Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gifts Of The Peramangk - WIP Preview No.2

I wasn't quite expecting the response I got from last weeks preview of my current work in progress "Gifts of the Peramangk" - in fact, I was kinda floored. I got some really great feedback both on the blog and elsewhere across the web and it's been hugely encouraging. 

So, this week, I'm going to share another preview with you. And to stick with a little bit of continuity, I'm going to pick up young Virginia's story after she is taken by the authorities from her tranquil life in the Adelaide Hills. This preview actually occurs a little way further in to the manuscript because I'm structuring Virginia's back story as a series of flashbacks which will serve the main story that takes place in contemporary 2011. Again, this is an unpolished piece, probably bristling with grammatical flubs which I make no excuse for at this point. I want to encourage your feedback. Tell me what you think, what you like, what you don't like. Tear me down if you have to!! :)


A single rattle trap utility bumped along a dusty road, heading towards an, as yet, unseen destination. It kicked up plumes of dust behind it that were caught up and carried away by a languid breeze, disappearing into an overcast sky above a field of yellow pasture. Clouds had gathered on the near horizon behind the truck. Tendrils of rain fell from them but it was unlikely that rain would catch the truck any time soon. The fields around the truck, the sparse population of sheep and cattle that grazed within them had not seen rain for a long time.

A small figure sat huddled in the tray of the truck, holding onto the wooden sides with a vice like grip every time the truck shuddered over a pot hole in the track. Virginia flinched uncomfortably as she bounced on the wooden surface, her tail bone hitting it harshly and causing her pain. She did not dare protest to the driver inside the cabin. It was likely fall on deaf ears anyhow.

Virginia sat downcast, her knees drawn up against her tiny frame, bony arms wrapped around her knees. She appeared emaciated; her hair was stringy and limp. The plain dress she wore was made of a harsh material that had been plied with so much starch that it was stiff and abrasive against her skin.

She felt sick - she always felt sick nowadays. Not since she had been taken from her mother, did she remember feeling anything but sick. The food that she had been served up, day after day at the hospital where she had lived for the past few months was little more than gruel. Eventually, and unbeknownst to the Sisters there, Virginia had stopped eating the food altogether. To her mind, it was patently inedible.

A lifetime had passed - it seemed like a lifetime anyway - since she had seen her mother. The very thought of her mother and not being with weighed down so heavily upon Virginia that it threatened to crush her. Even now, the memory of her mother caused tears to well up and Ginnie could not hold them back. The grief was overwhelming. She couldn't understand why her mother never came to get her and take her home, nor could she understand why her questions about seeing her mother again were dismissed by the people who had taken her. No one had told her anything really; except that she was sick and that her mother could no longer look after her.

She had been separated from Albert not long after they had been brought to the hospital in the city. Though she had seen him once or twice some time after they arrived, Albert was eventually taken away from there and he all but disappeared. They wouldn't even tell her where he had gone.

Initially, Virginia had persisted with her questioning, drawing the ire of the Sisters and Aboriginal Protection Officers. She had been punished many times - severely - for defying their instructions whilst she was in the hospital, for refusing to eat her meals, for trying to escape, for crying for hours on end in the depths of the night. Eventually, Virginia stopped fighting them, defying them. A deep depression set in - a grief. She grieved for her mother and father. She grieved for Albert and the other children. She grieved for home. After a time, Virginia stopped eating or sleeping, interacting or speaking. Her voice vanished and she allowed her captors to do with her, whatever they desired.

Now, inexplicably, she was here. They had bundled her up into this rickety truck without explanation, driven out of the hospital and away from the city on a road that seemed endless, its destination uncertain. She had sat for hours, passing through rain and wind and the blistering sun with nothing but a canvas sheet to protect her. They had told her nothing.

The truck passed by a tall, gnarled, dead tree standing solitary in the field near the road. Virginia glanced up at it, spying two crows sitting side by side on a twisted branch. One of them issued a long, mournful caw as the truck passed by. She stared blankly at them through bloodshot eyes until they were out of sight and the road angled around to the right. The tree shrank to a speck behind her, swallowed up by the vastness of the landscape.

A line of bald hills flanked the road to the north on her left while, to the south, the fields threw stretched away into infinity. There was so much space - yet Virginia felt claustrophobic by its vastness.

Suddenly, Virginia heard the sound of a dog barking and she turned her head slightly to the left. A lean black and white cattle dog galloped along beside the truck at a cracking pace, its tongue flapping along side in the breeze. The dog jumped deftly over the uneven ground beside the road, flanking the vehicle, yapping enthusiastically up at Virginia who just stared dumbfounded at the mutt.

Overcoming a great inertia, Virginia turned herself around and looked through the rear window of the cabin. Out through the windshield, she saw a farm house up ahead, an austere sand stone homestead with a wide verandah that wrapped all the way around it. Several smaller buildings stood off to one side. Several palms bordered the property near a fence that stretched along the front of the grounds.

For the first time in what seemed an eternity, her curiosity was piqued.

The truck slowed as it approached the property allowing the enthusiastic dog to leap across in front of it. It passed through an entrance and over a steel cattle grate, scattering a group of chickens in all directions just beyond, before it turned in a wide arc around a lush circle of lawn in front of the farm house. The driver brought the vehicle to a stop and killed the engine.

Virginia slumped back against the cabin of the truck and drew her legs up even closer, gripping the single bag she held in her hands. She was too tired to feel frightened at this point, though her heart was pumping quickly in her chest.

At the foot of the stairs leading up to the verandah of the house, stood a tall man wearing a flannel shirt, dusty brown pants with suspenders and an aging leather belt and a wide brimmed pastoralist's hat that sat low, concealing his eyes and much of his face in shadow. A long cob pipe jutted from one corner of his mouth, curling wisps of blue smoke drifted up into the air from it. The man stood, his huge arms bent at the elbows, his hands in his pockets, silent.


The driver stepped out of the cabin of the truck and strode around to the rear. Once there, he signaled with a sharp gesture of his hand and a shrill whistle.

"Come on," he snapped.

Virginia didn't respond. She didn't look up. She didn't move.

Hoisting himself up into the tray, the driver snatched the bag out of Virginia's hands and angrily tossed it over the side. Before she knew what was happening, he grabbed her arm roughly and jerked her to her feet, dragging her like a rag doll off the back of the truck. Once off the ground, he leaned close to her.

"Pick up your bag you little grub"

He let her go and immediately stood tall, flashing a broad, cheesy smile as he adjusted his Stetson on his head and walked up to the man at the foot of the verandah.

