Lady Bird & The Fox

Lady Bird & The Fox

by Kim Kelly

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781925579970
Publisher: Kim Swivel
Publication date: 04/18/2018
Pages: 380
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)

About the Author

Kim Kelly is the author of seven novels exploring Australia and its history, including the acclaimed Wild Chicory, The Blue Mile, and UK Pigeonhole favourite, Paper Daisies. Her stories shine a bright light on some forgotten corners of the past and tell the tales of ordinary people living through extraordinary times.

With warmth and lyrical charm, Kim leads her readers into difficult terrain, exploring themes of bigotry, class conflict, disadvantage and violence in our shared history - issues that resonate through the social and political landscape of Australia and the world today.

A widely respected book editor and literary consultant by trade, stories fill her everyday - most nights, too - and it's love that fuels her intellectual engine. Love between lovers, friends, strangers; love of country; love of story. In fact, she takes love so seriously she once donated a kidney to her husband to prove it, and also to save his life.

Originally from Sydney, today Kim lives on a small rural property in central New South Wales just outside the tiny gold-rush village of Millthorpe, where the ghosts are mostly friendly and her grown sons regularly come home to graze.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

ANNIE

'Annie! Annie! Are you there? Is that you, Annie?'

Yes, I am here. And this is what you would call a disaster. I see what it is, on the front step of our home, not yet in the door to get the fire on. It shivers up through the soles of my boots, freezing my knees with seeing it, even while my mind is busy spinning, thinking that I've never before this moment known just what a disaster is. It's one of those words, isn't it? You say it all the time not knowing what it truly means. Disaster. And so here it is. And I know, even as I am standing on this step, this moment is just the small beginning of it.

'Annie!'

Dad's been felled by a tree. He's calling out to me from the shadows inside, from the parlour room. I can see his new boots up on the sofa: wrong and mad.

'Branch got him – huge, it were – straight across his middle,' Gudge is still going on, explaining beside me on the step. I look at Gudge – Abel Gudge, chief of our most recent lot of feckless farmhands, half a brain shared between him and that shabby mob he wandered down from the hills with. He nods at me: 'Were at the river, Miss Annie, as I tell you, on the rocks below them experimentals. Don't know how long he were there. Were some hard work dragging him up through the beetroots all the way here, I tell you.'

I don't tell him he wouldn't know hard work if it smacked him a swift one between the eyes. I can only feel Dad's pain falling over me like a dark, dark dream.

'Dad?' Somehow I am in the door and beside him now, my knees dropped to the floor.

I see my dad on the sofa here before me, laid out and moaning through every line in his old face. 'Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus,' he's praying to the rafters, and his hand is crushing mine.

This is a disaster. A disaster. Oh, Heavenly Father, please help my dad. But even as I pray with him I know this is no good. My poor father is broken. As I'm looking at him here, at his pale face and the sweat streaming into his beard from his suffering, I see a great big branch off one of the trees down at the riverbank lashing out at him, grabbing him up and shaking him. Breaking him. Why? He would only have been going down there to bring up the fish trap, as we do of a Wednesday afternoon. It should have been me down there. And it would have been me most likely if I hadn't gone into Richmond with Sis, to the shops. For what? Nothing. McGowans were having a clearing-out sale on old gloves and bonnet trimmings and all sorts of remnant bits, so we went in for a bargain, but there was nothing there for us; nothing I would let Sis have, anyhow. I should have been down at the river, pulling up a basket full of mullet and sweet silver eels. The river is jumping with mullet. The tree would not have fallen upon me. I would have heard the split and crack of the branch; I would have dived into the water and swum away.

And Dad would never have been harmed. He'd be inspecting his rows of beetroot for leaf worm.

'Oh no, poor Dad,' is about all I can say of the whole great terror of it.

He doesn't care what I might say. He's talking to Jesus, lips trembling at some conversation between them.

'Dad? Dad?' I'm asking and asking him.

'I should run up to get the doc, you reckon?' says Gudge, wringing his hat beside me.

