of that rabbit," the man said scornfully. "You've got a job. You're not hungry. Yet, you were poaching in the major's park. There might have been some excuse for you if you were out of work and hungry, and had a hungry family depending on you. But none of that applies to you."

So, the major had told him to give him a lecture. Oh well, let him get it off his chest.

"And it's the second time you've been caught. The last time not long ago." The man shook his head. "You're a fool, Henry Dowling. You never learn."

"Alright. I'm a fool. If you've finished your lecture, can we go now?" Henry said, stung by the other's derision.

"Go?" the big man bellowed. "Where do you think you're going? Nowhere right now, my fine fellow. Nowhere right now. I could make a guess where you might go after the assizes. But not right now."

"What do you mean?"

"Just what I said. You'll be here till the assizes come up." He looked at Henry's face and observed him standing on one leg.

"I was sent to make sure you don't need medical attention. Soft old chap the major. Concerned you might have broken your leg. But I can see you're all right." He turned back to the door. "Jailer!" he called. He looked back at Henry. "Aye, but you're lucky. Those dogs could have ripped you to pieces. Lucky I was close on them and have been training them to be obedient." He shook his head in wonder again. "Just can't understand anybody being such a fool." The jailer opened the door and the gamekeeper went out.

"When are you coming back to let me out?" Henry called. "Come on. You've given me the lecture. The major won't leave me here."

The door was slammed shut. The little grill opened again and part of his face appeared in the aperture. "The major's not letting you out, man. He let you off once. With a short time so you'd learn your lesson. But you didn't learn. The world's not your playground. You're not a lad. The major's been to see your father. Very upset he is. The major, too. Got a soft heart the old major. But some people don't appreciate that. You'll just have to take your chances at the assizes same as anyone else, even if the major and your father are friends. Only thing is there's no question about whether you're guilty or not is there? I've got the rifle. And the rabbit." He slid the little door shut and Henry heard his footsteps receding along the corridor.

What was happening? The major was not letting him off? Surely the fellow was telling him a tale? He'd be back later surely? But he hadn't sounded as though he was just trying to frighten him. If he was here until the assizes, then came up before the judge...

For the first time the impact of his actions and their consequences hit him. He'd be convicted. There was no getting away from that. And that would mean prison. Loss of his liberty. The terrible boredom of prison. The boredom of working in the fields had nothing on prison. The confined space. The lack of activity. The food. Or lack of it. Day after day. Night after night. The stench. The inescapable company of the same people. And the maddening irritation of their idiosyncrasies.

It was a pretty price to pay for a bit of a lark. But then his father might be able to sway some influence. He knew the right people.

The days dragged. The scenery of the four stone walls was etched on his inner eye. He counted the stones up in each wall. He counted the stones across. Then the total. The slabs on the floor. He watched for the star to appear in the sky. The star he could see through the little high window. He watched the clouds appear and break up and close again. The jailer was a taciturn fellow and rarely gave him any news. The food was monotonous and tasteless.

At last the jailer unlocked the door and motioned him to his feet. "Come on, 'Enry. You're for the court today."

His heart gave a great leap. The assizes! Today! He was led along the corridors by the guards, into the courtroom. He was put in the box. It was brief. He had no defence. He pleaded for leniency on the grounds of it being a prank.

"A prank Dowling? How old are you?"

"Thirty, Your Honour."

"Thirty. Then I think you are past the age of pranks. If you were thirteen now..." The magistrate looked down his papers. "And I see you were convicted of the same charge only eighteen months ago, Mr. Dowling."

"Yes, Your Honour."

"It would seem then you have no respect for the law." There was a little aside with the clerk. Then the bailiff rose and his voice boomed out. "The prisoner will stand for the verdict."

The magistrate's voice cut through the courtroom. "I find the accused guilty of the charge. I sentence him to seven years beyond the sea. To be served in the colony of New South Wales."

He was back in the cell.

"To await transportation," he had been told.

He could not believe it! Where was his father? There had been not a word from him. What had happened? To be transported as a convict would be a very different sea voyage from his previous experience. Now, he would be on the other end of the stick. Instead of being the soldier, he would be prodded and herded with the others, the riff-raff, by the soldiers.

