Chapter 1

Written by: Suraya Dewing

The pungent smell of eucalyptus, blood and gun smoke almost choked Mary as she hauled the driver away from his seat. She held him, slumped over, with one arm and grabbed at the flapping reins banging against the side of the roughly hewn open wooden cart. She pulled back as hard as she could while the neighing horses ran wildly through the sun baked bush with their eyes rolling into their whites with panic.

A terrified scream lodged in her throat above her pumping heart. Her plain long skirt flapped about her knees and caught in the spoke of the wheel. She heard the rip tear the air as she pulled back on the reins.

The driver fell to the ground as she took the reins in both her hands and pulled as if she was in a tug of war with a rampaging elephant. From the corner of her eyes she saw a shadowy movement through the eucalypt trees and her heart chilled. The horses finally stopped and she tumbled from the seat and hid behind a clump of dried grass. The horses breathed heavily. White sweat frothed along the harness trace lines.

Fearfully, she looked around but there was no sign of the man.

The horses impatiently stamped their hooves. Mary pulled her torn skirt about her and undid the top button of her plain dust coated white shirt.

The cold muzzle of a gun pressed into the back of her neck. Screaming, she spun around. Through the lock of long brown hair that had fallen from its clip, she saw a man rendered into shadow by the sun behind him. Nevertheless, she recognised him.

“Jake,” she choked.

“Thought you could run away ay?”

She sat, head bowed in what looked like contrition but her mind was working behind her evasive blue eyes.

She shook her head.

“No, was going to collect the mail.”

He leaned back and laughed from the very pit of his comfortable belly. “You expect me to believe that?”

She tilted her pointed chin. She was barely 18 years old and she did not want to spend the rest of her life miserably shackled to this man. And she knew it was only a matter of time before she was pregnant. That would be her life….caught on a squeaking treadmill that began at three in the morning and ended after midnight – down the stream to get water, boiling the copper, washing clothes, cooking for the streams of work gangs steadily trooping through to crutch the sheep, cull the cattle.

Tears formed in her eyes and her gaze slipped to the dead wagon driver. Even though she was at least fifty yards from him, she could see large blowflies buzzing around him.

“Why did you kill him?” she demanded.

Jake winced against the low lying sun and growled, “No-one steals from me, especially not my wife. I won you fair and square from your father. Can’t help it, if he’s a lousy poker player.”