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May 1868 -- an Aboriginal Australian cricket team begins a tour of England. One of the players is on a quest to explore his Truth, or Dreaming.Sarah Larkin's quiet routine, divided between her father's sick room and the British Library, takes on a completely new aspect when King Cole, aka Brippoki, arrives unannounced on her doorstep, requesting her help. A curious friendship develops as together they research the fate and fortune of Joseph Druce, a convicted felon, transported to New South Wales nearly eighty years earlier: sneak thief, drunkard, cattle rustler, Royal Navy deserter -- and quite possibly a murderer.From Lord's cricket ground to the Royal Naval Hospital at Greenwich and the muddy banks of the River Thames -- the Great Serpent coiled at the heart of his London Dreaming -- diabolical spirits rage in pursuit of the hapless Aborigine. His health and sanity unravelling, Brippoki is a man out of place, and running out of time.In this powerful debut novel, Ed Hillyer has created an epic brimming with memorable characters and historical intrigue, and etched with documentary detail that brings both Regency and Victorian London vividly to life.
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The Clay Dreaming
By Ed Hillyer
Myriad EditionsCopyright © 2010 Ed Hillyer
All rights reserved.
Thursday the 21st of May, 1868
THE HUNTING PARTY
'With Earth's first Clay They did the Last Man knead,
And there of the Last Harvest sow'd the Seed;
And the first Morning of Creation wrote
What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.'
~ Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám
In the beginning is the Song, and the Song is of earth, and the earth is Song.
And the earth is without form, and void: and the blank face of the void is white.
And the singers of the Song pick their way across that void, until another song should reach their ears. Faint, hard to place, it grows steadily louder. Brazen, discordant, the music is new to them – the theme all too evocative: a savage song fit to fire the heart, or to curdle the blood.
Song, and dance – barely discernible smudges separate out from the solidifying plenum. Dots here and there in the nowhere, the vibrations begin to take on physical form.
The brute chorus, more urgent now, is calling all of Creation forth.
Gnowee, the Emu's egg, is born from the land. The darkness divides from the light. Etched across this new horizon are the shadow-sequences of Dreaming. Silhouettes, they loom, assuming substance: becoming ...
... a tree ...
... a startled bird ...
... a serried rank of scarlet jackets.
The North Downs of Kent, a lush, undulating landscape, lay couched in morning mists. No rain fell, but the clods of saturated earth exhaled moist breath. The sun was little more than a bright disc, suspended, its heat remote.
It took Time to burn a hole through the air.
Crisp, white chill gave way gradually to dew. Dawn opaque as pearl turned a translucent opal – a child's marble, red shift tense within.
Hue, and cry – a pack of foxhounds romped across rough pasture. Giving tongue, they announced their quarry cornered; a huntsman's horn quavered in reply – sounds neither of triumph, nor of mourning, but imbued with the hollowness of each.
In a copse at the base of a steep slope, the Master of Hounds caught up with his charges. Ringed tight about a dense covert, their white bodies thrashed like maggots in a wound. They yelped and snapped and scratched and howled.
'Ware Riot!' the Master called.
Crashing through barriers of undergrowth, the leading body lurched to a halt. Hunting pinks pulsing in pallid twilight, the West Kent gathered, eager for the kill. They could taste metal on the air.
The horses reared and circled, huge heads tossing, their eyes rolling; flared nostrils snorted gouts of steam. Something lurked in the clump of trees ahead, causing the animals to panic. Stabbing hooves churned the damp ground into a thick paste. Stumbling in the mulch, the frenzied hounds risked being trampled underfoot.
'Forrard!' cried the Master. 'Hoick to'm!'
But his hounds, whining, kept their distance. Smartly he dismounted, strode forward, and brought up his whip to part the curtains of vegetation. Dismayed, he hollered a caution. Taut reins restrained horse and rider from their sudden urge to flee.
Gasps and oaths escaped the ruffled company. Gentleman farmer, lord and lady alike stared, slack-jawed. There was the dead fox, lolling, back broken, held tight in the grip of a black fist. The hand belonged to a man – very obviously a man. A living soul, he rose up, as if of earth itself: formed of the dust of the ground, in their image, after their likeness – and yet shockingly other.
Stark naked in that glade stood a Stone Age relic – an Australian Aborigine.
'Not just one, but three of the buggers, black as sin!'CHAPTER 2
Thursday the 21st of May, 1868
BACK AND FORTH
'We must bear in mind that we form a complete social body ... a society, in which, by the nature of the case, we must not only learn, but act and live.'
~ Rugby Magazine
'What the bloody fucking hell do you think you're playing at? Someone could have been hurt ... or worse!'