The enormity of the sentence washed over him. He could not sleep. He could not eat. Even the meagre rations he received. On the third day after his conviction the jailer again opened the grill and said, "Visitor for you, 'Enry."

The door was unceremoniously thrown open and his father stood in the doorway.

Henry sprang up. "Father! At last you've come. Where have you been? I thought you'd never come."

His father looked at him, unsmiling. "I very nearly did not come at all."

"What can you do, Father? I thought you would have come before the court case. Who can you contact now to get me out of here?"

His father contemplated him with an impassive face. "I do not intend 'contacting' anyone."

"But, Father!"

His father held up his hand. "You have brought nothing but shame and dishonour to your family. Our name has been ridiculed. Besmirched. Disgraced. And all for a schoolboy's irresponsible prank. Your mother and sisters are ill with the embarrassment and shame you have brought upon them. I would be obliged if you would stay out of England when you have served your sentence. In time I may forget I ever had a son."

"Father!" Henry cried in incredulous disbelief.

"You have made your bed. Now, you must lie on it." He turned and strode down the corridor. The cell door was slammed.

Robert and Josephine filled in the papers and signed them. Robert agreed to work for at least two years as bookkeeper on "Bradbury Downs" a large property in the Hunter district in Hew South Wales.

"It sounds almost like a village, all the cottages and buildings," he said as they sat by the fire going over all the information. "There's a butchery and a bakery and the blacksmith's shop, and a store and office and a little church. Mr. Bradbury, the owner, has over one hundred convicts." He gazed into the fire. "It will be a strange life for us, Josie. But the wages are good. And a cottage and food like meat and milk and eggs supplied. Anything that is grown on the place is supplied to the workers. We should be able to save and maybe buy some land. Our own place!" His eyes glowed.

They were herded onto the ship. The 'James Patterson' it said along the bow. Henry sought in vain, his eyes roving over the crowds on the wharf. Even now perhaps his father, or mother or even his sisters might appear to bid him goodbye. To show some sign of forgiveness and love. But there was no familiar figure. No hand raised in greeting. No tears wiped from eyes come to catch the last glimpse of him as he was borne away. A cold steely grasp tightened on his heart. So they really meant it? There was a knife in the pit of his stomach. They had cast him off. He was going to the other side of the world in these conditions, and not a soul to say fare well. Fare thee well.

His jaw tightened. His eyes were hard. Staring in an effort to keep back tears.

He glanced back for the last time over the town as he was pushed forward to descend the companionway to the convicts' quarters.

Goodbye England.

It was dark before the loading was completed. Not that it made much difference down here in the prisoners' quarters. It was twilight in the middle of the day here. The lanterns swung limply as the boat swayed with the swell in the river. Then he realised the ropes had been cast and they were moving. Moving to New South Wales. And seven years servitude. Where?

Chapter Five

The cluster of white buildings stood out in sharp contrast to the countryside. They were strung out each side of the road, the afternoon sun reflecting brightly from the walls. He had been here two years now, Robert Ferguson thought, two years working in this comfortable little office. They had been two good years. There had been adjustments to make. For both himself and Josie. And he supposed the children. But they had all quickly settled down. There was no shortage of food here. Their cottage was quite comfortable. And in the sunny climate the girls had grown and developed.

Josie had taken to the life and now prided herself on her housewifely skills. Her pantry was brimming with her homemade jams and preserves. She had succeeded in making delicious cheeses, and there was always a store of pies cakes and biscuits. "No one will come to my house and find the tins empty," she would proudly say.

Mr. Bradley was a good boss. He was proud though, and violently opposed to the cessation of the transportation of convicts. Robert's head nodded as he considered the situation in the colony. That opposition was understandable. After all, they were his free labour force. He fed and clothed them and provided quarters. Basic, but shelter. It was no wonder when he had such an army of workers freely at his disposal that 'Bradbury Downs' was so well maintained and developed.

Robert glanced again at the newspaper he had been reading. His eye roved over headlines. Mr. Bradley was not alone in his objection to the urging of protestors to the system of convict transportation. Here was evidence of the degree of opposition among prominent landholders. 'Petitions sent to the British House of Parliament' one headline read. On the other side of the argument, an advertisement blazed its message "Self -government for a FREE SOCIETY! Pledge your support!" Some of the arguments sited humanitarian grounds, but a great many articles contributed by free immigrants, were devoted to the unwelcome competition of convict labour in the labour market. It looked as though the humanitarian grounds advocates for the cessation of transportation, would succeed.

