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BlackEagle Girls
and The Quest to See

Chapter 10 - It's right there, in black and white

In the light of the shock to Priscilla and Henry that they were not Rachele's own-born children, and that their actual mother had committed suicide, it took only a small amount of encouragement in the form of an open invitation from Belinda's dad James Moss to a weekend's stay at Foxmarch: Country Horses and Hounds of Stawell, for Matthew Black to agree. Especially when Priscilla promised him, via her grandmother, not to let-on to Henry or Louis what Granny Black had told her.

Of course Henry was a problem, tagging along like any annoying kid-brother would, and especially should, considering the circumstances. The only positive was that Harry came as well, barking most of the way in the car from the train station and worrying Belinda's father, who owned wolf-hounds, into thinking of Harry as fodder for his own animals.

As it turned out Harry seemed to get along amazingly well with Sharka and Samba. It was almost as if the two huge creatures not only accepted the little bantam rooster, but actually went out of their way to accommodate him.

'Will you take a look at that!' exclaimed Jim Moss, clearly mystified. 'Harry's just helped himself to what's left of that haunch of venison and my grand body-guards are standing back and letting him do it!'

'Well it's been a long drive Mister Moss and my little mate gets pretty hungry, what with all his barking "Are we there yet!" and stuff.'

Jim patted Henry's shoulder and grinned. 'I don't doubt Harry's appetite young man, just the fact that if anyone else had tried to do that they would have ended up mince-meat.'

'Aw, Harry's a real friendly guy Mister Moss,' said Henry, grinning back. 'Except for one or two of our neighbourhood cats.'

'Bet he told them to bugger off or he'd turn them into poodle-pops.' Priscilla whispered to Belinda, as the girls wandered away leaving the dogs and the two males to bond.

'Wow! This is sure a big house. I love all the verandas around it and the garden.'

Belinda beamed. 'Yes, it's Father's design. L shaped and backed to the west against the heat of the summer sun.'

'Your Dad built this?'

'He did have some help Priscilla, but the blue-stone is local and so is most of the timber. That's the stables over there and the hound-holds.'

'Do you really have foxes, like real foxes?'

'No, Dad has lures; the fur scents and fox-scats from a few he keeps safely tucked away on the property. He doesn't go in for killing animals, not even foxes. It isn't their fault that our ancestors brought them here. They just do the best that wild things can, survive, live, have babies, grow old...'

'Not that much different from even humans,' mused Narenda.

'Humans are the ones that named themselves Humans and set all of us above the other creatures of the Earth.' answered Monique as they rambled. 'I wonder...'

'Now Belinda, I want you and our guests to be really careful on those dirt-bikes. Just stick with Arnold and keep out of the way of any road traffic O.K. And remember Arnie, you only have enough fuel to go so far, plus the cans in the side-car with Harry.'

Arnold, a young country-bred youth of maybe seventeen, sun-burnt, rangy and very capable, tilted his broad-brimmed hat at Jim. 'Right Boss. Gas and dog. Better not hit any potholes or we'll have a hot-dog, har-harr!' he bellowed as he kicked the ancient motor-bike into action. 'No sweat Boss, I'll get 'em all back here before dinner time.'

Away went the bikes, sending up plumes of dust from the rutted back-road, Arnold in the lead with Harry straining forward in the side-car, yapping and yodelling, followed by Belinda, Priscilla, Henry, Monique and a rather wobbly Narenda.

The whole group were travelling at such a moderate pace that they could actually talk together even though wearing bike-helmets.

'We should be there in about an hour and a half,' said Belinda, who was at that moment alongside Priscilla. 'Arnie knows the shortest way off-road. But you'll all get a shake-up.'

'Does he know why we're going there?' Priscilla asked, watching Narenda steering and dodging ruts.

'No. He just knows that we're doing a wander around this part of the world and a look-in on one or two local properties to say hello and beg a cup of tea.'

The cup of tea and cold drinks were provided by Mister and Missus Clegg, whose home was now called 'Wanda-Farm Bed and Breakfast'. It had changed somewhat from the glimpse that Priscilla and Monique had seen on their brief visit back in time. The road to the main building was sealed all the way, much of the fencing had been renewed, the old corrugated water tanks were replaced by larger plastic ones set at ground level with electric pumps attached, the house itself refurbished, outside and inside, and extra units for visitors accommodation added. Amazingly, the old outhouses had been left almost untouched, some timbers replaced, re-oiled and painted here and there and hinges de-rusted.

'Oh we keep it like that just for our guests, you know, rustic charm and all. Still useful as wood sheds and for storage,' said Missus Clegg, pouring tea for her husband, in answer to Monique's question.

'And my pigeons.' said Ronnie rather proudly, dispensing some of the brew into his saucer and slurping.

'I do wish you wouldn't do that in front of people,' cautioned Missus Clegg.

'Not paying-customers Emmy, anyway,' he turned to the gathered girls, 'do ya want to take a look at 'em? Homers! I race them locally. Got some real winners.'

'You really have a great setup Mister Clegg.' said Henry. 'All these birds, places for them to roost, feeding, water, even warming pens for any that get sick.'

'I've had the odd show-bird.' Mister Clegg said, his chest swelling a little like his birds. 'Would you guys like to see them go through their paces?'

'Whaddaya reckon Harry?' Henry exclaimed. 'How good is this?'

'Yap, yap, yark!' Harry bounced up and down like a tennis ball on steroids.

Alone together, inside the gloomy back-end of the shed, Monique and Priscilla peered and scratched around amongst the debris of ancient, dried-up lead-based paint cans, rusting tools and farm implements, carefully pushing through the cobwebs and dust of years.

'If it is still here, how can we even have the faintest hope of finding it amongst all this?' Monique asked, wiping the beads of perspiration from her forehead.