The dog, who had sat itself down on the ground several feet away, watched the crumpled form of the girl beside the truck. Slowly, she got to her feet and stepped slowly over to her up ended bag. The dog, its tall ears pricked up and forward, whimpered softly, its long tongue lolling.

The driver offered his hand to the silent man who remained statue-like where he stood. He did not return the gesture.

"Good afternoon Sir" the driver greeted drippingly, withdrawing his hand quickly in a pathetic attempt to pretend that he had meant to swat an insect from in front of his face. "I'm...I'm Whitchester, from the Aborigines Protection Office"

The Pastoralist's eyes were focused beyond Whitchester, upon the child who stepped gingerly towards them, her bare feet flinching on the hot, dusty ground. Her dress was dirty, plain and torn in a coupe of places. She looked sick and pasty, despite her dark skin.

Virginia stopped a few feet behind Whitchester and looked up at the Pastoralist. He was a huge man, with a broad pair of shoulders, a stubbly jaw that appeared as hard as granite. She could not see his eyes under the brim of his hat.

Whitchester turned and subtly dragged Virginia by her arm around to stand in front of him. He placed his hands down on her shoulders, causing her to wince.

"This is the colored you asked for" Whitchester said hastily.

The Pastoralist tilted his head slightly, examining the child from head to toe. His expression remained as flat as Virginia's. After a few moments, he opened his mouth.

"She's a bit small. She got the mange or something?"

"No, no - not at all," Whitchester answered hastily. "It's perhaps just the drive up. We passed through some weather on the way. I can assure you, the Office has given the black a clean bill of health. It'll be...productive".

The Pastoralist took a huge, meaty hand out of his pocket and rubbed his chin thoughtfully allowing several more moments of silence to pass between them. On the verandah behind him two figures huddled at the corner of the house, watching the exchange silently.

He cocked his head around to his right and issued a shrill dog whistle that echoed across the compound. The two figures, two young Aboriginal girls several years older than Virginia skittered quickly along the verandah and stopped at the top of the stairs.

Without turning, the Pastoralist spoke.

"Take her to the out house. Clean her up. Get her out of those rags"

One of the young women skipped down the stairs and went across to Virginia.

The barefoot teenaged girl wore a crisp, white linen dress with an apron. Her hair was shiny and combed neatly to one side. When she reached Virginia she flashed her a warm, encouraging smile and took her hand. The girl's skin felt soft and velvety against Virginia's own. Quite inexplicably, Virginia felt a sharp jolt of something that had not experienced in a while.

It was hope.

Virginia had no idea what to expect, where she was being taken to, but she submitted to being lead away without protest.

As the girl stepped up onto the verandah, the dog sitting across the compound tracked them both with its eyes until they disappeared around the side of the house.

The Pastoralist waited until the girls were out of sight then he turned on his heel and ascended the stairs silently, leaving Whitchester to stand there alone, awkwardly.

Eventually, hesitantly, he turned and climbed into the truck. He started the engine and drove away from the farm house, disappearing over the horizon as though he had never existed.

From a window of the farm house, a pair of eyes that were peeking out from behind a curtain, held back by a petite and feminine hand, lingered for a time after everyone had gone. The hand released the curtain and the eyes too were gone. 

*                                    *                                   *

Virginia sat in a large metal tub filled with hot, soapy water as the two girls washed and scrubbed her tiny frame.

It was the first bath she'd had in days and though she didn't say it, Virginia felt indescribably good to be clean once more.

One of the girls, whose name was Deliah, fussed over Virginia's hair, massaging it with the ends of her fingers, ridding it of all the dust and the grime that had accumulated. The second girl, the one who had first greeted Virginia, was perched on her haunches in front of her, armed with a flannelette cloth and was cleaning her face. This girl, Marjorie, chatted away to Virginia as she washed, telling her all about the farm, the chickens in the yard, the wood they used for the fire, the shearing sheds nearby where the sheep were brought to for shearing, the stables where the horses were housed and the farm house with it's beautiful furniture, it's large kitchen with a big old cast iron stove and the ginger cat that flopped around lazily on the table there.

Virginia remained silent the whole time, not daring to utter a word as Marjorie talked and talked and talked. She instead, surveyed her surroundings. They were inside one of the buildings outside the main house. It was a sparse single room with a fireplace at one end, a table and chairs in the middle, a sink and cabinets along one wall behind and a pair of bunks, standing along each side wall at the other end.

Finally, Virginia was extricated from her bath and was dried off with fluffy white towels. They dressed her in a brand new white, cotton dress, similar to the ones they wore and an apron.

Deliah combed her hair, parting it carefully to one side until she was satisfied, then she nodded to herself.

"There you are" she said simply. "Good as new"

Virginia didn't say anything. She just blinked up at Deliah.

"You don't say much do you," Deliah noted. "Can't you talk?"

Virginia remained silent.

"Well, that's no good" Marjorie observed dryly. "Because we love to talk around here. We always talk - especially to the animals. They're the best ones to talk to. All the time! Talk, talk, tal..."

"You love to talk Marjy," Deliah cut in gruffly. "You'd talk the leg off a horse if you were given the chance"

Marjorie appeared hurt for a fraction of a second before she smiled and winked at Virginia.

Deliah appraised Virginia with her hands on her hips.

"You don't have to talk if you don't want to...but it would be helpful to know your name"

She cocked her head slightly, waiting for an answer.

Virginia didn't respond.

Unperturbed, Deliah turned and went over to the bag Virginia had brought with her, which lay on the bed.

Deliah opened the flap and rifled through it casually, looking for anything that might be labeled. Sure enough, she lifted one of the hospital dresses out of the bag and inspected its collar.

"V. Crammond" Deliah announced. "V...what is that...Violet?"

Virginia remained still where she stood.

"Hmmm" Deliah mused. "Viole...What about Veronica?"

Still Virginia didn't move, didn't speak.

Deliah frowned then looked down into the bag once more. She reached in and pulled out a rather squashed and wrinkly rag doll - a bear - with patches all over and one missing button eye.

She turned it over in her hands and looked closely at some text written on a tag that jutted out from one hip.

"Virginia" Deliah said. "Is it Virginia?"

Marjorie grinned broadly and clapped her hands together.

"Oooh - that is a lovely name" she gushed.

Deliah carefully returned the items to her bag and closed the flap once more. She stepped towards Virginia again.

"Well, Virginia it is then. We'll look after you here Virginia. This place isn't like the hospital. It's...different"

Virginia noted her pause then, and fleetingly wondered at its significance. But she said nothing.

"We have lots of things to do and we're always bus..."