He looked out his office window. He had finished his bookwork now, but the books were still spread across his desk. He let the paper he had been reading fall. What it would be to own a property. A property like some of these he had been reading about. He had been saving. He had a bit put by now. If he could select a block, he might just have enough to stock it and built a cottage.

He folded the paper and cleared his desk. He could hear the men in the butcher shop next door scrubbing their chopping blocks and cleaning the floor, talking cheerfully.

He pulled the door shut and walked down the road. How would Josie feel about leaving here now and getting a block of their own? There was real security here. They were comfortable. But a man would feel like a king if he had his own place. A king in his castle. Would never have been able to do that in the old country. It had been the right decision. To come. To cross the seas. Brave the unknown. They were old hands now. Knew the ways of things in this new land.

He had come to the end of the line of cottages. He opened the gate and turned in. The appetizing smell of fried onions wafted out to him. Josephine looked up from her meal preparation.

"Did you see Mary Anne?" she asked. "She was looking for you." She smiled. "She wants you to take her along the creek to find a bird's nest. Something the teacher has them doing over in the school room."

"No. I didn't see her. She must have gone to see one of the other children. Perhaps they all want to come." He reached for a bottle of rum on the kitchen shelf.

Josephine glanced at him, a little crease of concern on her forehead. "Do you really need that?" she asked quietly.

"I like a drop," he said defensively. "It doesn't cost us anything. My ration is supplied. It's not coming out of my wages."

"I know. But you are getting too used to it. You never used to drink so much. I don't know that this supply of rum is a good thing."

He poured the drink and replaced the bottle. "I don't have too much. I don't get drunk." He sipped his drink and sat down at the table. "What would you think of getting a place of our own?" he asked.

"What? Leave here?" He nodded. "Why? You've got a good job. This cottage is good. Why leave it?"

"I know all that. But it would be something to have a place of our own. Get some cattle and run our own farm. We've got some money saved and if I can select land we'd have enough to buy a small herd of cattle and build a house."

She considered in silence for a few minutes. "Have you got somewhere in mind?" she asked.

"No. But I was reading the paper today. There are places there listed for sale. It started me thinking. It was a good decision to come here. Why not go a step further and become landowners? There's no rush. We are all right here. But it would be a dream to have a place of our own wouldn't it? Could never have done it in the old country."

They were silent. Considering. The idea was new to Josephine.

"If we kept our eyes and ears open we might hear of something. And cattle too. They aren't all that plentiful. But if we keep a look out we might be lucky." He reached for the rum bottle again.

Josephine watched with a worried frown.

Mary Anne came running in when she saw her father home. "Papa, Papa." She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. "Papa, would you please come with us to find a bird's nest for our school room?" she asked sitting herself on his knee.

"I would enjoy nothing more, Princess," he replied, rising and taking her hand. "Now, who is coming and where are we going?"

They went out, Mary Anne chattering happily. Josephine watched them going down the road, gathering up the other children as they went.

He was a good man. A good father. She smiled as they reached the end of the road and turned off across the paddock towards the creek. He looked like the pied piper.

But this rum drinking. She wished the men weren't issued with it. Surely it was not good for him. It was worrying the way he was looking for rum when he came in from work. And not only one drink. And again before they went to bed. He always smelled of it when they went to bed lately.

And now this idea of getting land of his own. He was not a farmer. He was a bookkeeper. He had no experience of farming. Wouldn't it be better to stay where they were secure and comfortable? With work he understood and was good at? Why did he want to leave here? Oh, she supposed she understood. There were others who were taking up land. And setting out on their own. As he said there was something fundamental about having your own place.

A thought crossed her mind.

Now if he did find a place and went out on his own, there would be no issue of rum provided. Nothing provided, she thought with a little leap of apprehension. It would be all on their own. But perhaps working for himself, developing his own land would provide all he needed to keep him happy. It might be the way to wean him away from rum. There would be no money to buy it.

"Your father is thinking of selecting land and having our own place," Josephine said as she and Emma folded the washing.

"Why? Papa isn't a farmer. He's a bookkeeper. He wouldn't know what to do," Emma replied. She was growing up. Soon be a woman.

