Start writing here…Gillian was in the bleak back kitchen of the untidily built ranch house and she stood, staring with unseeing eyes, out of the curtain less window. The flat, brown land stretched for miles before her, the tiny amount of grass that grew hardly noticeable.
They did not need curtains, Jacob her husband had said. He was right, she knew that but it would have made her feel better, made it more of a home. It had been three years ago when she had first mentioned it, in the first week of their marriage.
She had come to the small homestead with high hopes, full of ideas and enthusiasm the only daughter of a large family with seven brothers and always feeling the odd one out, although she worked as hard as any of them. Helping her mother to cook and wash for them all. Her mother was the only one who had tried to stop the marriage. Saying she was too young and did not have the experience to take on a young family.
Her father had no qualms about setting her up with Jacob, once he had asked for Gillian’s hand in marriage her father was in whole-hearted agreement. Jacob was their neighbour, had been for ten years. The man needed help with the babies that Mabel had left behind after her death, besides he had promised the land would be Gillian’s if anything happened to him. Donald was pleased about that, it would be more land in the family and with the land of course, would come, the sheep.
The wedding was arranged in the quickest time possible. No time for fussing and frills, her father was adamant against her mother’s protestations that her daughter should have a chance to get to know Jacob better.
The preacher fetched from Alice Springs and the nearest nieghbours invited, Gillian remembered it vividly. There had been no honeymoon or suggestion of one.
The children had arrived with Jacob dressed in their Sunday best. They were timid and huddled together where their father had sat them on the stoop of the house for most of the day, only taking what was offered and stuffing it into their mouths greedily.
Gillian had tried to talk to the children and explain that she was going to care for them, be their new Mama. They had stared at her as if not comprehending, their eyes large in their small thin faces.
The ceremony had gone off well Jacob had been the sad, but kindly bridegroom that everyone expected. Gillian the young virginal bride blushed prettily at every-ones jokes, although most of the time she did not understand them.
Her mother had issued instructions for being a good wife and Gillian was ready in all her humility to do as her husband instructed. The Australian outback was a lonely place for women and they were brought up to be meek and mild where the men were concerned. Gillian went to her husband with full understanding of what her life would be like on the sheep farm, with just her husband and his children.
They travelled back to Jacob’s homestead later that same day the children sat in the back of the cart with her boxes of clothes and a few articles her mother had given her. The ride was quiet, Jacob a different man once they had left her fathers holding behind.
He was now a domineering father and the children were quiet. Even in the dim evening light, the once kindly features of Gillian’s husband could be seen to have changed dramatically once they had left the vicinity of her home, and Gillian’s heart sank at the swift revelation.
The cart pulled up outside a two-story building, and the children scrambled out of the transport quickly. Jacob opened the door and without giving Gillian, a second look or thought he pushed them roughly inside.
‘Upstairs and change’ he growled out peevishly, pushing the children towards the back of the room, where an open doorway confronted them. They ran immediately to do his bidding and then Jacob turned to face Gillian. His features were cold and forbidding.
‘I expect a meal on the table when I return.’ He pointed to another door in what she could only assume was the parlor. ‘There’s the kitchen woman, I’ll be back in about twenty minutes.’
Apprehension raced quickly along Gillian’s spine as she wondered desperately what was to be her lot, but she swiftly fell to the demand. Obey your man in all matters and you will not go far wrong her mother had said.
There was cold lamb and bread in the pantry, plus a couple of pot jars which contained pickles of some sort, the bread was old and dry and she stared at it in dismay.
The banked up fire was down to a few sparks and she hurriedly poked the bellows into it, stoking it up, opening the oven door to feel the warmth with her hand. Thank god, it was still warm. She soaked the bread; splashing cold water over it from the jug she found nearby and shoved it into the oven, hoping it would soon be hot enough to do the job.
Taking a heavy skillet, which hung to one side of the fireplace, she placed it over the now glowing coals. Scraped the potatoes and onions she had grated up into the pan, leaving them to cook while she saw to the plates and cutlery. As Jacob walked in, she placed the meal thankfully on the table. He grunted and sat down unceremoniously without a word of thanks.
The children sidled round the door into the kitchen like frightened country mice. Where they stood pale faced, in dirty clothes that they had changed into and watched their father avidly as he fed his face. He neither acknowledged them nor her but continued to eat the food placed before him, until he had eaten sufficient. Then he pushed his plate to one side and belched loudly. Getting up as he did and making his way to the dresser. He plucked a pipe and makings from the dresser drawer then moved into the parlor with a swagger, leaving them without a word.