The door to the out building flung open abruptly and the huge figure of the Pastoralist stepped through the entrance, ducking his head slightly to avoid hitting it on the door frame.

Both Deliah and Marjorie snapped to attention as his rose to his full height once more, while Virginia froze where she stood, blinking up at the Pastoralist, completely dumb founded.

He eyeballed all three girls.

"You got her clean yet!?" his voice boomed in the confines of the room, causing both girls to shudder where they stood, while Virginia remained deathly still.

The Pastoralist inspected Virginia up and down. He reached out and grabbed her hands in his own, seemingly monstrous palms. He turned them over in his, checking to make sure they were clean. He inspected her nails to ensure there was no dirt trapped underneath them.

Virginia watched him, too frightened to move or to protest.

Once he was satisfied, he let them go and stood back.

"Put her to work!" he snapped malevolently. "There are chores to be done!

The Pastoralist scowled at them, before backing out of the room and leaving without shutting the door.

Once he was gone, Deliah and Marjorie looked at each other with barely contained relief.

Marjorie crept cautiously over to the entrance and peeked around the door frame to make sure he was gone.

Deliah put her hand on Virginia's shoulder.

"Come on kiddo" she said flatly. "We'll start you out on the verandah"

And it was on the verandah, where it began - this new life that Virginia had been foisted into. She had no idea what was expected of her, no idea why she was here. Deliah fetched a wide broom that was leaning up against the stone work of the house and placed it into Virginia's hands. She gestured to the dusty wooden boards of the verandah.

"Start" she said simply.

While Deliah assigned herself to an axe handle and Marjorie spirited herself away to the kitchen, Virginia stood on the front porch of the house, armed with the broom that was almost twice as tall as she was. Slowly, steadily, Virginia extended the broom outward in her hands and began sweeping.

With a methodical rhythm, Virginia quietly swept away what were the vestiges of her old life under the bristles of the broom. It began well before dawn, when the night sky still twinkled with a billion stars, with the twice daily routine of sweeping the entire verandah of dust and grit. She was then directed to the chicken coop, down behind the out house where she slept, where she collected the eggs then cleaned out the coop - a constant battle she undertook with birds flying about her head and defecating on her if she was not careful. After that, Virginia was put to work in the horse stables, feeding the Pastoralists four horses hay each morning and night, ensuring they had fresh water and mucking out the stables. Sometimes, she chopped wood in the darkness of the pre-dawn and long after dusk, regardless of the weather, wearing nothing but her linen dress and no shoes on her feet. Chopping the firewood was the one task that frightened her. She struggled with the heavy axe and could barely wield it. She constantly feared that she would break it and she had already witnessed the consequences of breaking one of the Pastoralists tools.

Once, Deliah had done just that whilst attempting to split a particularly knotted piece of timber. Deliah had brought the axe handle down, striking the wood awkwardly. The handle broke clean in two. She stood there, blinking at the broken end of the handle. As if from nowhere, the Pastoralist materialized and stormed up to Deliah like a monstrous wraith, bellowing with fury. He snatched the broken handle from Deliah, grabbed her throat with a huge, meaty hand and smashed the splintered axe handle across her face, over and over, drawing blood through gaping lacerations. His ferocity wasn't assuaged until she lapsed into unconsciousness. Then, calmly, he threw her to the ground and walked away, the bloodied axe handle still in his hand.

Stunned by the horror she had witnessed, Virginia turned away and continued with her own work, too frightened to go to Delilah’s aid. She withdrew even further and refused to even look at the other girls or anyone who came to the farm. 

Virginia made her work her refuge, her protection. Day after day, she would toil without stopping, without protesting until long after the sun went down. All the while, watching from a short distance away was the black and white cattle dog with the pointed ears and mottled socks on its front legs. Virginia knew he was watching her, but she didn't respond to him.

Virginia fell into her bed each night and lay in the darkness, weeping softly until she fell asleep, tormented by her longing for home, for her mother and her father. Above Virginia, recovering from her grievous injuries, Deliah listened to her quiet sobs, whilst holding back her own, but she made no move to comfort Virginia.

Her mundane routine continued on and on and eventually, Virginia lost all concept of time. One day melded into another. She saw the sun rise and set before anyone else. Hours were swept away underneath the bristles of her broom. She made every effort to avoid the attention of the Pastoralist. She quickly grew to fear him...to hate him and she made sure she kept as far away and out of view as possible.

One particular evening, just on dusk, when the shrill song of crickets floated across the fields, Virginia moved along the verandah in one direction, sweeping the wooden boards clean, quietly proud of her work. She was careful to ensure that she had covered each part of the verandah twice, making sure that no area was missed or that a rogue collection of dust had accumulated behind her. The Pastoralist would skin her alive if the boards were not perfect.

The dog sat beside a rocking chair while she worked, watching her. The dog had become a constant companion, even though Virginia continued to ignore his presence. 

As Virginia progressed, her mind filled with images of home - as it often did - memories of sweeping the small verandah of her parents’ cottage. Virginia would look up to see her mother's smiling face as she watched Virginia with gratitude. Other memories infiltrated. Of riding tall on her father's shoulders, laughing and singing as together, walked along a track under the boughs of the eucalypts near the town.

She struggled to prevent herself from being overwhelmed by grief as she stood here alone, on this vast porch that could, for all the world, have swallowed her whole. She broke down silently. Tears spilled from Virginia's eyes and dropped onto the boards under her feet. Panicked, she swept them away with her broom, fearing that the Pastoralist would see her and punish her. She felt herself growing despondent

Why am I here? Why can't I go home?

The questions echoed, reverberating off corners and around bends inside her mind, tormenting her.

She looked across the compound, out through gates of the farm, along the road that disappeared into the vast distance where - for all she knew - there was an all consuming nothingness. Her desolation was complete.

Suddenly, from behind Virginia, a sound issued forth from the closed window. It was a sound that Virginia had never heard before - a long, crisp refrain that seemed to go on forever. It wavered melodically then dissipated into nothingness.

Virginia wiped furiously at her eyes and turned around swiftly as the sound came again, slightly louder this time, crisp and pure as the one before it. She was struck dumb. What on Earth could it be. Carefully scanning the verandah, ensuring there was no one else around, Virginia pushed the memories of home to one side and crept slowly up to the window. She leaned the broom handle against the stone work beside it and carefully placed her hands on the sill. As gently as she could, Virginia leaned in, craning her neck and peered through the glass.