I think he should better get Reverend Thorne, but I don't say that. I don't want to think that. I feel the join of the boards sharp under my bony knees as I hold Dad's hand, touch his brow with the other. His skin is cold. He sweats so much but he is cold. Sweating and trembling like that plough horse we had that snapped a fetlock in the deep mud. Poor old horse. Dad had to —

'Dad, everything will be all right,' I lie to him with every hope I have, squeezing it into his hand even as I feel his grasp weakening in return, and I tell Gudge over my shoulder: 'Get me a glass of rum.'

'Rum, Miss Annie?' Gudge is that much of a cabbage he has to ask, and I can't help taking a second to blink at him even in this devastating circumstance: what is it about this colony that attracts so many boatloads of cabbages and sends them all tramping through here?

'For Dad,' I tell him through my teeth; Dad, who'd give a cabbage a job when no-one else would. 'Get him some rum for the pain – on the sideboard behind you.'

I turn back to Dad. My dad. He likes a rum of a Saturday evening; finds it reviving. He plays fiddle at the Coach and Horses when they have a shindy on and he's especially revived. Revive now! I reach behind his head to ready him to take his rum, and as I do I find his neck is soaked with sweat – streaming. All the water in him is pouring into my hand, taking with it all the colour in him, too; his face is so leached, he's pale as the threads of white in his red beard. He stares and stares into the rafters, scaring me. 'Dad – can you hear me?'

'Annie?' Of a sudden he does and he finds me; eyes wild and urgent, trying to grasp my hand again, but giving up. My hand thumps down to his chest. 'Annie?' He draws me closer still with his fearful eyes.

'What is it, Dad? Tell me.' Whatever I might do to help him, please, I will do it.

He says: 'You see that Sis stays clear of that Mickey Dinnigan, won't you, girl?'

'What?' These could be his last words on earth and he's asking me this? I can no more keep Sis from Mickey Dinnigan than I can keep Dad from his suffering. Just as I can no more tell Dad that Mickey is most likely who Sis is loitering with right this minute – back in Richmond, I left her, on the road outside the Brown Jug, with sixpence for the lemonade and soda water she demanded in place of the whorish lace gloves with the tear at the wrist I wouldn't let her have at McGowans. I was so cross from bickering about it I threw the money at her feet and called her a nasty little tart as I hoofed off without her.

In place of telling Dad how sorry I am for all that now, I bend further to him and kiss his forehead, as if I might press into him the will to fight.

But he only closes his eyes. He sinks back against me, into my arms. He is not a big man, but he is so heavy in my arms, the little of him I can hold.

'Dad!' I yell at him, for the want of yelling life back into him.

He's only fainted from the pain of the injury, I tell myself over the walloping of my pulse. That's what's happened. I see my whole life laid out in this second, looking after an invalid father. That's my lot in life, right here in my arms. My fate spun out in the time it takes a spindle to turn once around. And I will be a grateful daughter every second of every day, please, I pray. I will care for my father as no daughter ever has; I never expected any more or less than to help my dad, anyhow. This is life; our life. I will get the beetroots up over May; I will get another man or two on it to help. Mr Webb will be understanding: Dad's managed these fields for him for twenty years, since the year before I was born, and I keep the books as well as any man might: two for the price of one, Mr Webb calls us with a smile, always pleased with Dad and me. We will get by.

But this isn't my lot in life. Because Dad has not fainted.

He is gone from us.

He is dead.

He doesn't take another breath. I lay him back on the sofa and stare at his stillness. I place his hands on his heart and I neaten his hair, as if I might make him ready for church.

I don't believe it.

Dad?

'Here you go.' Gudge is at my shoulder with the glass of rum I asked for a lifetime ago.

'Get away with you.' I push him back as I stand. The rum flings up in the air, time gone so slow and so fast I see it fly out of the cup in a wave. Drops falling, gold and shining. Drops of sunlight hanging before my eyes. The last of the sunlight coming in through the still-open doorway and up the hall.

I walk right out of it and down the back as the sun falls dead behind the mountains across the river. The air is cold. The light is cold. End of April cold. Clouds rising up above the range.

Dad?