After Jacob left, the children never moved but proceeded to stare at Gillian gravely, waiting to see what she would do. Feeling as if she had moved into an alien world she pulled a chair out from the table and sat down exhausted. Waving the children over to join her at the table Gillian sighed dramatically. They crept quietly to the table and sat down to stare at her with their large pale blue eyes and never spoke a word.
It was uncanny and a little frightening to Gillian. She was used to the family sitting down together. Eating, laughing and waving their hands about as they talked about the weather and how the work had gone that day. This quietly sitting and staring at her was unnerving.
She stood up and began to serve the food, which Jacob had left between them, saving just a little of the meat and vegetables for her own hunger. The children attacked the food greedily. As if they were afraid she would take it from them. She had to pat the smallest child on the back, as he tried to push too much food into his mouth all at once.
When the meal was finished, she tidied up while the children sat and watched her silently. Afterwards, she sat at the table and tried to talk to them. The eldest child was Connie a thin child, her hair dark and greasy as if it had not had a wash for quite a while, she said she was eight. Then came Thomas and last was Matthew whom Connie said were six and four. The clothes they were now wearing were thick with dirt and on closer inspection so were the children.
The children were beginning to gather around her knees, pushing closer to her as she talked to them and beginning to open up towards her when their father entered the room.
‘Enough of this chattering, bed.’ The children scampered off terrified and Jacob turned to Gillian. She felt the terror of the unknown fill her again, as he glared at her. His gaze then swept the kitchen it was tidy and he turned his glowering gaze back towards her.
‘Come,’ he opened a door in the kitchen and led her into a room that was offset from the kitchen. It was a hastily constructed structure, small, about six feet by six feet. The walls were made of rough stone and in the daylight, the next day, gaps would show where the dung and mud wattle had not filled them.
Along one side stood a rough shelf with a straw mattress and a grey, dirty blanket tossed on it. A shelf affair made of rough sacking and wood stood in the top corner. What appeared to be a sort of stool, with a piece cut out of one side, stood between the bed and the shelves?
‘This will be your room’ he said bluntly and began to walk away. She summoned up her courage as he reached the door.
‘Jacob,’ he turned to look at her his eyebrows drawn together menacingly.
‘Can I get my boxes, please?’ He stared hard at her.
‘They’re outside the door.’ He grunted roughly
‘That’s all right, I’ll carry them in,’ she spoke up quickly and took a step towards him her mouth dry, the tone of his voice intimidating her. He turned from her walking out of the room.
Gillian dashed through to the outer door quickly. The light was beginning to fade and she needed to find the things she needed before the room became too dark to see. Fetching the boxes in took her a couple of minutes.
She quickly sifted through them, finding a couple of the calico sheets, which her mother had thankfully provided.
Quickly she made up the rough mattress with them and the patchwork quilt she had sewn in anticipation of this her wedding day. With a look of distaste clouding her usually calm face, she threw the dirty blanket into the corner of the room. In the dim light, she undressed wearily, as she assessed her new life.
Five o’clock the next morning, she came awake roughly by the door being flung wide open and the sound of Jacob’s demanding voice.
‘Breakfast woman’ he shouted at her.
She scrambled out of bed and slipped into an old dress she dragged from her box. Hurrying hastily into the pantry to find something, she could rustle up for a meal. A large sack of oats was dumped behind her making her jump from her reverie and she turned to see a red-faced Jacob. He lifted the sack past her nodded and returned whence he had come.
She soon had the banked up fire blazing with the help of the bellows and breakfast was on its way to the table when he returned from his wash in the sluice.
‘Tucker,’ he said as he sat down, handing her a billycan. Twenty minutes later, she found herself alone in the house on her own with three children and no other human for miles. Time to investigate she thought and left the house to explore.
The first thing she heard was the sound of goats and found they had a nanny and two babies. ‘Milk,’ she exclaimed gleefully and returned to the kitchen to fetch a bucket.
The goat was fat and round with milk but wasn’t used to Gillian and she had to tie her up first, enticing her with a piece of bread. The babies she pushed into another pen and only fed them when she had milked the mother. The rest of the milk she took back to the kitchen and placed in a cool corner in the pantry.
It was the turn of the chickens next and after collecting a dozen or so eggs she returned to the house pleased with her mornings’ foraging.
As she passed the pens on the way back to the kitchen noticing that there was a small garden. Very neglected, but it might produce a few vegetables if she was lucky and could save some of the produce from dying.
Returning to the house she explored the cupboards and found many things that were wanting and wrote a list of jobs that needed doing.
The time was getting on and she had expected the children to be up by this time but as they were not she decided it was time she awoke them.