"I daresay he has learned quite a lot here and he observed in England. Though it's different here I am sure."

Emma was thoughtful. She couldn't understand Papa some times. Oh, well. Perhaps he knew more than she thought about farming.

Josephine put the clothes away and set the table. She looked out the window and saw the trail of children returning from the creek. Robert was in the midst of them. As they reached the road Robert stopped to talk to someone. Mary Anne skipped happily down the road and into the house.

"Look Mama. Look what we found." She held up a tiny nest. "Look it's all soft and warm with little feathers inside."

"That's how mother birds take care of their babies," Josephine said. "They love their babies too."

"It's an old nest. One they don't use any more," the child added seriously.

It was not until they were in bed and the light out that the subject of land of their own came up again.

"Tom Riley was telling me this afternoon about a small herd of cattle, Josie. A settler down the river is selling out. Selling all his herd. Would be ideal for anyone starting a dairy. I think I'll go and have a look at them," Robert said into the darkness.

"But we haven't got land yet to put them on. You sound as though you have decided to go ahead and get some land."

"I'll have a look and I'll also see what land is available. It doesn't have to be right here. I heard there is some on a creek that flows into the Hunter a bit South of here."

"Do you really know enough about farming to be on your own? You've never done that kind of work," she said in a worried voice.

"Good heavens woman! Do you think I go around with my eyes closed? I know what to do."

At the first opportunity Robert inspected the cattle. They were, he felt, good value. Not cheap but good. He would have that herd. What a bit of luck to find them. A rare thing to get a small herd like that. And fifteen dairy cows among them. Some of the bullocks he'd train for a working team. The steers he'd fatten for their own meat and for sale to bring in some early income. Buy a block to put them on. A nice little place with plenty water and good feed.

The owner of the cattle would keep them one month if he wanted the lot but that was all. He'd have to get them off by then.

His visit to the lands office was fruitful. There was a block open for selection over the mountain. The map showed a good creek and he was told there was ample feed. There was a track into the area. He could take his cattle by this way and take a horse and dray loaded with their goods. They'd have to manage in tents till he built a hut. His excitement mounted. He'd make the decision and make out his application on the spot.

He took out his wallet and extracted the ten pounds needed to ratify the application. All he had to do now was live on the block and it was his.

He walked out of the building on air. He was a landowner. Josie might think he was being a bit hasty but it was there. And he had to act. Before someone else took it up.

He rode across country to see the owner of the cattle and confirm his purchase of the herd. He now had land to put them on. It was the long way home. He would be late home. But it would all be fixed up then. He made his purchase and set out for home as the sun sank behind the mountain. Now to get home and tell Josie what he'd done.

Chapter Six

"Henry Dowling," barked the officer. "Dowling. Henry Dowling."

Henry stood up. "Here, Sir," he called.

The officer looked up. This man answered like a soldier. He looked again at Henry's papers. "You can read?" he asked.

"Yes, Sir."

"Write?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Your papers say you are a farm labourer. Plough and reap. How is it that you can read and write?"

"I went to school, Sir."

"Where did you attend school?"

"At the Preparatory School and then the college of the East India Company in Hertfordshire, Sir."

"And you served the East India Company?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Where?"

"In India, Sir."

"In what capacity?"

"In the army, Sir."

The officer rubbed his chin. Thoughtful. "You are assigned to Sir James Bramfield, Chief Justice," he said. "Keep a civil tongue in your head and work well. With your background you could do well."

Sir James Bramfield. What would he be like? Anything would be better than the voyage out. The sooner he could erase those months from his mind the better. The space cramped in the extreme. The twilight of the convicts' quarters. The stench. The chains. The filth. He shuddered again. Would he ever get the stench out of his nostrils? Would he ever again flex his muscles?

He moved and the chains on his ankles rattled. The officer's voice went on calling names, allotting men to their places of assignment. At last it was done.

Sir James Bramfield's property, he discovered, was on the Williams River, a tributary of the Hunter. There were several convicts assigned to settlers in the Hunter River area and these were to travel to Morpeth by boat, in the charge of an officer, to be picked up by their new masters.

The discomfort and indignity of the leg chains rankled.