In the parlor beyond, a woman sat in a plush chair her back to the window. A gramophone with a large brass horn stood on a pedestal in front if the woman. She was perched slightly forward and was holding something in her hands, up against her neck. Virginia squinted in the soft light from the parlor, trying to make out what it was. The woman drew a long, thin stick with a string tied to it across the object, eliciting a sound - the sound that Virginia had heard.

Her grief had been completely usurped now, by fascination.

The woman played, stringing several of these long notes together into a coherent stream of sound that sounded all at once somewhat mournful but also very pretty.

Virginia was entranced.

She watched, as the woman played some sort of music with the object in her hands. To Virginia, at first glance, it resembled something akin to a guitar. But she had never seen a guitar quite that small.

Her attention was so focused upon the woman inside, Virginia failed to notice that the broom handle beside her started to slide downward from its position, the head losing its purchase on the wooden boards. Inevitably, it clattered noisily to the floor.

Virginia squeaked in alarm and jumped a full foot into the air. Inside, the woman - startled by the noise - lowered her instrument and wheeled around in her seat, just as Virginia ducked out of view.

Crouching low, below the window sill, Virginia's heart pounded in her chest. Panic coursed through her. She was unsure if the woman inside had spotted her. The dog got to his feet and gingerly stepped forward towards Virginia, whimpering softly with concern.

Several moments passed before Virginia carefully crept on her haunches to the fallen broom and picked it up as quietly as she could. She did not dare look around. Satisfied that it was secure in her grip, Virginia quickly skittered away to the other end of the verandah and furiously began sweeping once more - every so often stealing glances at the window at the far end of the house.

The woman inside the parlor stood at the window, looking out upon the spot where, just a few moments before the child had been. She turned to one side and lingered for a moment, a faint smile tugging at the corners if her lips.

Then she turned away.


This preview of "Gifts of the Peramangk" is Copyright © 2011, Hambledown Road Imprints.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Gifts Of The Peramangk - WIP Preview No.1.

For the past few months, I have been working (???) away on my new writing project which I first alluded to last year. At that time, it was known as "Project Ruby" and I had barely begun sketching an outline of the story. Well, despite some stops and starts since then, I am starting to fully get into the swing of the story and it is evolving well. In fact, it is evolving better than I had anticipated. This morning I passed 30,000 words.

As a work in progress the following preview is pretty rough and I make no apologies for any grammatical flubs that might exist. I am sure there are plenty. But I am excited to be able to share it with you and I welcome - encourage -  you to comment. 

Actually...I beg you to comment... :)


Golden beams of a mid afternoon sun shone down through the canopy of a majestic weeping willow tree. The tree towered above a water hole, its many leaf-adorned fingers swaying back and forth in the warm breeze. Penetrating the canopy, those sunbeams knifed downward to strike the rippling water, touching off silent explosions of light that blossomed and danced like glittering fairies across the surface. They rode on the tiny waves that arced out across the water in every direction until they disappeared on the craggy shore.

This simple operatic ballet continued over and over, regenerating itself, sustaining a continuous, hypnotic dance of light and movement.

This opera was reflected in the eyes of the child that sat on the bank of the waterhole, just forward of the main trunk of the willow tree. She was utterly transfixed by the beautiful dance, tilting her head to one side, allowing the light show to carry her imagination on the back of a cabal of vivid imagery. She was lost in its wonder.

The girl was slight, rake thin - but athletic - with shining, raven black hair and chocolate brown skin. Her large eyes reflected the prettiness of the water dance and she blinked every so often as the sunlight dazzled her vision. The shimmering light danced across her powdery soft, her flawless cheeks.

She wore a simple cream colored dress with a lilac flower print. The contrast with her skin was as incongruous as it was pretty. She sat hunched forward slightly, her sinewy legs outstretched, her bare feet exposed to a pocket of sunlight that peeped through the canopy of the willow. Her soles were uncharacteristically tough and leathery in comparison to the rest of her skin - the result of rarely wearing any form of footwear. Not that she was in any way aware of this at her age. For Virginia was only 8 years old.


Virginia's eloquent reverie was suddenly and abruptly broken when something - or someone - hit the water in front of her like a bomb, throwing up glittering cascades of water that thoroughly drenched not only Virginia, but two of her companions who had been lying beside her sunning themselves.

"Bloody hell!" Virginia squeaked incongruously, as a similarly lithe and dark young figure erupted from the water wearing a huge grin on his face. "You're a menace Bobby!"

Virginia stood up, arms outstretched, her dressed soaked as the shock of the cool water dissipated but was replaced by the awkward feeling of wet clothing stuck to her skin.

She cursed under her breath, inadvertently inhaling some of the water that splashed across her face. She coughed and spluttered for several moments, wiping furiously at her face.

Virginia had had enough fun in the water for today. Having only recently recovered from a prolonged bout of illness, she had been swimming, jumping and playing in the cool water for the better part of the entire morning - when the sun's warmth was at its peak. Virginia was exhausted now and thus happy to relax on the shore and watch while the others frolicked in the water, swinging off the rope and tire swing that hung from one of the boughs of the willow.

Stifling her cough finally, Virginia maintained her darkened poker face a moment longer before her facade cracked. Bobby flashed a broad, cheeky smile and she returned it in kind. He then flipped himself into an effortless duck dive and disappeared below the surface. Virginia shook her head then balled her fist to her chest, feeling a final gout of sudden, searing tightness erupt there.

There were seven of them in all - a mixture of Aboriginal and Caucasian children - four girls - three of whom sat on the shore, including Virginia - and one in the water with the three boys. They ranged in age from 6 to 13 years old and they were as close a group of friends as one could find. The children lived a carefree existence in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia, exploring the ubiquitous Australian bush that was somewhat tempered by the, very English, rolling green pastures that was a defining feature of the Hills environs. Their lives were by and large tranquil, free from the kinds of concerns that had characterized children of a similar age during the recent war years. They lived quietly close by one another. They attended the local school in the small township of Mount Pleasant near to where they played and swam now. There, in the classroom, they respectfully - if a little boisterously - engaged in the noble pursuit of learning under the watchful eye of Miss Hartigan, a teacher whose firm but enthusiastic hand seemed to draw out the very best in her young charges. Not surprisingly though, once school was over and done with each day and on the weekend, the children's attentions were firmly fixed upon adventure and sky-larking as much as possible.

It was an uncharacteristically warm autumn Saturday in middle of April. The unexpected, extended summer weather gave the children plenty of extra lazy days by the waterhole, their favorite place in the whole world. The boys had built a ramshackle fort here, from pieces of discarded iron and timber that lay nearby. The rope swing that hung out over the water within easy reach was a particularly proud achievement for Bobby who had managed to procure the rope after several failed attempts.