Walking through the parlour made her aware of the dirt and squalor and she realized she had her work cut out if she was ever to get it looking like a home.
The staircase was dark and dingy and she crept fearfully up the stairs, why were they so quiet? At the top of the stairs was a small landing with two doors, shut tight by heavy wood bars dropped into iron slots on the outside. Now she knew why the children had not come down.
She opened one of the doors and walked into a large bedroom. It stank of sweat and dirty washing and she ran to the shutter opening it as wide as she was able, letting the morning sun into the dirty room. Dust motes danced on the beams of the sun as they burst into the room, lighting up a pile of filthy washing and a dirty rumpled bed.
Gillian’s nose turned up at the disgusting stench and hastily she whipped the clothes from the bed, dropping them from the window, doing the same with the washing before leaving the room hopefully to be cleansed by the fresh air.
Moving grimly along the hall and dreading what she was about to face in the children’s room Gillian lifted the sliding the bar up. She opened the door fearfully.
It was much worse than she could ever have imagined. It smelled like a toilet. The gush of foul air greeting her as she entered the room made her baulk. The shutter in this room also closed tight against the fresh air and rising sun. If a cyclone had hit the place, it could not have looked worse.
Amongst this terrible mess, lay the three children huddled together, a look of fear on all of their faces.
Gillian bounded across the room to the shutter and the three children fled to the furthest corner of the room. There they stood, dithering, the look of fear on their faces dreadful to see.
They were still dressed in the clothes they had gone to bed in, and the pity in Gillian’s heart overwhelmed her, as she stared at the three terrified children.
How many times must he have locked them up in this filthy room on their own all day? She shuddered as she dreaded to think of the misery they must have endured since their poor mother had died.
Bending down, she began to pick the things up from the floor and throw them out of the window. The children watched her warily and when she smiled at them, they stared in disbelief. She crooked her finger and smiled again.
‘Come and help me, we will throw everything outside and then we can go down and pick them up, hurry let’s have fun.’
It was awhile before Connie eventually plucked up the nerve to join her first surprise and then joy lit her face as she began to enjoy throwing the things out of the window.
When Connie began laughing the boys soon joined in. The room emptied quickly as they all worked together and suddenly they stood in an empty room except for three dirty straw mattresses.
Gillian stared at them in dismay there was only one thing for it. With the children’s help, she carried them to the window and they threw them out, leaving the room to the fresh air and sunshine.
Herding the children laughingly down the stairs, she fed them porridge and scrambled eggs, which made their faces beam.
It was the children’s turn for a clean now and taking a large pan of warm water to the sluice, the children happily following her, she told them to strip off.
They were covered in bruises and scabs which came as no surprise after what she had seen and after cleaning and washing their hair she was richly rewarded by the change in their appearance. Finding some salve in one of the cupboards she anointed their cuts and left them to play naked in the sun for a while to prepare them another meal.
The children were grateful for all her administrations and behaved like little angels for her, helping her to tidy things away, all wanting to do something to help. It made her heart ache to see the willingness with which they all tried to please her.
When the meal was over, she began washing their clothes. They all joined in the fun as the boys jumped up and down on the clothes to make them clean. Connie helped her to wring them out and hang them over fences and bushes to dry. The mattresses first emptied and washed clean then refilled with dry straw as they dried. The children then helped to stitch them back up with the two eldest trying to learn how to sew while young Matthew pushed the straw back into them.
A big pan of lamb stew, placed on the fire to cook while they went upstairs to tackle the bedrooms. Gillian made everything into games for the children and soon things were beginning to look and smell much cleaner.
The light was beginning to fade, as they came downstairs, everyone was beginning to feel tired. They all helped to collect the clothes up from the bushes and fences Gillian sorting them and putting them into neat piles.
The children eventually dressed in clean clothes and their hair combed. Gillian found a couple of ribbons out of her box for Connie’s hair and the child looked the picture of happiness when Gillian produced a hand mirror for the child to look at herself.
Of course, they all wanted to see themselves and the old house rang with laughter as they collapsed in heaps in Gillian’s little room. She left them sat on her bed with a couple of old children’s books from her childhood days while she went to sort out the evening meal.
When Jacob arrived home the children were in bed, she had found and lit a tiny stub of candle placing it on the kitchen table. He entered the kitchen and frowned darkly at the candle.
‘Candles cost money woman use them with care,’ and he licked his fingers and put it out, then sat down at the table and picked up his knife and fork, staring expectantly at her. Gillian carefully transported the stew dish to the table and placed a plateful of dumplings in front of him. He lifted his head to watch the doorway expecting the children to enter then turned an inquiring look on her. ‘Where are they?’