They were taken on board and below, where they were confined until they reached Morpeth. And remained there until the arrival of those whose task it was to transport them to their place of servitude.

The day grew hot as they waited. The confined space below added to the intensity.

There was movement, activity everywhere. They could hear the crew ascending and descending the companionway. Cargo being lifted from the hold. Voices and the noise of horse drawn vehicles.

If only they could see the action. Henry stretched out his arms.

"Where did you get your tattoos, Dowling?" The man was looking in surprise at Henry's arms almost covered in tattoos.

"In the East," Henry replied shortly.

"Doesn't ever fade, or come off?"

"No."

There was a tramping outside and the door was flung open. The officer appeared.

"On your feet. Come on. Your golden coaches have arrived," he said, prodding them out and along the passageway.

They emerged onto the deck, blinking in the strong sunlight. They descended the gangplank and were herded to an enclosure on the end of the wharf where several men awaited. There was a short time of handing over of papers and they were in the charge of their new custodians. The chains had been released from their ankles. Now, they could move, and climbed stiffly on to the drays and carts lined up outside.

There were four going to 'Lindhurst'. The dray was loaded with supplies.

"Just arrived from Old England eh, have we?" asked one of the two men into whose custody they had been given. "Well now, this will be your first glimpse of country New South Wales. Don't get any ideas of making a break for it. There's nowhere to go. Only bush. And you can get pretty hungry out there. Unless you're one of the blacks. And like yer grubs and ants to eat.

"Besides me and Artie here know all the tricks. Eh, Artie?" He looked at the other man and gave a chuckle. "Yeah. We know all the tricks. Came up through the ranks so to speak." They were moving now. How far had they to go? It would take a while at this pace. "Just do the work you're given to do. And don't cause no trouble an' you'll be all right. Could be a lot worse than 'Lindhurst.' But if you cause trouble yer get sent off to Tasmania. Sir James don't muck about."

"You've selected land without seeing it?" Josie exclaimed incredulously. "Do you think that is wise?"

"It looks good on the map. There's good water and the clerk says there's plenty feed."

"But what sort of feed? And is the water permanent? What if there is a dry time? That happens here they say.

"It will be all right, I tell you." Robert reached for the rum bottle.

It was a forlorn little party that set off. The dray was loaded high with their possessions. Josephine would drive the horses with the dray. She and the two children perched up front. Robert rode alongside leading his other horse. They turned off the road and took the track that followed the creek up into the hills. Robert calculated their position.

It was lovely, Josie thought. Perhaps she had been wrong. But it seemed such a gamble to decide without even seeing it. At last they pulled up in a clearing. Robert was sure this was the place. The compass sightings matched his papers. They pitched their tent and unloaded what they needed from the dray. It was, in a way, exciting. But more exciting for Robert than for her Josie decided. There were so many things she felt anxious about. So many things she was sure Robert had never done.

He had never ploughed a field. Had he ever milked a cow? He who talked about dairying. What if the cows had trouble calving? He'd never planted a crop. He blithely said they would kill their own meat. But had he ever killed a beast or butchered it? Had he ever cut down a tree? Or built a hut? Her alarm grew at every question. And how would he ever handle the physical energy and strength needed? He was not used to heavy physical work.

In the years that followed Robert turned more and more to the solace of rum, to bolster his confidence. It was a good little place but his lack of knowledge and experience brought failure time after time.

"Ask someone for help. For advice," Josephine said again and again.

But a man would feel a fool asking some of the things he needed to know. He'd be laughed at. Despised. He had land and cattle and didn't know how to manage them.

They lived in the tent for months while he tried to clear the land and dig holes for the uprights of the hut. It wasn't till he took the tools in his hands and set about building the hut, that he realised he hardly knew where to start. His hazy ideas of a comfortable home on a well-run farm were just that. Hazy ideas. But you couldn't build a hut on hazy ideas. You needed to plan and know where you were going. What you were doing. What a failure he was!

While he tried to build the hut, the thriving crops he had visualised did not materialise. The land for cultivation lay cleared but unfenced. Unploughed. So, not sown.

"Don't worry. We can manage," Josie kept saying as their provisions dwindled. Thank heaven there were fish in the creek. Josie often caught some for a meal.

The money had dwindled alarmingly. The tools needed, basic as they were, had made a large dent in what was left after the cattle and horse and dray were paid for. Regular supplies now nibbled it away.