Athletic and powerful in his movements, Charles Lawrence paced the front of a small provincial schoolroom. His honest face was thin and weather-beaten; even so, he appeared younger than his 40-odd years.
From outside, the sharp smack of willow gave rise to cheers. Lawrence raised his voice to match.
'That's right!' he shouted. 'Hang your woolly heads, you black sheep! Hang 'em in shame, as well you might! All excepting you of course, eh, Your Majesty?'
Scattered amongst the facing school desks sat the objects of his scorn: Dick a-Dick, Mosquito and King Cole were the three Australian Aborigines who had startled the local fox hunt early that same morning. Each was dressed in matching flannels, shirt, and waistcoat. Dick-a-Dick sported a jacket that barely stretched across his muscles, and a vest considerably fancy. They otherwise wore casual clothing of a sort that might as well have been sacking – baggy and cooling, and perfectly anonymous. If not for their midnight-dark skin they might have passed for ordinary workmen.
The infantile and exaggerated postures of the pair seated nearest to Lawrence further distinguished them. Crouched at odd angles in a vain attempt to hide behind child-sized desks, they raised folded arms and peered – yes, sheepishly – through the chinks of their parted fingers.
The classroom was bright, built entirely of bleached pine, and redolent with stale schoolboy sweat. Large windows down one side overlooked a playing field. Closest to these perched King Cole, distracted by the cricket game beyond.
Sensing the approach of his interrogator, Cole snapped to attention and dropped his tousled head. Rapid heartbeats measured the silence.
Lawrence glowered. His clear blue eyes radiated both fire and ice. He took a swift step away.
'You can't get painted up and go parading your filthy particulars to all and sundry!' he said. A dramatic spin of his heel brought him once more face-to-face with the humbled assembly. 'And whose bright idea was it? Skeeter? Dick-Dick? Was it you, hm, Your Majesty?'
Lawrence waved his hands, imploring.
'Not that I expect you to tell me. Thick as thieves, you lot, thick as thieves. Wasn't my idea to bring you here.'
Lawrence's moods were quick, the darkest flush of fury already drained from his rosy complexion. Slackening, his strong tan hands began to fidget. He fingered the book on the teacher's desk beside him – Tom Brown's Schooldays, a recent edition.
Cricket was Charles Lawrence's driving passion: he was all but married to the game. Playing for Surrey since he was a schoolboy had led him on to Scotland, Ireland, Australia; and eventually back to his native England, shepherd to a most unusual flock. As coach and team captain Lawrence had in his charge a total of thirteen Australian Aborigines – the first ever professional cricket team to visit and tour from overseas.
They had travelled a long way together, and at close quarters.
Lawrence pictured himself, among the Aborigines, back on board the wool clipper Parramatta, the frigate-built ship on which they had endured endless passage from Australia.
He had brought with him a goodly supply of copybooks, and endeavoured to teach the Aborigines to read and write. Their fluency in English varied widely, along with their appreciable intelligence. Lessons had started out every morning, but could not last long, for the men soon tired, preferring to amuse themselves in drawing trees, birds, all kinds of animals and anything else they thought of. Fearing the limit to his own abilities, in the event Lawrence had exhausted their attention far sooner.
The Blacks liked to play draughts and cards, and also with the youngsters on board. They would charm pieces of wood from the carpenter and whittle away at them with admirable skill, making needles and lots of other little things for the ladies. They became great favourites with the womenfolk, who delighted in their spirited company, and whose children always wanted to be with them ...
Church bells rang the half-hour. Focused again in the moment, Lawrence stood opposite an expectant trio. The Aboriginals were blessed with beguiling looks. Their dark eyes large and full, with a soft quality, there was, generally speaking, a degree of docility prepossessing, and expressive of great sympathy. Faced with such generous and trusting pupils, he found it impossible to stay angry.
'Do you want to get me into hot water ... into trouble?' stammered Lawrence. 'Well, then, eh? We might as well pack up our kit right away, climb back aboard ship and spend another three months in the bloody belly of the Parrabloodymatta!'
A flash of white teeth from Dick-a-Dick and his bluster fell deflated.
The classroom became quiet. In natural communion, all four men began to watch the game going on outside.
The Aboriginal Australian Eleven had set sail from Sydney on the 8th of February, bound for the Old Land. They had finally arrived, docking at Gravesend, on Old May Day – May the 13th, 1868 – 81 years to the day from when that First Fleet, under Arthur Phillip, had originally departed to establish the new colony.