‘In bed asleep,’ she replied softly and turned her back on him to begin banking up the fire for the night. She listened to him slurping the stew and waited patiently until he left the room, tidying the pots away and then retiring to her own room.
The next few days were uneventful, just a round of cleaning, seeing to the children and animals and getting the garden tidied up.
It was Friday night, tomorrow she had been married for two weeks and the thing she had most dreaded, had not yet happened. Her mother had explained as carefully as she could, that when you married there were things that happened between a man and woman you didn’t talk about.
This was, of course, the way babies came about, and if you wanted children then you had to put up with it. Moreover, of course, the fact, men were different to women, as she must have realized when she helped her to bathe her younger brothers. Men had needs her mother explained and of course, they wanted children to help with the chores otherwise, they wouldn’t marry.
Her mother had rattled on for ages, about this and that and how eventually, you would grow to love your man. Just as she had before she had arrived at the important part. It usually hurts a little the first time Gillian and you will probably bleed a mite too but if you try to relax and just let him finish it will pass quickly.
After that first time, it will get easier as long as you don’t try to fight it. Remember my advice and make it easy on yourself, she admonished before giving her a hug and leaving her to pack her things ready for the day.
Gillian sighed with relief as she climbed into bed. At least she didn’t have to put up with Jacob climbing onto her and doing as the animals did she thought thankfully, she didn’t think she would like Jacob to do that to her. The more she thought about it she was glad he didn’t come near her.
Her life was hard but no harder than her mothers had been. At least she only had three children to care for and it didn’t seem as if Jacob wanted anymore because he hadn’t bothered her in the way her mother had said he would.
She had just pulled the cover up her back and prepared for sleep when the door flung open. She turned to face the door again pulling the cover nervously around her shoulders in fright as she saw Jacob’s tall frame stood in the doorway.
A shiver of apprehension rolled down her back as he strode towards the bed. He snatched the cover from her dithering hands and pulled her out of the bed. She gasped in fright as he drew a switch made of twigs from behind his back.
‘Bend over the bed woman’ he said, swinging her around so that she faced the bed. She tried to pull out of his grasp and her nightdress tore as she asked in a terrified voice.
‘Why Jacob what have I done?’ he grabbed her hair and pushed her face down on to the bed. Then he began to beat her with the twigs, saying every time he brought the switch down.
‘We don’t want no more babies do we woman?’ Gillian sobbed with each thwack of the twigs. The tears ran down her face and wet the patchwork counterpane, now she knew what those marks had been on the children. At least, now she was to be the recipient of his anger, instead of the children she thought unhappily.
He was panting heavily before he stopped. He threw the switch on the floor. Walked over to the strange stool that stood between the bed and the dresser, picked it up, and placed it in the middle of the room. She watched confounded as he pointed his finger menacingly at her.
‘There woman!’ he demanded. His breathing sounded harsh and queer to Gillian’s ears and she stared at him aghast. Surely he wasn’t going to beat her again and she shook with fear as he strode across to her and grabbed her arm again.
Pulling her across to the stool, he shoved her down to her knees and pushed her neck into the cut-out portion. She struggled, terrified of what he was about to do and he cuffed her with the back of his hand, banging her head against the two roundels of wood that protruded from the back edge of the stool.
Placing his knee in the middle of her back he took hold of her arms and placed them around the legs of the stool, holding them together with one hand. He then moved around the stool and fastened the leather strap that dangled from the crossbar, around her wrists.
Gillian could do nothing. He was much bigger and stronger than she. She whimpered miserably, even if she screamed there was no one about to help her. The children couldn’t have helped. They were too young anyhow and would be locked up by now.
The moon shone through the open shutter, spreading its light over the gaily covered bedspread and lit the macabre scene.
Jacob’s breathing was heavy, rasping in his throat as he stood up to admire his handiwork. The moonlight stretched lazily across the scene to illuminate his body and she realized he was naked.
He realizes that she could now see him, stood back for her to admire. His hands approached his groin and her eyes followed their action. From a nest of black hair protruded his manhood. Her eyes widened in surprise and fear and he took a step forward.
‘Open your mouth woman,’ he commanded hoarsely ‘and if you bite, I’ll pull all your teeth out one by one.’ His voice came softly from his throat, threateningly sinister in its quality.
Gillian didn’t open her mouth. She gagged, horrified at the thought of what he wanted her to do and her stomach heaved dramatically. Her head reared backwards away from the male stench of him and she strained frantically in the grip of her bonds
He grew angry, she could tell from his stance and attitude as he endeavoured to push his member into her mouth. An aura emanated from him, filling her with terror and suddenly she found her voice.
