|Winter and summer men's hats - my nod to a braver yesteryear.|
Continued from here
Kate was snapped out of her inner turmoil of thoughts at the distant sound of horses hooves accompanied by the unmistakable crunching of steel wheels against gravel. She looked up and saw four black horses in the far distance pulling an unmistakable black stagecoach with dust billowing out the back. Kate instantly recognised her father’s mail stagecoach. He was returning from the twelve week royal mail run from Gulgong to Sydney and back of which he had won the tender earlier in the year.
He was a few minutes off yet as he had only just come over the hill that led down to their house and Kate fondly reflected in her own mind about her father. Johannes Peters was the son of a German mother and a Danish father, a grand love affair by all accounts, who ensured he was well educated. Johannes spoke several languages fluently and was educated in accountancy and investment banking. (There was also some talk of him and his parents once being perhaps Anabaptists or Waldensers ….. but he never mentioned the past anymore). Johannes had not married during his younger years in Europe but was lured out to Australia in his late 30’s in one of the many gold rushes that had occurred over the last 50 years. Johannes quickly established that there was little chance of striking it rich in gold once he saw and experienced the goldfields first hand and instead set up an accountancy practice in Gulgong NSW assisting the increasing numbers of graziers and coal mine owners in the area. He also regularly won the royal mail contract between Gulgong and Sydney which recently was their only source of steady income. It was good pay but a dangerous undertaking. Johannes was a gentleman in comparison to most Australians at the time and was respected in the area due to his education and fluency in financial matters and also his direct links with Europe. In his early 40’s he married Mary Chandler who was barely 18 years old and they raised six children, five daughters and the youngest a son. Kate was the middle child of this unlikely brood.
Kate suddenly realised as she sat there watching the stage coach grow bigger and bigger as it galloped closer, that her father Johannes would also had certainly known of the family’s scandalous secret, yet clearly he loved her mother regardless and was a hard and diligent provider for Mary and the children. Kate reflected that her upbringing was both strangely typical yet also unique to many in Australia at the time. She loved her father. She loved his quiet courage and his unruffled drive for achievement in all he turned his hand too. Kate’s mother Mary was a hard worker and always busy – maybe that’s what he valued in her.
As the stage coach drew closer, Kate squinted to see her father in the driver’s box. It was hard to place his normally upright figure. She continued to try and focus and also noticed that the horses were running quite fast, almost unguided and were in a lather as the coach drew closer. Kate stood up, uncertain. She placed her hand across her eyebrows to shade them from the glare of the western sun in an attempt to get a clearer picture. Then she saw it. She could now clearly see her father slumped over in the driver’s bench above the stage coach and the horses frightened and driving themselves towards the house. Kate snatched up her long skirts and started running towards the oncoming stagecoach screaming out at the top of her lungs as she ran “Mother! Nene! Bertie! Pearlie! Willy! Come quickly! It is Papa – something is wrong! HURRY!”
Kate ran as fast as her skirts and stays would allow till she reached the on-coming horses. The horses slowed up when they recognised her and she snatched up the closest linked bridles and mustered all her strength to stay connected and try and bring them to a stop. “Whoa! Boys Whoooa” she called. The four horses responded to her voice, slowed some more and eventually stopped, confused and exhausted. Her mother and sisters appeared closely behind her and her mother leapt up into the driver’s bench and lent over the slumped body of her husband. “What is it mother? What’s wrong?” called Kate. “He’s fair burning up girls” their mother called down. “An evil fever – lawkes!” . Their mother turned and snatched up the reigns and drove deftly toward the house, the girls running on behind the carriage.
Their young brother William (Will) was nowhere to be found to help them carry their father down off the stage coach and bring him inside. Will would no doubt be behind the barn or down hiding in the river bank with his whisky no doubt. So between themselves all the girls managed to struggle their father off the stage coach and into the house by themselves. Kate ran back out to the stage coach and the horses to unhitch them, pull up water from the well for them, rub them down thoroughly with straw and then feed them. As she led the horses into the slab stables she noticed in passing that the stage coach was still full of mail and parcels yet to be delivered to the Gulgong post office. She just wanted to be inside and seeing how her father was, but as Will was not around she naturally took responsibility of the horses and coach herself – it would draw less attention to Will once things had calmed down and her mother noticed his absence at a time that he was needed most. Kate was always covering for Will even in significant events like this.
Later that evening the Doctor emerged from their parents’ bedroom and looked around over the top of his spectacles at the girls and their mother who were waiting impatiently in the sitting room. “Pleurisy” he stated flatly “Both lungs infected. Very serious case ladies, very serious, hrumph, hmmm. I suggest you prepare for the worst”. He shuffled and coughed a little. “I’ll speak to your mother alone now” and he waved his hands at the girls as a gesture for them to leave the room. “No Sir.” Kate spoke up “We all need to hear it Sir” …and her blue eyes held steady at his glare. Kate was like that. She knew a crisis when she saw it and saw no point in beating around the bush and would call it like it was. Kate was always polite, but naturally took control.
After the doctor had left with the instructions that pleurisy would surely end their father’s life, Kate silently took action. The facts were that unless that royal mail contract was honoured they would all become penniless in a very short space of time. Whilst the others were crying, fussing and stunned, Kate on the other hand stood up, smoothed her skirt, lit the kerosene lamp, snatched her shawl off the peg at the back door and strode out to the stables without a word.
Kate knew exactly what she needed to do.......
to be continued
Hopefully this story is still up to your expectations folks.