Dad can't die. Not this way, not so unfair as this. He's not old enough to die – he's only forty-nine. Plenty die younger – but no, not mine. He's done everything right his whole life, except the one thing that brought him here. He stole a bag of oranges as a boy, fourteen years' worth of transportation to New South Wales for it – or free passage out of the Liverpool dockyards and the terrible hunger and hopelessness there, is how he saw it. Best thing that ever happened, he always said. Said? No. No! Why is he punished now when he has paid for his crime? He found his redemption in the Lord and his strength in clean air and fresh fruit and vegetables. He is the manager of Cygnet Farm here at Castlereagh; he has been here under Mr Webb since he earned his ticket-of-leave. He is a model man. He is kind and humble and honest and respected by everyone who knows him. A hero of the floods last winter, going out on the boats, setting up tents, and feeding everyone brought up to our higher ground from Penrith where the river cut them off from the town. Sis and me made that much onion soup out of our ruined, soggy crop I can't tolerate the smell of onions anymore. Dad and his mates played and sang all night, so the children wouldn't be frightened by the storm that came again and the mud and the crowd; took the little ones around and around on Mr Nettleby's donkey, from next door. And our Lord takes only the good unto his bosom, always taking the best too soon.

Dad. Such a good man. The very best of fathers. He has brought up Sis and me so well and all on his own after our mother was taken by the bronchitis, bless her sweet memory. I was only seven; Sis not yet four. No greater testament to Dad that we never felt Mother's going as any kind of a terror: she was returned to the Lord, who took up her suffering as His own. And now Dad has been returned to her. Our parents were perfect, both of them; they always will be. Never missed church and Dad made sure I went right through school with barely a day missed there, either – a man needs someone to read the Empire to him of an evening, the paper he loves for his hero the Honourable Mr Henry Parkes prints it so that the common man can know the world and better himself. Dad never learned his letters; he was very sure we did. I went right the way to the finish of primary-school lessons, as far as one like me can go – and better at those lessons than any other girls around here. Better than Sis – she stopped going when I did, no-one to pull her along by the plait. Any man that doesn't want a smart girl can't be too smart himself, Dad always says to us. Said. No: he will always say this to me. I can read and write as well as any man and I am so good at figures I have always been Dad's eyes on the ledger. Always. We will get by. I will get by.

I am nineteen years old, twenty in September. The cold grabs me around the shoulders like a shroud. I am a woman, sudden and now: no more a girl. No more a child to anyone. I must stand on my own two feet. Where are my feet? I have walked from the house and six acres out through the potatoes, and I am standing in the beans. Dad's prize- winning French fines, just finished picking. This field will need turning over, get the stakes up, ready for the carrots to get in there for next crop. Essie is crying out to be milked right this moment. I'm so cross with Sis. It's her job to tend to Ess. My sister is so lazy and vain. And our father is dead.

I keep walking, out across to the experimental field, where the beetroots are. This would have been Dad's next triumph, for he's got so much sweetness into them: a prize he will not see. So much work and no reward. Not here on earth, anyhow. I see him carrying a basket of the plumpest and reddest of the beetroots to Saint Peter. He will have his supper with the Lord: bright sliced beetroots and a fat roasted catfish. And a rum.

Oh, Dad. I walk the path of the torn and trodden leaves that saw Dad's last way home, dragged up by Gudge, and I follow it to the edge of the field, to the top of the steep bank here and I look down at the wide, cold river. The Nepean River. Our mother used to call it something else now and again; I can't remember what, I was so small then. I look at the horrible trees leaning out above the rocks here. The cane basket of our fish trap lying there, pulled up and empty.

This is a disaster.

A disaster.

And I don't know the first thing about it yet.

CHAPTER 2

JEM

'I do not care if the archangel Gabriel sent you in his stead, there is no place here at this mine for you,' this fellow at the kerosene diggings is informing me, for the second time. A gristly old codger called Grindle. Filthy leather apron straining around a fat belly, filthy fat fingers to match and a pencil behind his ear, he appears to be made out of charcoal and lard. And he's definitely the codger I'm supposed to see – Grindle, that's the name all right. And there is definitely supposed to be a position waiting here for me – one I am compelled to take up or suffer a far harsher penalty as yet undisclosed but perhaps involving a custodial sentence of some kind.