His muscles ached. He was desperately tired. He had taken now to tipping the bottle and taking a swig to keep him going. It was the last bottle. He'd have to make it spin out. What then?

Henry brought in the last load of hay. He took the wagon to the shed and unharnessed the horses and led them to the horse paddock. The convict overseer was coming down the road. Henry lifted his hat to him. He drew rein.

"We'll see you tonight at the game, Dowling? Never seen anybody with your luck at cards." Henry smiled. "I'll be there, Sir."

"How long have you been here now, Dowling?"

"Over two years, Sir."

"Mmm. You've been working well. A good example to some of the others. Far the wisest thing to do. Keep to yourself a bit too. Are you married, Dowling?"

Henry's head jerked up. "Married, Sir?"

"Yes. Are you married? Have you got a wife back in England?" He smiled. "Or plans to marry someone when you are free? Someone out here?"

"No. Not at the moment, Sir."

The overseer tapped his finger on the pommel of the saddle. "Pity," he said. "The establishment looks more favourably on married men. More chance of a pardon. And possibility of a grant of land." He drew up his reins. "Never mind. You might find someone you fancy soon."

Henry watched him ride on down the road. The establishment more favourable towards a married man! Possibility of a pardon? Land grant? His mind raced.

But there wasn't a woman he had seen since coming to New South Wales that he'd want to marry. He wasn't concerned about this love business. He'd had enough of 'family love'. The way his family had treated him. Just someone reasonable that's all he'd want. But not someone old. Or ugly. Or smelling of sweat and filth. He'd had enough of that too.

The card game was a regular meeting. It was made up of an odd unlikely assortment of men. There was the overseer, Ronald Pickering. The baker. The bookkeeper. Phillips, another convict, an educated man. Edwards, the stock overseer. And himself.

He had been lucky. He knew the games. He'd also been lucky back in the old days in the East India Company. That's where he'd learned to play. Really play. He chuckled to himself, thinking of the little tattoo artist who had lost so much to him he had only his art to pay his debts. So, he had not paid a penny for the tattoos up his arms and shoulders.

They sat around the rough table, the lantern swinging above them. By far the largest pile of coins was beside Henry.

"Don't know how you do it, Dowling. Always the same. You've got the damnedest luck." Phillips laid down his cards. "I think it's time we had a drink.

Pickering rose and went to the corner of the room. He came back with a demijohn of rum and six mugs. Pouring a generous drink in each he passed them around the table.

"Wonderful to have access to this isn't it?" Edwards grinned.

"The day will come when it runs out I suppose. But that won't be tomorrow," Pickering replied.

"Goes back to the times like the building of the Sydney hospital doesn't it?" the baker asked.

"Yes. We were on clover then. In the Corps we were kings. Rum ran like water. And it came as free as water." They all laughed savouring the quality of the contents of their mugs.

Robert leaned back against the stockyard fence. He was satisfied with the price he'd got for the half dozen steers he had sold. They were ready, and the bidding brisk. The money would help. But it was a struggle.

"Coming for a bite to eat?" one of the others asked.

"No, thanks. I'll have to head for home," he replied.

He took out the flask from his hip pocket. He'd bought it with money he would have spent on a meal. The craving was getting worse. He had nothing to relieve it. As he put it back in his pocket he caught sight of a man walking towards the auctioneer's booth. He knew that figure. He hastened his step.

Then he caught sight of the man's bare arms. There couldn't be two men with arms like that! By all that was wonderful! To meet here in New South Wales. A breath of home. Of the old country.

"Henry," he called. "Henry Dowling."

Chapter Seven

"Papa is late coming home," Mary Anne said, looking up the track. "I hope he's all right."

Emma glanced up from her work. "He's probably got drunk again," she said resignedly.

"Emma that is no way to speak of your father," Josephine chastised.

"Well, it's probably true Mama. You know that as well as I do." She held up the skirt she was mending. "Just look at this! It's almost more patches than skirt. Why? Because Papa bought this place without any knowledge of the work needing to be done, and because he spends a lot of what he has been able to make, on rum! What use is that? When I marry it will be to someone who doesn't want rum all the time."