‘Please Jacob, don’t!’
He snarled and leaned forward quickly. Grabbed the two plaits she had put her hair into before getting into bed, jerking her head forward into the curved slot.
The rough wood jarred against her neck, bruising, making her gasp for air. He pulled her plaits tight and wound them around the wooden staves. There was no escape.
The turgid flesh entered her mouth, and she gagged. The bile rose in her throat, forcing itself up out of her mouth and nose, spraying over the rampaging flesh in her mouth and the bush of curly hair.
Jacob stood back, depleted, a wide grin of satisfaction across the bearded face and took her dress from the end of the bed. He wiped himself down and then flung the dress over the mess to kneel down on. He undid the strap, which bound her hands and kicked the stool back towards her with his foot.
‘Clean your mess up bitch,’ he said happily and sauntered out of the room.
For a few minutes, Gillian could do nothing. Traumatized by her ordeal, she lay where she had fallen when he kicked the stool. The tears rolled uncontrollably down her face seeping into the brown dirt floor.
Eventually, she rose unsteadily to her feet and made her way outside to the sluice, the cold water helped to revive her. There she sat staring sadly at the full moon, was this marriage? She asked herself unhappily, surely not.
A surprise came the next day, there was no banging back of her door and she awoke to a quietness that startled her. She dressed and left her room hastily in search of the children. Warily, she passed Jacob’s room but it was empty, the door left open, as was normal since she had made it clean for him. The children’s door was still barred though, and she removed the bar quietly, not wanting to wake them if they were asleep still.
She opened the door softly; the children sat in a group huddled together as she had seen them that first morning their faces quiet but tearstained. ‘Did he hit you too’ she asked quickly, terrified that even after her ordeal he had hurt them also.
‘No,’ said Connie while the others shook their heads in unison. ’We know he hurt you though Gilly. He did mum too, always, the night before he leaves for town. He won’t come back for a few days.’ How often was that, wondered Gillian, dreading the next time.
‘We can play with Bessie and take you to mama’s special place,’ spoke up Thomas and Matthew excitedly. Connie approached Gillian gravely and placed her arms around her hugging her gently.
‘I’m sorry he hurt you Gilly, please don’t leave us. We’ll be very good. Won’t we?’ she asked the boys. Her eyes pleaded eloquently for their help. She was terrified Gillian would leave them and they might return to the horrible existence they’d lived before she arrived.
The boys descended on her in a heap. ‘No! Please don’t leave us, Gillian! I’ll dig more garden for you’ said Thomas hopefully. He grabbed her arm and pushed his face up against her, his eyes big, pleading with her
Matthew scrambled forward also, wrapping his small hands into the folds of her full skirt. ‘Please, do not leave us, Gilly.’ The big pale blue eyes swam with tears as he begged, and Gillian’s heartfelt overwhelmed by their show of affection. She stooped down and drew the thin children into her arms; her chin rested on Matthew’s dark head.
’Tears were in her own eyes as she said huskily. ‘Don’t worry. I won’t leave you, I promise’ but her eyes were sad, as she thought unless he kills me like their mama. ‘Now let’s go and have some eggs, with fat soldiers for Matthew,’ she said decidedly. After breakfast, the children persuaded her to put a picnic together.
‘We’re gonna take you on a picnic holiday like mama used to take us’ said Matthew. He was grinning delightedly, his face resting on the edge of the kitchen table, his eyes staring up at her excitedly. ’You is just gonna luv it ’he exclaimed happily and danced off to join his brother and sister, who were filling a bag they had taken from one of the cupboards with towels and clean undies.
‘You hold the bag while I get Gillian’s clothes, Thomas,’ said Connie importantly.
‘Hurry up then, I want to get Bessie. We can take Bessie can’t we Gillian?’ exclaimed Thomas searching Gillian’s face with worried blue eyes.’
‘It’s the best Kelpi in the whole world’ exclaimed Thomas. Mom saved her. It was the last of Jose’s litter and dad was going to kill her but mom stopped him. She was moms, stayed at the house with us and everything,’ there was a break in his voice, and Gillian caught the glint of a tear, as it ran from the corner of his pale blue eye down his face.
‘Of course, we must take her,’ she burst in quickly, ‘You fetch her Thomas.’ The bag was instantly dropped and Thomas sped away as fast as his legs would carry him Matthew trailing a close second.