Leaving behind an antipodean summer's end, they had made landfall at the start of British summertime. The two seasons were of course hardly comparable. The omnipresent clouds and wearisome vapours of Merrie Olde England were most unlike the bright blue skies of Australia. The Blacks complained of double vision due to the weak light, seeing two balls thrown for every one. Fortunately, by local standards the recent weather had been unseasonably dry, some days freakishly warm – Friday last and especially the Tuesday just gone, with the thermometer hitting 83 Fahrenheit. Still, they'd had only just over a week in which to recover their land legs, and for the Aborigines to acclimatise.
The game in progress beyond the schoolhouse window was a practice session, a part of their brief round of training: after months of inactivity on board ship they had all gained an inch or two around the middle. The high plateau of the North Downs overlooked the pitch from one direction; the tall, tiled spire of St Mary's church the other. Four oasthouses, so characteristic of the Kentish countryside, directly bordered onto the sports field. Conical roofs bent forward, they too seemed to incline their heads the better to follow the action.
Laurence blinked, his concentration shot.
'Neddy will insist on leading with the wrong leg,' he muttered to himself. Making for the door, he turned to point a commanding finger. 'Wait here,' he said. 'We're not done. I'll return presently.'
'"Bladdy facken hell!"'
Laughter breaks out.
'Sounds proper 'Stralian there, inna?'
'Too bloody roit.'
Mosquito, the smallest of the three Aborigines, leaps from his desk and makes for the open door.
'Lawrence ...' says Cole, 'Lawrence said we wait f'r'im.'
Mosquito throws back a dirty look and keeps on going.
Dick-a-Dick, who has seniority, addresses Mosquito in their own language. 'Grongarrong, him right,' he says. 'We should wait.'
Mosquito halts within the doorway. His homelands are at Naracoorte, also known as Mosquito Plains. A skilled carpenter and an ace with the stockwhip, he is, like Dick-a-Dick, a firm advocate of temperance – which is as well, since he is the devil with a drink inside him.
Sulkily, he returns.
'White men,' says Mosquito, 'have no manners.'
This spite is directed at King Cole: the simpleton has spoken out of line. Mosquito then presents his back. Facing Dick-a-Dick, he adopts a dialect only they share. 'Did you have to invite him?' he says. 'He brings bad luck.'
'Na? Puru watjala?' asks Cole. He understands well enough that nothing good is said of him. His lip curls. 'Mardidjali.'
'Miriwa,' spits back Mosquito. 'Drop dead.'
Still favouring Dick-a-Dick, Mosquito resumes English for Cole's edification. 'He is the one whose tongue is difficult.'
Feeling the hurt, King Cole rises instantly from his seat. Now all of them are standing.
'Wembawemba,' jibes Mosquito. 'Everybody know. Ancestors him no good.'
Cole squares with his accuser. Dick-a-Dick intercedes. Put in the position of children, it is hardly surprising they should act the same, but no less shameful for all that. Dick glares reproachfully at Mosquito.
Mosquito cannot believe it. 'You side with him,' he whines, 'against a brother? He is not Jardwa!'
Dick-a-Dick grimaces. Jardwadjali, Mardidjali, Wutjubaluk; the battles they fought over the Murray Lands are over 20 years past, as long dead as their peoples.
'So few blackfellas ...' he sighs.
Dick calls to mind his birthplace, Bring Albit, the sandy spring close to Mount Elgin, and his family crest – Kiotacha, the native cat.
A lengthy silence ensues before Dick-a-Dick speaks again.
'Back in the World,' he says, 'we were Lizard ... Crow, Eaglehawk. We were Pelican ... Fire ... and Emu.'
He measures his speech, taking long pauses. One does not speak lightly, nor too quickly, when dealing with weighty subjects. Words are anyway no way to talk. It takes time to summon the right ones.
'Remember where we come from,' he says. 'That is important ...'
Taking his fellows each by the arm, Dick-a-Dick directs their attention beyond the window glass. He tells them, 'We are very far from home.'
'In this place,' continues Dick, 'it does not matter if we are Gabadj, or Guragidj, Blackheaded Snake, or ...' his eye takes in Cole '... Southern Cross.' Dick-a-Dick lays a placating palm on each man's shoulder. 'White Cockatoo?' he says. 'Black Cockatoo? Here, whole mob just Cockatoo.'
Sad to speak his mind as if it belonged to somewhere else, Dick-a-Dick allows his words to sink slowly in. They watch Lawrence engaged in parley with their team-mates on the field.
'You want beat the whitefellas at their own game?' says Dick. 'Don't. Be proud who is your brother.' His right hand moves to cup the back of Mosquito's neck. He studies the face of each man in turn. 'Look after me an' him,' says Dick. 'That about all we got left.'
Mosquito sets his jaw. He drops his head. 'No good you talk English me.'
'Soon,' says Dick, 'all World become one England.'
