It was here a hundred-and-something years ago that a hut stood. Just behind the fence here. The Sugarloaf is off in the distance. At certain times during the year you get irises growing over in that spot yonder, in amongst the trees. Some say that the widow Sherritt planted them.
He’s over on the edge of my vision now. He’s seated on a log, arms folded, staring at the spot where the hut stood. Nobody could quite agree on what the hut was made from. Seemed to be wattle-and-daub inside and wooden slabs or weatherboards outside with a shingle roof. Rough as guts but sturdy enough. Dingy even on the brightest day. Ward, the old fox, had bought blinds for the windows to keep prying eyes out, for all the good it did. But here he sits looking at it where it was. Where it all happened.
“Shame,” he says to himself.
He seems to be playing the scene out in his own mind. I can almost see it myself. There’s the hut. Smoke wafting from the chimney, candle in the window burning bright as a kerosene lamp. The dog is just up there, see? Chained to an old barrel. Mangy looking animal, but wasn’t it always the way with the Sherritts to keep animals like that? He stirs. Someone is brushing past me on either side.
There’s the taller man. He’s slim, dressed in a long grey coat and wide-brimmed hat. I can see he has a bushy beard and by his side he is holding a shotgun. He is steering a stocky older man with his free hand. Gee, he’s rough with him. They go around the back.
On my left is the smaller man. He’s also wearing a long grey coat and a hat. He’s broad-shouldered and long-limbed. He presses his back to the wall beside the front door. He draws a revolver from his belt and checks it. Yep, loaded and capped. He strains to hear what’s happening at the back door. A knock; mumbles; a pause.
There’s a flash of light inside.
Another flash and screaming. So much screaming.
“Shame,” he says to himself and looks to me, “I never expected it to be him.”
He stands and begins to stroll. 5’11¾” tall, fully 6 feet in his heels. He looks strong as an ox but tired. So tired.
“The thing about rumours,” he says, “is that regardless of whether they’re true or not, you have to wear the cost of other people’s gossip.”
He puts his hat on. A beaten up felt thing with a red velvet band. He hooks the chinstrap under his nose.
“My soul has been painted blacker than coal, and for what? Did I not keep the troopers at arms length from them at all times? Did I not feed them and protect them when they were fleeing from Stringybark Creek? Did I not sacrifice the last two years of my life trying to save Joe’s?”
He extends his arm, flashing the white flesh of his wrist.
“The blood that flowed through these veins was as red as any man’s, and the heart that pumped it was as true to him on the day I died as the day I first met him. His mind was poisoned against me and ever after my name has been spoken of with such venom as to be like acid. And where were those so-called sympathisers, who were so ready to sign my death warrant, when the boys needed safe passage? Where were they when they were starving? Where were they when the police had them pinned down at Glenrowan?”
His eyes blaze with the intensity of a thousand fires. Is it pain? Anger? He rests a hand on my shoulder. Pins and needles.
“It’s time people heard the other side. It’s time I had my name cleared. I deserve some relief.”
He walks across the road and down to a watering hole. He vanishes, leaving me and my thoughts.
There’s work to be done.