Connie came from Gillian’s room with Gillian’s clothes and a big smile. ’Bessie’s just a great guard, she always let mum know when dad was around’ said Connie. The children returned speedily, with a strange looking brown and black speckled dog that stared at her warily.
Gillian knelt down and held out her hand, in it were some scraps of lamb. The dog approached her warily. Its ears pricked and its back end raised, its nose stretched forward, snuffling timidly at the meat in her hand. She held her hand still and its wet mouth gently took the meat from her hand, ate it swiftly and then looked up at her enquiringly.
She still held her hand out and the dog sat down and raised its front paws from the floor begging for more. She laughed with pleasure and gave her some more scraps. That was Bessie’s cue, she jumped up, and putting her paws on Gillian’s shoulder, she began to lick her face. It took a little while for everyone to settle down and behave properly after the session with Bessie but eventually, they did and finally set off on their picnic.
It was a good hour before their destination came in sight, and after the beating, Gillian had suffered the night before she was beginning to feel quite weary. So was young Matthew whose legs were not quite as long as his brother and sisters. They all sat to rest for a while and she assessed the great hill of rocks and stones that confronted them.
‘I hope we don’t have to climb over those rocks’ she gasped looking to Connie for an answer.
‘No, you’ll see, it’s a big surprise. We’ll show you when we get there,’ said Connie mysteriously, ‘won’t we boys?’
‘Yes, there are lots of lovely.’
‘Shush!’ burst in Connie quickly, as Matthew nearly gave the show away. They tramped on after a few minutes, the children unable to contain their secret much longer.
‘Come on Gilly’ shouted Matthew as he and the dog ran to a narrow opening at the side of a scraggy acacia tree. They mysteriously disappeared from sight and Gillian rushed after them hurriedly. She ran down a narrow tunnel of rock that was just wide enough to take her form. It gradually became darker and she had to slow for fear of falling. Her hands stretched out in front tentatively as she followed the sound of Matthew’s footsteps echoing along the rock corridor. Then suddenly it was light, and she turned a corner to witness a beautiful pool of clear water. The rocks towered around the sides and beneath her feet was soft sandy soil. Matthew stood in front of the pool discarding his clothes as quickly as he could, while Bessie swam in circles waiting for him to join her. The other two children passed her as she stood to stare unbelievably and joined Matthew in stripping off. Within a few minutes, they were all swimming around the pool as if they had been born to it.
‘Come on Gillian come in, come and swim,’ sang the children.
‘I can’t’ she said sadly ‘I don’t know how.’ Connie came to the edge of the pool to her and stood up.
’Look it’s not deep here. Take your clothes off and we’ll show you, mom showed us. Come on Gillian. When you’ve had a swim, we can put some cream on for you, like we used to for mum.
‘You’ll feel heaps better,’ said Thomas coming up to join them, ‘Mom did.’ He said nodding at her wisely. It couldn’t hurt anything, there were only the children to see and the water would be lovely she thought. Swiftly she shed her clothing and slid over the edge into the pool. It was cold and made her shiver at first and the water stung the cuts that covered her back.
The children tried to give her swimming lessons, trying to teach her to swim. A little afraid she stuck to the edge of the pool, not venturing out of her depth although the children tried to egg her on, saying it wasn’t very deep. Connie even diving to the bottom of the pool and fetching her a handful of tiny stones didn’t sway her in the least. The sun was bidding the day farewell when they eventually left the peace of the pool and they arrived home in the twilight, led by the faithful Bessie. They ate and the children begged for a story but before the story ended they all fell asleep. That had been three years ago.
Her life had followed the same pattern, except for a once yearly visit from her mother, her only interest seeming to be to find out if there were to be any grandchildren yet. Gillian had not been able to tell her mother of her husband’s strange ways, feeling the debasement too ugly to repeat she kept the knowledge to herself. She did cut her hair as short as she could but this only served to make her more attractive her hair springing into soft curls around her face. When it was cut, she had to make a hat that she wore whenever Jacob was around. When he came to her, she did as she was bid learning to control the sickness. This way he didn’t get the perverse pleasure he seemed to derive from beating her as well, she sighed softly and turned away from the brown land, tonight he would come again.
She heard the sound of a horse and looked out of the window in surprise. Was that Jacob? The children came running in.
‘There’s a man outside Gillian. He says he is our uncle’ said Connie surprise in her voice. Gillian moved to the door where a young man was dismounting.
He fastened his horse to the rail before removing his hat, giving himself a dust off with it and turning to face the three children that had gathered around her protectively.
His smile was kind and gentle as he viewed the thin work worn woman with the funny hat on and three dark-haired children with their peculiarly pale blue eyes.