As Bobby surfaced several feet away from where he had executed his dive, Virginia sat down once more, crossing her legs in one effortless motion as she smoothed out her dress before her.

Her companions beside her, who were tying together an impressive length of daisy chain, admired her summer dress silently. One of the girls quickly reached out with her hand to billow out the material behind Virginia, to prevent it from crumpling underneath her as she plonked down on the ground.

"Your Mum's done such a good job with that dress" one of the girl's remarked languidly as Virginia picked up the length of daisy chain before her and assessed her handiwork.

She smiled bashfully, glancing at her friend, Lucy, beside her.

"Mum is a good seamstress. Mrs. Stinson gave her this material months ago and Mum has been working on it, little by little ever since. Mrs. Stinson is good to us"

The Mrs. Stinson Virginia referred to, owned the haberdashery in Mount Peasants’ main street and employed Virginia's mother there on a part time basis as a shop assistant and seamstress. Her mother's work was, in fact, quite well regarded throughout the district.

"Has your father seen it yet? Has your Mum sent him a photograph?"

Virginia bowed her head slightly and shook her head meekly.

"We don't know if he got the parcel Mum sent yet," she responded quietly glancing sideways at her second companion, a slightly chubby Caucasian girl named Rita, on the bank. "We sent him photographs weeks ago but we haven't heard anything from him"

"Is your Mum worried? I heard the men in the Pub talking the other day, saying that lots of soldiers are getting hurt in Karea"

Rita reached around behind Virginia and poked Lucy in the ribs, causing the younger girl to jump where she sat.

"It's Korea!" she scolded disapprovingly. "And don't be so nosey"

Both girls noted then, that Virginia was worlds away from them, lost in her thoughts. Rita gently placed a hand on Virginia's shoulder and smiled warmly.

"Don't worry Ginnie. He'll be alright. He's a big fella and he knows how to look after himself"

Virginia looked at Rita and managed a wan half smile in return.

"I miss him," she said simply, pausing to stifle another coughing fit from the residual water she had inhaled earlier. "Mum really misses him. It's been weeks since we've heard anything. Sometimes I hear her crying at night in her bed. I wish he would come home"

Virginia's father was a soldier, an Anzac, serving in the far off country of Korea in a war that Virginia - nor her mother for that matter - could barely understand. He had been gone for many months; so long in fact that Virginia feared that she was struggling to remember him. She had a photograph of him on her bedside table, but she desperately missed the sound of his voice - especially his singing voice which was lovely and deep and soft. He used to sing her to sleep every night - songs of his people from long ago that had been passed down through the generations. She remembered his hands too - large, dark leathery hands that were strong at work but also incredibly tender and soft when he held her own small hand in his whenever they walked along together or when she sat upon his shoulders and held his hands for stability. Virginia had always been close to him. Her father was somewhat unique in the district in that he was the single member of the township serving soldier in the armed forces in Korea. Accordingly, the township held him in high regard and they were protective of his young family.

From far above the trio, high up in the boughs of the willow tree, an unsettling bird call issued forth suddenly, causing all three of the girls to jump where they sat.

"What was that!?" Lucy exclaimed, startled.

"I don't know" Rita replied, rising to her feet and craning her neck to scan the upper reaches of the willow tree.

Virginia rose with her and together they watched for any movement. The unsettling bird call sounded once more, a deep undulating cry - almost like the sound of a crying baby. The sound was enough to stall the children in the water and all of them stopped their splashing for a moment, treading water in silence.

There was a flash of movement. Then, suddenly, a single small gray bird hove into view, launching itself from the high up bough. It dived down in a graceful arc before peeling away over the water hole towards a eucalyptus on the other side where it had spied a suitable branch upon which to land.

Virginia watched the bird intently, following its flight path as it angled out over the water hole. It cried out a third time, sending a chill through her. She had never heard anything quite like it before, ever.

"It's a mingka bird" Bobby said evenly, from his vantage point in the water.

"What's that?" Albert, his companion treading water beside him, exclaimed unimpressed.

"Well...I dunno exactly what it is" Bobby explained. "But my Nana told me a story about it once. She said it's a bird that cries whenever somebody is about to die"

Both Lucy and Rita gasped and Rita put her hands on her hips angrily. She flashed Bobby a withering glare from where she stood.

"Bobby!" she hissed. "You can't say things like that! Not when Ginnie's Dad is away fighting in the war"

Bobby's expression remained blank for a moment as he eyed Virginia, who was still staring up at the bird. She gave the impression that she hadn't heard him. The bird cried out once more, its unsettling warble carrying across the water hole.

"Well I never meant that Ginnie's Dad was gonna be...you know..." he paused, sensing that he was digging himself further into a hole.”B-besides...its cry isn't deep enough. It has to be a deep cry if a man is going to die. That cry sounds lighter...more like for a woman. Not a man"            

Bobby's words sounded distant to Virginia, her eye were fixed on the bird far above her. Suddenly, she didn't feel like being here at the waterhole anymore.

"I think I might go and see Mum" she said flatly. "She should be finished work soon"

Virginia bent down, picked up her towel from the ground and brushed it down with her hand. Both Lucy and Rita were glaring disapprovingly at Bobby while his companions - Albert, Vaughn and Edith - turned away from Bobby and swam to shore. Their splashes caused the bird to take flight once more. It issued one final cry, then disappeared over the canopy of the willow tree and was gone.

"We'll come with you hey?" Rita offered, nodding firmly at Lucy out of sight of Virginia. "Perhaps we could get some ice cream"

The mention of a cool ice cream managed to shake Virginia from her troubled reverie and she managed a meek smile as the children from the water gathered around her.

*                      *                      *

The children sauntered casually along the path that flanked the main street, heading to the small, sleepy township of Mount Pleasant. The girls had managed to coax Virginia back into conversation while Bobby hung back a little, having been stung by their combined scolding of him earlier. The prospect of an ice cream however, rendered the unpleasant encounter almost forgotten and the group sauntered along happily.

Mount Pleasants' main street was quiet, as it mostly always was. The tranquil hamlet, nestled among the patchwork meadows, was by its very nature a sleepy township most   of all because of it's out of the way locale. It seemed a world away from everything. It served a community of rural folk - farmers, graziers, grain growers, small holders. They were people of the land who knew the land well and had worked it with an almost reverential respect since the first Europeans arrived there in the 1830's. Prior to that, the countryside around the township was the traditional lands of the Peramangk indigenous Australians whose influence over this region stretched back thousands of years. Today, however, the aborigines of the Adelaide Hills were almost gone. Virginia's, Bobby's, Lucy's and Albert's families were descendants of a race that had been largely wiped out by European settlement and its introduction of European illnesses a century before.