I ask the man Grindle again: 'Are you certain? There's no-one here at all expecting me? Jeremy Fox – or Jem, or perhaps mistaken for a Jim? J.G. Fox – that's me. You're not in need of a, errr, a clerk of some kind, perhaps ...? Or ... ah ... I don't know ... Hm?' Hopefully, nothing involved with the actual mining here: I can see out to the top of the workings through the wide-open carriage doors beyond Grindle's head, down what appears to be the bottomless drop of a cliff face, windlass creaking up and back with buckets of rock and an assortment of charcoaled men. I have no intention of going out there, except that not going might bring me worse. I am a jeweller by trade, when I must, for God's sake. What do they want me to do here – fix their pulley chains and pick-axes? Consider the value of coal chips? Or, perhaps not too improbably, steward the draught horses? Now, that would be kind, on me, if not the team of six at work here, hauling that windlass up and back all day long. 'Erm,' I ask Grindle, as if he might yet have forgotten: 'Not someone for your horses? Perhaps the stable-master might know ...?'

'I am the foreman here at Comet's Kerosene.' Grindle squares at me. 'I am the one who knows and says what goes and I say I am not expecting you any more than I am a cartload of mangy rabbit skins.'

'Right. Good. Fair enough.' I scratch my head. Beggar me, I am out of luck here, it would seem. And I don't know what I should do. Go back to Sydney? Perhaps there's been some sort of mistake or muddle-up, a delay in the communique advising my arrival? Perhaps I should wait here a day or two. I look out of the window the other way, back onto the road, such that it is: not a lot out there but forest. And an inn, about a mile or so back up the steep mountain track I got here upon – what was it called, Mount Something Road? Somewhere in this place called Petrolia Vale, where the coachman set me down and grunted towards some unseen depth of perdition by way of further direction.

'Well, I'll be out of your way, then, and thank you.' I nod to Grindle. 'My apologies at having interrupted you,' and I pull out what I might of a smile as I ask him: 'You couldn't tell me, though, could you, is there a possibility of sending a message by telegraph from some ... where? Around ... here?'

Grindle expels another gust of contempt at me: 'With your newspaper ironed and shoes shined too? You ain't in Sydney anymore. Not out here.' He waves me off behind his turning back by way of dismissal. 'Go up and ask at the Royal.'

'Is that the inn, up along the track –?' I begin to ask and stop as he turns back to me once more with some threat now assembling around his impatience.

'Nah, it's Buckingham bleeding Palace,' he says, all Australian charm. 'What do you bloody reckon?'

I reckon I should get quite quickly out of his sight.

Nothing else for it but to return hat to head and trudge back up the track, back to that inn, and ask there, I suppose. I step out into the early evening and the coals of the enormous blacksmith's forge across the way are glowing like the maw of Cerberus warning against the idea, but apart from that, and a great iron chimney stack a little way further down the slope, whose purpose I don't want to begin to guess at, and, of course, several million weary, ragged gum trees enclosing all for a million miles around, there is nowhere else for me to stop the night, or not that I am aware of, anyway. I throw my carpetbag over my shoulder: I don't think I've so much as a box of matches in there, so hastily was I shoved into the coach – and at about two o'clock this morning, still rather drunk – I didn't think for a moment that Pa would ever do anything like this to me, honestly, seriously, I didn't. This is absurd.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Lady Bird & The Fox"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Kim Kelly.
Excerpted by permission of Jazz Monkey Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Dedication,
Epigraph,
GO WEST,
HORSE-BORROWING,
FROM FRYING PAN TO BLATHERY,
FROM JUDAS CREEK TO TEA-POT AND ON TO BUNYIP'S BEND,
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS,
JUST DESSERTS,
NEVER TOO LATE FOR MORE DESSERT,
AUTHOR NOTE,
Kim Kelly,
Also by Kim Kelly,
Copyright,

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