As he approached, Gillian became aware that his eyes were the same pale blues that the children’s was. His hair was black and tied back from his face, his skin dark, probably tanned by much sun and looked smooth and flawless.
Gillian felt slightly embarrassed, she knew she was staring but she couldn’t help it. Something strange was suddenly happening to her body. She gazed unashamedly at this handsome young man, while her body seemed to come alive. She became suddenly aware of her surroundings. The air around her was different, it seemed to vibrate around her, or was it her pulse that jumped sending the blood around her body, making her feel light and giggly.
Greg walked unhurriedly to the group stood in the doorway. He knew he must be at the right place. These children looked much like himself as a youngster, and the rest of his family back home. There was no getting away from those pale blue eyes, he thought merrily. Remembering the girls who had flocked to his side since he had reached adulthood, but where was Mabel?
‘Hi there little lady, I’m looking for Mabel Santalina married some guy named Walker. Do you happen to know if this is the right place? The kid’s sure look familiar with those blue eyes, run in my family they do’ he said gazing at her quizzically.
‘Our mum's name was Mabel.’ replied Connie staring wonderingly into the pale blue eyes that searched her face.
‘And you look much like her, as I remember her’ he said, giving her one of his gentle smiles.
‘What’s your name, little lady?’
‘Connie Walker and this is Thomas, and Matthew and our new mom Gillian.’
‘Uh!’ he exclaimed sharply, looking to Gillian for an explanation as his face paled under the dark tan. Gillian felt sorry for him, it was obvious he had not expected this kind of event and Connie bursting it out like that had upset him. He turned disbelieving eyes on her as she said.
‘Please, come in. I’ll make you a drink.’ He followed them into the house and through to the kitchen where Thomas pulled him a chair out and the children gathered around the table to listen inquisitively.
‘I’m sorry Connie came out with it like that’ she said, smiling at him apologetically as she removed the hat. Her hair had now grown again and hung softly around her face its brown curly tresses softening the work-worn appearance and her brown eyes spoke volumes as she talked to him.
The drab dress that hung on her gave no clues to her age or figure but her eyes and her demeanour was that of one much younger than she appeared, thought Greg with surprise.
‘I’m afraid if Mabel was your sister. She died over three year’s ago’ she said quietly.
‘Jacob came and asked my father for me and we were married. I have looked after the children since then’ she said simply, as she passed him a drink.
Greg felt angry, no one at home knew what had happened and that was why he had come. The last letter had arrived three years ago; stating everything was all right. It was a long way to come and find your sister dead, with no letter from her husband to say what had happened. Her letters had not been regular from the start. She had left South Hampton with her husband when she was seventeen. The first letter to arrive home had been to let them know she had a daughter and then the births of her sons then no more for a while until the one three years ago. It had not said much just the children were fine and she hoped everyone at home fared well and hoped she would hear from them soon.
His mother had written every month and was surprised Mabel never said anything about her letters or asked how her nieces and nephew were. Greg knew there was more to this matter than this person knew about and the complexity annoyed him. He needed to find out what had happened and why his sister was dead she would only have been twenty-seven damn it.
‘Will Jacob be home soon?’ He asked giving her one of his gentle smiles.
‘Yes,’ she replied shuddering and turning to the children said. ‘Come, Connie, please get the dishes quickly,’ she gave him a shy smile.
‘Would you perhaps like something to eat, its only lamb stew but there’s dumplings with herbs in, to go with it.’ Her smile was a revelation.
Greg felt his heart kick, thumping under his ribs as she placed a dish of stew in front of him. That smile touched something deep inside him, he felt suddenly afraid, and she was married to Jacob his brother in law. He had seen her shudder at the mention of his name and she was hurrying the children to eat up and get to bed before the return of their father. He became aware of the aura of fear and tension that had entered the room at the mention of Jacob and he caught her constant watching of the window, her eyes on the lookout for his return.
The children ate their meal wordlessly placed the dishes in the bowl and hurried away after they’d kissed her cheek each in turn giving her a wordless look that touched his heart.
‘They think a lot of you Gillian,’ he murmured softly his eyes searching her face for an answer. The sound of her name on his lips sounded like music to her ears and she smiled dreamily at him before the sound of horses made her quickly aware of the return of her husband.
‘He’s here,’ she said, and for a second Greg saw stark fear; enter her eyes. Greg instantly recognized her predicament and he decided that to be in her company when Jacob arrived would not be in her interest. He left the house to meet Jacob alone.