As the children walked along under the tall plane trees that lined both sides of the street, they chattered and laughed enthusiastically and Virginia joined in, having now fully forgotten the earlier events. The boys rough housed with one another while the girls continued their earnest discussion about their impressive daisy chain and what to do with it once they got it safely home. They chattered excitedly about what flavored ice cream to treat themselves to at the general store. The discussion then drifted back to Virginia's father.

"My Dad says that this war is no good for anyone" Lucy remarked, surprising both Virginia and Rita somewhat since their smaller companion had, until now, remained painfully quiet. "He says it will go on for a long time and lots will get hurt"

"Well - it won't be my Dad" Virginia declared firmly. "My Dad promised me that he will be home as soon as he can. He said it was important for him to do his part - that he serve this country"

"You're Dad has always been a hard worker" Edith, one of the Caucasian girls observed proudly. "I know my Dad misses having him working on the farm. No one milks cows like your Dad, Ginnie - or fixes fences, or even rides horses! My Dad can't round up the cows on his horse. He keeps falling off!"

Virginia smiled warmly at Edith as they approached the general store and stopped before the entrance.

"Now" Bobby said, gathering the children into a circle and fishing around in the pockets of his shorts. "Let's put all of our money together and see what we've got"

Each of the children reached into their own pockets and purses to add their own coins to Bobby's. Some of them had less than the others but it didn't matter, for these children looked after one another regardless of who had more or less.

Virginia looked crest fallen as she fidgeted nervously on the spot. Evidently, she didn't have any money of her own to contribute.

"Don't worry Ginnie" Bobby reassured her. "I'll cover for you"

"No!" Virginia retorted firmly. "I won't let you".

Hesitating, Virginia turned to face the small haberdashery directly across the street from the general store. She spied an attractive woman in the window, with similarly raven black hair to Virginia's own that was tied back in a bun. Her flawless nut brown skin was much lighter than Virginia's, her facial features were soft, angelic almost. The woman wore a pretty floral dress underneath a cream colored, linen apron. She was arranging some rolls of material in the window display and, upon seeing Virginia; she smiled broadly and waved her in through the glass. Virginia returned her own grin, bounded across the street and entered the shop and immediately went to the woman.

"Ginnie!" the woman beamed, leaning down to embrace the child warmly.

"Mum!" Virginia wrapped her arms around her mother's shapely neck. 

"Well, look at you. You're all goose pimply from that swimming hole"

Sylvia Crammond brushed down her daughters’ summery dress that she herself had made and gently pinched the skin on Virginia's arm.

"I hope you've been behaving yourself down there"

Virginia nodded eagerly and gestured out through the window at her companions gathered outside the general across the street.

"Everyone wants to get an ice cream Mum. I don't have any money to get one"

Virginia eyed her mother plaintively as Sylvia regarded her daughter with mock skepticism.

"Well...I don't know if you should be having such things so close to dinner time young lady. You'll ruin your appetite"

"Aww Mum" Virginia pleaded. "I promise I'll eat my dinner - all of it - even my vegetables"

Sylvia cocked her head slightly and leveled her suspicious glare before smiling once more. Reaching into the pouch of her apron, Sylvia drew out a single silver coin, proffering it in front of Virginia.

Virginia's eyes went wide and she gasped with delight. Sylvia dropped the coin into her daughter's hand as Virginia planted a big kiss on Sylvia's cheek.

"Thank you Mum!" she beamed.

Sylvia drew her daughter away and held Virginia out before her, gazing lovingly at her. She smoothed down Virginia's dress, frowning only half seriously at a couple of dirty stains from the water hole. They were extremely close. The absence of her husband had taken a toll on Sylvia though outwardly, she would never reveal it. Sylvia had become accustomed to maintaining her stoic demeanor for the sake of her daughter whom she knew, missed her father terribly. They carried on as best they could with the support of a select group of towns-folk who watched out for Sylvia and Virginia.  

"I'll be finished here soon," Sylvia assured her daughter. "Go and get your treat and hang about until I finish. Then we'll go home and make our dinner"

Virginia nodded then diverted her eyes over her mother's shoulder as a tall and stately woman breezed into the room from the back of the shop armed with a cup of tea.

Mrs. Stinson stood nearly 6 feet tall and was painfully thin with piercing, owl-like eyes and a prominent that was turned upward slightly, making her appear very posh. She wore a dark dress under her own apron, her nut brown hair was pulled back in a severe bun and she looked, for all the world, like a very harsh personality.  But when Mrs. Stinson smiled, all trace of potential menace disappeared in an instant  and her face lit up the room - as it had now upon seeing Virginia talking with her mother.

"Well good afternoon dear child!" Mrs. Stinson greeted in a perfectly clipped accent. "You look as though you've had most wonderful time"

Setting her cup down on the counter top, Mrs. Stinson rounded it gracefully and swept over to Virginia and her mother, cupping Virginia's cheek in her hand in a motherly gesture.

"We made a much longer daisy chain today Mrs. Stinson" Virginia reported proudly. "There were plenty near the water hole today"

"Well I hope you didn't stay out in the sun for too long my dear," Mrs. Stinson continued. "We don't want you burnt o a crisp out there"

"No Mrs. Stinson" Virginia nodded respectfully. "We were really good. Made sure we stayed under the willow"

"Ahhh - that willow. Do you know that willow tree has been by that waterhole since I was your age?"

Virginia nodded silently, having heard that story from the haberdashery owner countless times before. She fidgeted in front of the imposing figure of Mrs. Stinson for a moment as silence fell between them. She looked up at her mother.

"Go on" Sylvia smiled. "Go and get your ice cream. I'll be along soon".

Mrs. Stinson nodded in understanding and winked at the child. Virginia turned and darted out of the shop, across the street to where the other children were still waiting.

Mrs. Stinson watched as the children disappeared into the general store one by one.

"She's growing up so fast" Mrs. Stinson mused cheerily as she picked up her tea and sipped quietly from the fine bone china. "Have you heard anything at all from Artie?"

Sylvia hung her head slightly and shook it.

"Beryl keeps a close eye on the telegraph for me but there's been nothing now for nearly three weeks," Sylvia's quiet voice cracked with emotion. "The wireless news talked about rumors of a major push soon but...I don't know if he's involved in it or not"

Sylvia stifled the urge to cry right then as Mrs. Stinson set her cup down and put an arm around Sylvia's shoulder.