"Papa didn't drink rum until we came to New South Wales did he, Mama?" Mary Anne said wistfully.

Josie looked at her younger daughter. How she loved her father. Always had. "No. It didn't start till the men were all issued with it at Bradbury Downs. I knew it was not good. He got the taste for it then. I thought getting this place of his own might help him to wean himself off it." She looked around the hut.

What a contrast to the pleasant cottage they had lived in at 'Bradbury Downs.' The slab walls, roughly erected and unevenly cut. Robert had no idea of how to build a hut. The gaps in the walls allowed the winds to moan through in the cold weather. It was small. Pitifully small. A central room with a smaller room across each end, their own bedroom at one end, the girls' at the other. Thanks to the large fireplace in the centre of one long wall they did not freeze in the winter.

An ill fitting door swung on big hinges on the front and back walls and a window aperture with shutters opened from each room. Considering Robert's lack of expertise he had done remarkably well.

She looked at her daughters. "It was an ill considered move to buy this place," she conceded. "I will grant you that, Emma. Papa should have waited till he had learned farming. And building. But he did not. So we must make the best of it." She sighed.

"Papa does try you know, Emma," Mary Anne defended. "And we shouldn't speak ill of him."

Robert hastened his step.

"Henry! Henry Dowling," he called. The figure in front of him turned. A broad smile lit up his face.

"Robert! Robert Ferguson. What are you doing here? I didn't know you were in this country," he cried wringing Robert's hand. Then he sobered. "You emigrated, I trust. You weren't brought as I was. You knew about that?"

"Yes. I heard. But I didn't know where you were sent." Robert hesitated. His companion looked well clothed and fed. It couldn't have been too bad. "You don't look too much the worse for wear. You haven't finished your time yet?"

"No. I was assigned to Sir James Bramfield. It's really just like working for him. Only I can't go where I like. And have to do as I'm told and be polite." He grinned at Robert. "Not too bad. And there's a possibility of a pardon. Even a grant of land, and money for cattle and so on if I play my cards properly."

Robert looked at him incredulously. "A grant and money?" he exclaimed.

"Yes. But I've been well behaved. And an example to some of the others," he laughed, mimicking the tone of the overseer.

Robert shook hi s head. "I don't understand it," he muttered.

Henry slapped him on the back.

"Cheer up, old friend. The voyage out was something I try to forget, but since I got to Sir James' it could be much worse. And there's always a drop of spirit to lighten the heart."

A drop of spirit? What did Henry mean?

"I know the right people," he continued. It's marvellous what you can get if you know the right people. And you make yourself polite." He took Robert's arm. "But come and have a bite with me. And a drink."

Robert hung back. "Things are not so good with me Henry. I haven't enough money on me to get a meal now. And Josie will be looking for me."

"My shout, old friend. I was issued with money for meals before I left. I brought some cattle down for sale. It's on me. Not my money so don't feel beholden," he laughed pulling out a handful of coins. "Enough for us both. If you do the right thing by him, Sir James isn't stingy." He spoke more softly leaning towards Robert. "I'm in good with him at the moment. And that's the way I want to stay."

They moved off towards the food shelter and bar.

"How are your folks in England?" Robert asked.

Henry's brow darkened. "They don't write to me. I don't know whether they are dead or alive. Or they me," he said bitterly. "They don't want to know me."

Robert flushed with embarrassment. He had no idea things had taken this turn when Henry had been imprisoned. He had guessed they would be upset. But to cut him off! What could he say?

Henry slapped his thigh. "But that's the way they want it," he laughed. "If I find the right sort of girl to marry and get a grant of land. Who knows I might end up a big landholder. Might be King of New South Wales one day," he cried, bravado in every step.

It was long since dark when Robert reached home. Josie sat by the fire.

She heard him coming and reached forward and put the pot of stew over the coals. He would be hungry. Please, God, he hadn't spent the money for the steers before he got home. She looked up as he opened the door. He appeared steady on his feet. Perhaps all was well. He came to the table and took the money out of his pocket, putting it on the table.

"There we are," he said looking warily at her. "Three pounds ten each. Not as good as I hoped for. But not bad."

He seemed quite sensible, though she could smell rum. She reached over and kissed his cheek.

He relaxed, smiling at her. She was getting a plate.

"You'll be hungry," she said setting a place at

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