Jacob rode straight to the stables, shutting the Kelpies away and stabling the horses before he entered the sluice. Greg was waiting for him as he came out. Jacob gave him a curt glance; the pale blue eyes stared back at him uninhibited by his black stare.
‘Who the hell are you’ he asked belligerently, he’d noticed the pale blue eyes, and a long memory had given him an inkling, a tiny finger of fear raced down his spine.
‘Greg Santalina, do you remember me Jacob?’ He asked in a dispassionate voice
‘Umm, not really, what do you want, Mabel’s dead, been gone these three years past. So you can see there’s nothing here for you. You might as well go back from whence you came,’ and he left him staring after him and entered the homestead.
Indignation filled Greg at his highhanded dismissal and anger and frustration beat at his very soul. Just who did Jacob think he was to dismiss him as if he were of no account? He wanted answers to his questions and he would get them thought Greg but not when it might bring trouble on the woman and children.
He would wait until tomorrow. Meanwhile he would mull over the situation. His gaze swept the homestead and surrounding land. Ah that small off shot from the house he could sleep behind that it would give them enough shelter it was probably a storehouse or such.
He led the horse into the corner, removed the saddle and placed a bag of oats over the horse’s nose then prepared his bed for the night. Lying back to survey the blue domain and watch, the moon and stars enter the night sky.
Gillian stood drying the dishes wondering where the young man had gone and trying to push the inevitable away out of her mind. At last she entered the darkened room and made ready for the night, then sat down upon the edge of her bed to wait for Jacob.
He came with his usual thundering attitude. The door thrown nearly off its hinges, as Jacob flung it back, marching into her room in all his naked glory but this time instead of the twigs he held a riding whip.
Gillian shrank back on the bed afraid as she spied the whip in his hand; a look of abject terror suffused her face. The light of the moon filled the little room as if it were a stage and Jacob’s face split, into a grin of feverish excitement at her display of fear.
The adrenaline rush flushed his veins and his body displayed his erection dramatically in the stark moonlight.
Gillian tried vainly to flee pushing her back against the rough stone wall wishing it would envelope her. Two strides and he had her arm. He jerked her from the bed and she fell in a heap to the dirt floor, knocking the breath from her body. He picked her up by her hair and flung her over the edge of the bed his strength infused by his excitement.
The whip came down across Gillian’s backside. The scream rose from her throat before she could stop it and she stuffed the bedding into her mouth to stop further utterance.
Greg’s horse whinnied as it heard the door bang and Greg awoke with a start. His solitary journey had awakened the instinct of self-preservation in him and he left nothing to chance. Rising from his bed, he set out to investigate his surrounding area. He moved from the dark corner into the light from the moon moving around the outer wall of the offset and spied the open shutter. Keeping close to, the wall he crept towards the opening and carefully peeked into the room. The sight that met his eyes filled him with disgust and horror, he shouted.
‘Jacob! Stop!’ and two pair of eyes turned to the opening to stare at the black silhouette. Gillian knew it must be Greg and pulled the cloth from her mouth.
She screamed ‘Run! He’ll kill you.’
The whip came down across her back again and Jacob replied. ‘Yes, and then I’ll come back for you’ and saying that, he turned and left the room.
Greg had met this kind of man before and knew what they were like, he wasn’t afraid. From the wood piled by the side of the wall, he picked out a long round club and advanced toward the kitchen door. He listened for the lifting of the latch and waited patiently.
The door opened inward and Jacob approached the opening warily ready to defend him self. He could hear nothing and stepped out of the door his whip raised and Greg hit him hard at the back of the head. Knocking him to the floor stunned. Quickly he jumped on his back and grabbed his arms dragging them up his back as hard as he could and pulling the belt from his trousers he threaded it around his arms and drew it tight. He heard a scuffling sound and looked up to see Gillian, she held some rope and he quickly finished the job trussing him like an animal. They carried him into the parlour and put him in a corner then covered him with a blanket. Gillian explaining she didn’t want the children to see him naked.
Dawn was beginning to streak the sky as by mutual consent they wandered out into the clean morning air, striding out to the fence that surrounded the homestead.
‘How long have you endured this kind of treatment Gillian?’ he asked her gently.
‘Since he brought me here’ she replied tremulously. The stoicism that had sustained her until now was beginning to desert her beneath his inquiring gentleness and the tears began to fall. He gathered her gently towards him and she drew from his strength glad at last to have someone to whom she could turn to.
‘It’s all over now; you know that, don’t you?’ He asked, and easing her gently from his arms, he looked deep into her eyes. The look they shared told all. His thumb caressed her lips gently before his mouth descended.
Gillian’s soul soared as if it had wings. This was a marriage.
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