OUT OF MY MIND
Morning came and still the Rosedale hung from the rocks at the end of the Breakwall. Nell had walked down nearer the dawn when the spray still masked both her thoughts and her face. She had wrapped the shawl about her hair and stood with the other curiosity viewers.
People said there were holes in the Hull of the steamer. People said the tugboat couldn’t keep a hold on her as she tried to enter the River. People said a great many things. And some said nothing at all.
Nell was accustomed to boats striking the breakwall. She lived at the mouth of the Bellinger. A narrow and tricky bar crossing it was. She had seen sinkings and near misses. Some were sad and some were frightening. Some held out chances of rescue and salvage.
The thing that had caught her attention this time, was the sound of footsteps outside the window of her bedroom. Sometime in the middle of the Night. Voices whispering and a low sob. Nell was a sleeper. She didn’t wake at the small night noises which disturbed the restless. She didn’t rouse simply to investigate a possum gnawing on the fruit she put out of an evening. She did wake at the sounds which didn’t belong. Didn’t fit.
Nell had stood at her window for a time. Wondering. She left the investigation to morning. A tinkle of metal. A slight stain on the path and one or two broken stems of plants lining the steps up from the lagoon. She leaned against the wooden staff she carried and watched as the waves ground the metal hull into the rock. Watched the Watchers.
People said that the Crew had all been rescued from the Rosedale. People said there was noone else on board when she hit the rocks. Nell left the River and moved back up the Steps, past her cottage and the broken stems. She walked slowly. A thump now and then on the sandy path with her staff. A blow for anything resting in the track. Wake up and move along. At the top of the crest, she stopped and took a seat on the old log. Her knees sometimes betrayed her as did her breathing but her eyes were usually keen and sharp.
She could see nothing unusual from where she rested but she knew full well that the Unusual was there somewhere. Her eyes turned to the South and into the huge cacti and foot tearing mangroves where the lagoon snaked its way behind the Ocean and back to the beaches.
“We need young legs and young eyes for this one.”
Nell closed her eyes a moment, “ Yes, we do that, Magura. We do indeed.“
She smiled as her friend set herself down on the log beside her. Two old women seeing more than an empty hulk on a rock wall.
“ Not much use taking them to my place”, said Nell. “ Its too public. “
“ Thinking the same. The Camp will do for now. I’ll get the Young Legs to lead them that way “.
LOSSES TO BUSINESS PEOPLE. (1911, January 16). The Sydney Morning Herald.
“Advertising.” The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW)1 Jul 1911.
“ Best I find myself some medical treatment”, said Nell. “ I seem suddenly to not be feeling quite right.”
The two women made their way up the hill and just over the crest, Nell turned in at a small gate, leaving the Other to follow the lagoon along the track in the sand.
The young man sitting on the back step of the cottage smiled as the Old Lady approached.
“ Not much in the way of Trade up here today, My Nellie. We’ve dried the Rosedale people off and stitched them up. They’’re either tucked up neatly in Nurse’s beds or down there looking at the remains. A few have been taken home by their families but my work is done and everyone else is too busy watching the tide bounce her up and down to feel the need of me. Unless, of course, you ……. ?”
“Well. I might be asking for your help. I just might be. “
The young doctor chuckled a little. He had only been at the Heads a few months but he was fond of this Lady. She appealed to his humour and to his heart and those months had been enough to give him a fair idea that she could be up to something and could very well involve him in more than treating her aching knees or swollen ankles.
“ Well” said she. “ I have heard about the crew and the passengers being rescued. They tell me the bullion was taken off and that some of the cargo floated out to sea. Hear tell the flour and sugar in the holds are ruined by the saltwater. But I haven’t heard a whisper that explains the sounds I heard from my bed last night. Come. Take a little walk with me. “
The two retraced the steps that Nell had taken that morning. From time to time, she kicked a little of the sand or mussed up a plant beside the track with her staff. She seemed to take no care at all in her walking and her long black skirt swished and tore at the edges of the salty plants.
The young doctor watched for a little as they walked and , keeping his eyes on the ground a little ahead of them, began to do as she was doing.
When they reached the top of the track which led down to the water, he turned and waited for her.
“That’s one fine mess we’ve made.”
“ Yes. Yes. Its just fine ! “ she replied. “Just fine.”
“ Best you ask me in for a for a moment. “ said the young man.
They sat in Nell’s back room, looking out over the mouth of the River. Down below the Rosedale still struggled. Skewered on the rocks and the tide thrashing her. The interest in her was growing and people were beginning to realise that food was going to be short and mail was gone astray. Cost counting was beginning.
“ Now then” said the young Doctor. “ Whose blood was that in the sand ? “
Nellie took the cup he offered her and wrapped both her hands around it. She wasn’t sure of the answer to give him. Didn’t actually know the answer. Magura would send news soon enough. She took a moment, watching the kookaburra on the front fence post.
“Its been there all week” said the young Docotor. “ Coming and going. Closer than they usually come to the house and sometimes simply staring at me”.
Nellie kept her eyes on the bird and on the ocean below. “Who are you ? “she asked.
The young man smiled a little. His hair was thick and black and his eyes, thought Nell, had seen as much as hers had.
“I am one of the lost ones, “ he said.
She laughed, sitting there beside him. “ That makes two of us”.
“And whose blood is it ? “ he repeated.
The Elderwoman told him as much as she could recall of the sounds and sights of the night before. Then she spoke to him of Magura and the camp at the end of the swamps and lagoon up behind the third headland.
“I don’t know who it was that passed my cottage” Nell said, “ and I’ve not the least intention of telling anyone other than you about them. We wait now for a message to come. Then I surely might need your help.”
The Kookaburra lowered her head and took a cross eyed look at the two of them. She shook her feathers, stooped and flew in a dive towards them before arcing into a Southern glide and vanishing into the trees alongside the lagoon.
“ So, when did you get lost … and where … and how ? “
Nellie watched him closely as she asked the questions she knew might not have been asked before.
“ I was lost from here”, he said. “ Lost from the lagoon and rivers. Lost from the pelicans and the flathead fish and the camps in the Bush. My mother took me to the City when I was small. Small and ‘passable’. We left my sister here.” He stood up and moved to the door.”I had a different name, back then, when I was small.“
Nellie watched him walk down the steps and out into his yard with its herbs and shells and cane fishing rods. She hitched her thick black skirts and hoisted herself up. Leaning on the table, she called through the open window.
“They know you, don’t they? They know who you are. “
The laughter began to roll in, echoed from the Southern Camp a good mile or two away – as the Burra flies- chuckled up in Nell’s throat and shook the black shining hair on the young doctor’s head.
“Yes indeed. They know who I am. They knew me straight away.”
“ That makes two of us” said Nell, her salt tangled white hair wave rippling with giggling. “ Tell me then, what was it that they didn’t know ?”