King Cole's mouth hangs open. Belonging to no particular place, condemned to remain a boy, he has so much that he wants to express, yet nothing he dares speak of.
Lawrence returned, breaking the spell.
Dick-a-Dick, leading by example, made his way back to the desks and sat down. Mosquito remained standing, facing down Cole.
'Tji-tji,' he said. 'Child. I know my miyur ... I remember my place.'
'Skeeter, Cole ... please,' said Lawrence, 'be seated.'
His few minutes away had given him a chance to reflect on their situation. Lawrence was, if anything, even more contrite than the three Aborigines had contrived to appear. Ninety days confined to a ship – and often cramped and chilly quarters below deck – were akin to a prison sentence even for a civilised gentleman, let alone nomadic tribesmen.
Excerpted from The Clay Dreaming by Ed Hillyer. Copyright © 2010 Ed Hillyer. Excerpted by permission of Myriad Editions.
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
CHAPTER I: THE HUNTING PARTY,
CHAPTER II: BACK AND FORTH,
CHAPTER III: PERFECT GENTLEMEN,
CHAPTER IV: BIRDS OF NO FEATHER,
CHAPTER V: FORMAL INTRODUCTIONS,
CHAPTER VI: INTO LONDON,
CHAPTER VII: AT THE OVAL,
CHAPTER VIII: BLACK GOLD,
CHAPTER IX: THE CRICKET BALL,
CHAPTER X: TJUKURPA,
CHAPTER XI: A REVELATION,
CHAPTER XII: SLINGS AND ARROWS,
CHAPTER XIII: CUTTING REMARKS,
CHAPTER XIV: BUGARAGARA,
CHAPTER XV: AN AWAKENING,
CHAPTER XVI: HIS MAJESTY,
CHAPTER XVII: GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD,
CHAPTER XVIII: THE REJOICING CITY,
CHAPTER XIX: JOURNEY'S END,
CHAPTER XX: A NAME,
CHAPTER XXI: OMPHALOS,
CHAPTER XXII: PALE SHADOWS,
CHAPTER XXIII: ONE TREE HILL,
CHAPTER XXIV: A NEW WORLD,
CHAPTER XXV: DISTANT VOICES, STILL LIVES,
CHAPTER XXVI: LOST, AND FOUND,
CHAPTER XXVII: STORYTELLING,
CHAPTER XXVIII: 'HORED AND DREDFULL',
CHAPTER XXIX: THE BUSH OF GHOSTS,
CHAPTER XXX: UNTIMELY CREATURES,
CHAPTER XXXI: GETTING AND SPENDING,
CHAPTER XXXII: DOUBLE LIVES,
CHAPTER XXXIII: 'UMBRA SUMUS',
CHAPTER XXXIV: THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS,
CHAPTER XXXV: THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON,
CHAPTER XXXVI: THE DREAM THAT IS DYING,
CHAPTER XXXVII: THE DARK TWIN,
CHAPTER XXXVIII: RETURN OF THE KING,
CHAPTER XXXIX: LORD OF MISRULE,
CHAPTER XL: THE DEVIL'S FOOTPRINTS,
CHAPTER XLI: IDYLS OF THE KING,
CHAPTER XLII: STATIONS OF THE SOUTHERN CROSS,
CHAPTER XLIII: THE MARK OF CAIN,
CHAPTER XLIV: DISINHERITANCE,
CHAPTER XLV: MISSING LINKS,
CHAPTER XLVI: REGENTS IN EXILE,
CHAPTER XLVII: THE PROMISED LAND,
CHAPTER XLVIII: SUPERSTITION?,
CHAPTER XLIX: SUPERSTITION TOO?,
CHAPTER L: BETRAYAL,
CHAPTER LI: BROKEN BONDS,
CHAPTER LII: FIAT LUX,
CHAPTER LIII: THE FORCE OF SHADE,
CHAPTER LIV: JACK ALIVE,
CHAPTER LV: BECOME AS LITTLE CHILDREN,
CHAPTER LVI: ARDENT SPIRITS,
CHAPTER LVII: THE HAUNT OF MEMORY,
CHAPTER LVIII: SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL,
CHAPTER LIX: THE LONGEST DAY,
CHAPTER LX: ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT,
CHAPTER LXI: WORLD WITHOUT END,
CHAPTER LXII: WHO SAW HIM DIE?,
CHAPTER LXIII: THE SLEEP OF REASON,
CHAPTER LXIV: DARK MONARCH,
THE ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS,
EPILOGUE: THE LAST OF ENGLAND,
ABOUT THE CLAY DREAMING:,
ABOUT ED HILLYER:,
About the Author,