News and correspondence from the battlefield was often sporadic at best but at least Sylvia was able to get something from her husband. That the correspondence had trailed away to nothing for nearly a month now, was worrying in the extreme and had plagued Sylvia with many a sleepless night. It did not help that her husband was Aboriginal and as such, his correspondence was generally treated more poorly by the mail handlers in the Army.

"There, there child" Mrs. Stinson soothed. "Look, why don't you finish early today. I'll close up here and call on you both a little later"

Sylvia looked across at her employer through swollen eyes.

"No, no - I'll finish these last few tasks. There's not much left to do"

Mrs. Stinson held up her hand and silenced Sylvia.

"I can finish that for. I'll not have another word from you on the matter. Go and spend time with your daughter"

Sylvia nodded gratefully and bowed her head, wiping away a single tear from her eye.

"Thank you" she whispered.

*                      *                      *

Armed with a single coned ice cream each, the seven children sat themselves down in a neat row on the curbside outside the general store. They immediately went to work, enjoying their treat in the warm afternoon sun, licking furiously as the ice cream began to melt and drip down over their fingers.

Sylvia emerged from the haberdashery and crossed over the street armed with a kerchief in one hand, having spied her daughter battling with her own cone from the moment she herself sat down.

Sylvia instantly sat beside Virginia and assisted wiping her daughters’ hands, while Virginia tried furiously to get a handle on the melting vanilla ice cream. All of the children giggled at one another as they observed each others handy-work.

The breeze that rustled through the tops of the plane trees lining the street and the eucalyptus behind the buildings. The strong scent from the eucalyptus wafted through the main street catching Virginia's attention and she stopped for a moment to appreciate it. It was her most favorite smell of all. It was clean and crisp. It was home.


All of the children turned then, almost simultaneously at the sound of Bobby's voice and followed his outstretched finger as a trio of vehicles came into view from the far end of the township. As they approached, the children could make out the familiar black and white colors of a police sedan leading the convoy of three, followed by a gray sedan which was in turn shepherded by a rickety looking tray truck.

Instantly they were all filled with nervousness and they glanced at each other.

Mrs. Stinson appeared at the entrance to her shop, having heard the approaching vehicles and she crossed over the street to stand next to Sylvia.

The vehicles continued to draw inexorably closer until they were almost upon the group. Then, they slowed to a stop, drawing close to the curb on the opposite side of the street. The children said nothing as the engines were silenced and the three cars sat for a moment in the tranquil main street. Bobby stood, immediately suspicious of the new arrivals.

The doors to both the police sedan and the nondescript gray sedan snapped open. Two constables stepped out onto the street as did two suited men after them, from the gray sedan in the middle. They inspected their surroundings with a mixture of befuddlement and barely concealed distaste.

Virginia's attention was inexplicably drawn to the two suited men who stood directly across from her.

The first man - the driver - was incredibly tall, possibly the tallest man Virginia had ever seen - taller even than her father. Dressed in a drab, gray tweed suit and colorless bow tie, the man sported spiky, balding hair that was perfectly manicured into an impeccable short back and sides. His features were sinister, with long sallow cheeks that gave his thin lips the appearance of being permanently pursed. His eyes were distorted behind thick, black rimmed glasses that sat, perched precariously on the tip of his elongated nose. He held a clipboard in one arm, close to his chest as he swiped his free hand down his jacket absently.

His colleague, who emerged from the far side of the sedan, rounding the front of the vehicle to stand next to him, was an equally dour presence. This man was barely half his colleague's size, his head reaching to just past the top of his chest. Dressed similarly in uninspiring gray tweed, his slick, brown hair was combed severely to one side and held in place with bryll cream. It did not move at all in the gentle afternoon breeze. This man sported a pair of gold rimmed glasses over small eyes and large, bushy eye brows and he sported a short, thick mustache that gave him a perpetual scowl.       

Virginia's mother glanced sideways at Mrs. Stinson then placed her hand protectively on Virginia's shoulders, drawing Virginia close to her as the tall man set his eyes upon the group. She glanced sideways to the old tray truck from which two more men had stepped from. She recognized one of them right away. It was the township's kindly local doctor, Dr. Flaherty, a man who usually wore an almost perpetual smile no matter what his disposition might be. Today, however, he appeared particularly troubled. He was accompanied by a second man, a man unfamiliar to both Virginia and her mother. He carried a battered leather Gladstone bag which was partly opened and revealed the end of a stethoscope that hung lazily down one side. Evidently, he too was a doctor.

When Virginia looked up at her mother, the worry etched into her features was palpable and Virginia felt that worry seep into her pores, into her blood and it coursed through her.

The tall man adjusted the clip board he held in his arm and gestured wordlessly to the two medicos, approaching the two women who were now joined by the proprietor of the general store, the butcher immediately next door and the post mistress. The children, who had retreated a little further under the verandah of the store, watched as the man nodded to the police constables on his left.

Mrs. Stinson stepped forward through the group then, puffing her chest out boldly, setting her expression like cold steel as the men approached them.

She eyed Dr. Flaherty to her left.

"What seems to be the trouble Wally?" she queried malevolently. "This is all a little theatrical, even for you"

Dr Flaherty was unable to make his jaw move immediately and he looked down awkwardly at the bitumen.

"Routine inspection Grace" the doctor grumbled, gesturing to the two suited men. "This is Bytes of the Aborigines Protection Board. He's here to..."

"There have been reports, from this District," the tall man, Bytes, interjected abruptly, eyeballing Mrs. Stinson. "...Of malnourishment and serious illness among the blacks. It is our job under the Act to investigate any reported cases of neglect and intervene accordingly"

Sylvia, visibly stiffened at the way Bytes cast a pejorative edge on the word black then, but she remained silent, her fear far outweighing her anger at this point.

"Malnourishment", Mrs. Stinson exclaimed incredulously. "Whatever in the world gave you that idea?"

Dr. Flaherty fidgeted where he stood, rubbed the back of his neck and tried to make himself appear as small as possible in the foreboding presence of Mrs. Stinson. However, it wasn't too long before the austere business woman leveled her glare firmly upon the medico once more.

"Wally? Do you want to explain this?"

She stepped forward suddenly until she was standing before Dr. Flaherty. The doctor seemed to wither where he stood.

"L...look, its mandatory Grace" he whispered fearfully to her. "If I get a call from the Board requesting information, I've got to give it - under the law! They could toss me in gaol otherwise".

Bytes stepped forwards towards the children and inspected cursorily, before signalling to his counterpart behind him. The second bureaucrat stepped forward and for several moments, they whispered between themselves, occasionally pointing to the children and gesturing with a nod towards the doctor accompanying Dr. Flaherty.

Finally the two men stepped towards the children, causing all of them to flinch and withdraw further. Gesturing with a nod to the two police constables on his left, Bytes extended a finger towards the group.

"You will all step forward!" he snapped chillingly. "Now!"

Both Sylvia and Mrs. Stinson and moved to stand in front of the children. Mrs. Stinson leveled her eyes at one of the police constables.

"Barry. Don't be so ridiculous. You're scaring the children".

The constable named Barry seemed to falter slightly and let his shoulders loosen – indicating that he had some sympathy for her opinion right then, but he quickly regained his composure when Bytes whipped his head around and glared menacingly at him.

"Look here Ma’am. I am here on the authority of the South Australian government and I don't have all day".

The bureaucrat, Bytes, was now standing so close to Mrs. Stinson now that she could smell his breath when he spoke.  Not surprisingly, it was foul, a mixture of tobacco and halitosis. She wrinkled her nose accordingly. Sylvia, standing slightly behind her, tightened her grip on Virginia.

"We are going to examine the aborigines and determine whether or not they need to be treated further down in Adelaide!"

Bytes jutted his lower jaw forward until he was mere inches from Mrs. Stinson.

"I will have you arrested if you interfere in our work".

Hesitating, Mrs. Stinson looked over at Sylvia who was clearly worried. She proffered her hand, palm down in a gesture of reassurance.

Bobby, Lucy and Albert all lined up side by side on the curb while Virginia, clearly petrified, clung tighter to her mother's leg. One by one, the children were examined by both doctors right there in the street. They were given, what amounted to, as thorough a physical that could be given outdoors. The local doctor, Dr. Flaherty was more gentle with his charges, Bobby and Lucy, than his counterpart who wrestled with a fidgeting Albert, who refused to comply.

The owner of the general store stepped out onto the pavement from his vantage point and stood, observing silently while several other people stopped a little way off.

Stethoscopes were placed all over the children's chests and backs, their temperatures were taken and noted, tongue depressors were slapped firmly down and throats examined, their heights recorded. When it came to Virginia's turn, she squeaked, terrified and hid even further behind her mother. The government doctor was not at all impressed and grabbed at her angrily. Sylvia stood her ground.

"Listen you! I will examine this child" the doctor hissed as Bytes stepped forward to assist.

He grabbed Virginia's arm and wrenched it, whipping Virginia's body like a rag doll out from behind her mother. Dr. Flaherty flinched, clearly uncomfortable. Bytes deposited Virginia roughly in a standing position in front of him on the road way.

Dazed now and paralyzed with fear, Virginia remained frozen.

"Now bloody stand still!" he barked, gesturing for the doctor to continue.

He listened to her chest, examined her throats, felt under her chin and neck.

"Cough" he barked at her soullessly.

Virginia gave a pathetic little hiccup that barely resembled anything like a cough.

"Properly!" the doctor hissed, growing increasingly frustrated. Sylvia stepped forward anxiously but was warned off by the constable nearest her.

When Virginia coughed, properly this time, flecks of blood hit the roadway between her and the doctor.

Immediately, he looked up at Bytes who had his folder opened and was writing something down in it.

"Mmm-Hmm" he mused caustically.

A renewed feeling of dread flooded through Sylvia and she tried to go to her daughter. This time the constable stepped into her path and grabbed her arm.

"No" she hissed.

"Right!" Bytes announced dispassionately. "This one and..."

He looked at the doctor beside Flaherty, waiting for his suggestion.

The doctor pointed at Albert who was trembling, beside Bobby.

Without even hearing the words, Sylvia knew instinctively what was about to happen. It was no secret what these bureaucrats were here to do. She had heard stories of others further afield who had come to the attention of the Aborigines Protection Board.

Her heart was in her mouth as time seemed to slow to a crawl.

"You can't!" Sylvia screamed as Bytes grabbed Virginia's arm once more and delivered her into the hands of the second constable - Barry.

"What are you doing?!" Mrs. Stinson implored furiously as the constable lead Virginia to Byte's car.

"Mum!" Virginia squealed, petrified as she was lead away.

"I'm taking these children into protective custody so we can examine them further down in Adelaide. Clearly there is evidence here of illness and neglect. We will decide whether they will be returned or not"

As Byte's colleague moved to round up Albert, Bobby stepped forward, shielding him from the bureaucrat.

"Don't be a bloody black fool" the bureaucrat spat, pushing Bobby out of the way.

Bobby retaliated, ball his hand into a fist and whipping it up viciously, catching the bureaucrat with a blow to his chest.

Immediately, the second constable launched into action and he pounced on Bobby while the stricken man collapsed to the road, the wind having been sucked from his lungs. Bytes himself lurched forward and grabbed Albert with the help of the government doctor and Flaherty.

Sylvia launched herself at the car, where Virginia had been deposited into the back seat.

Her heart pounded noisily in her head.

This can't be happening. This can't be happening!

The terrified child screamed at the top of her lungs and bashed at the window with her fist while the police constable subdued Sylvia and prevented her from getting any closer to the car.

Bytes and the two doctors, who all had a firm grip on the kicking and screaming Albert, quickly carried him to the vehicle and tossed him inside on the opposite side.

Mrs. Stinson was impotent with rage.

"How can you do this!? That child's father is serving his country!"

Bytes simply shook his head as he rounded the rear of the car and went over to check on his winded colleague.

"He'll be notified...if we decide to do so"

The pair of police constables shielded the car while Mrs. Stinson rushed to Sylvia's side, gathering her in her arms as Sylvia’s legs went to jelly and she collapsed to the roadway, wailing hysterically. Mrs. Stinson cradled her as she glared at Constable Barry with disgust.

“What have you done!?”

Bytes assisted his colleague to the car, set him inside then quickly got into the driver's side and started the engine. The constables fell back to their own vehicle while the doctor signaled to Flaherty, who was standing off to one side and appeared shell shocked.

Inside the car, Virginia continued to scream and punch at the glass – utterly panic stricken, while Albert sobbed and sobbed kicking at the passenger door. As the car pulled away from the curb, both children huddled together, wrapping their arms around each other. They went strangely silent.

Sylvia desperately, frantically reached out with her hand towards the car as it pulled away from her.

“Noooo!” she wailed.

All three vehicles executed a full turn in the middle of the township then accelerated away from where they had come.

Though she was too young to comprehend the full gravity of what had just happened Virginia Crammond knew in the depths of her soul that she would never see her mother again.