'Because it is still here. I know it. It has to be. Look, try over there along the floor boards. They look pretty dry and rotted. Maybe there's a loose one.'

Fortunately for Priscilla and Monique, the fifteen to twenty minutes they spent rummaging amongst the ancient building's interior was not noticed by either of the Clegg's; Missus being about the daily business of servicing the cottage rooms and Mister outside showing off his birds to Belinda, Narenda, Henry and Arnold.

'Black and white!'

'Priscilla! What is black and white? Oh, those two dabs of paint there on the shelf.'


'Collingwood yes?'

'It's a football team's colours here in Victoria.'


'Their mascot.'

'Oui. Ce qui?'

They're called The Magpies.'

'You don't think...'

'Mum called that magpie Collingwood! I don't think. I know. Find a screw-driver or something... no, doesn't matter. If she could hide her diary as quick as she did then... there! Just a push and a jiggle and this moves and... there it is! Oh Moni, Mum's diary. We've got it!'

'You, have it Priscilla. It is your Mother's, now it belongs to you and Henry.'

'Wait Moni, there's another one in here. She must have filled up the first book and begun a new one.'

'Better hide them Cilla, you do not want Mister Clegg thinking we are stealing something of his own.'

'Or Henry nosing about just yet. I want to read them first and break whatever I find to him as easy as I can. But where do we hide...'

'Turn around.' said Monique, spinning Priscilla by her shoulders and pulling out the back of her blouse. 'Give me one of them.' and taking it she stuffed it down her friend's jeans and tucked the blouse back in. 'There, that will have to do. It does not look too bulky. Now you do the same to me.'

'Gee Mon, does this mean we're practically engaged,' giggled Priscilla, giving a little pat to her friend's derriere, in a moment of light-hearted relief.

Monique turned, her big grin beaming. 'Perhaps...in another life. Now quickly, let us catch up with the others.'

'You found it!' The smell of freshly snuffed candle-wick wax filled the nostrils of the BlackEagle Girls as they wriggled into comfortable sleeping positions.

'Shhh Belinda! Keep it down. The walls aren't that thick, and Henry's on the other side with Harry.' warned Priscilla, hunkering down on her camp bed with Narenda and Monique crammed in on their beds, top and tailing her and Monique.

It was well after twelve o'clock and they had all had a very big day: several other ports of call, places of interest, and a couple of kangaroos had crossed their trail, sending Harry into wild yodelling and barking mode. A sizzling barbecue that evening, followed by a walk lit by flashlights. The experience of switching them off and listening to the profound silence whilst gazing up at a moonless sky scattered with stardust, and the return to the campfire, complete with raisin toast, hot chocolate and tall tales about ghostly cattle, an unmarked child's grave in Hall's Gap and the mountains themselves, had completed the evening. Thankfully exhausted, all the kids fumbled their way to bed leaving Jim Moss and his workers to savour a nightcap, and the stars.

'Yes girls, Mon and me found them, there's two, and I want to read them... Only I'm afraid of what I'll find...'

'If it will help, I will read them for you,' offered Narenda. 'I would keep out any bad parts and tell you only the good things.'

'That's really kind of you Narenda,' Monique whispered, 'but Priscilla must read them herself. They belonged to her Mother, not to any of us.'

'Yes,' Belinda agreed, 'there are times when the unknown has to be faced alone and unaided. No one else can do some of life's difficult tasks for you, such as when a person must give the order to have a favorite animal put to sleep...'

'Did you ever have to do that?' Monique gently asked.

Belinda heaved a long sigh. 'My first pony, Bobby. He had hurt himself terribly in an accident. Father wasn't there. Only one of our workers... I had to give the order...' She choked back a sob as the memory momentarily engulfed her.

'That is too sad,' said Narenda, reaching out her hand in the darkness to comfort Belinda, and finding instead Monique's shoulder.

'And too real,' Priscilla managed, her voice trembling. 'I'm terribly afraid now of what I'll find out. I wanted so badly to see, to prove that our Mother didn't kill herself, to show that what everyone else thinks about her is wrong against all the evidence. Selfishly, just for myself, not even for Henry. I want her to somehow be innocent. To take away all the shame that made our folks try to hide what had happened. And I'm angry too. How dare they hide it from Henry and me! My own Dad and Gran and... Rachele and Louis... who isn't really our brother at all! I tried my best to see it from their point of view. I tried. But now...' she paused, tightly clutching the two small books in the darkness, 'now I'm not so sure that I want to see. Maybe the not knowing is better than the knowing.'

'You are not thinking of... of throwing them away?' Narenda asked.

'Don't know what I'm thinking Narenda. Don't know if I want to see any more than I have. I'm just so tired...and I don't know if I can...'

'Exhausted rather,' came Belinda's voice.

'Upset, oh yes please,' said Narenda.

'About time for a group hug.' Monique reached around in the darkness, gathering them all to her. 'I seem to be one short.' She switched on a tiny stem-torch and played it about their faces and then down to Priscilla who was lying between them all, holding the two small books close to her heart.

'Turn off the light! I don't want to see anymore. Go to sleep all of you! I'm frightened of seeing! I just want to be in the dark!'

'But Cilla...'

'Just let me be, will you!' she hissed, turning away from Monique and huddling against the wall as if it was her only refuge. 'Please! Leave me alone,' she whimpered, tears trickling down her face and onto her fingers.

Finally the other BlackEagle Girls drifted off to sleep. Their last conscious thoughts were of Priscilla's muffled crying.

The lights of Foxmarch eventually dimmed and went out.

In the darkness of the room beyond, with Henry puffing out faint, intermittent zeds in a tired, yet still troubled sleep, Harry panted quietly as he listened to Priscilla's constant sobbing.

As did Monique who had suddenly jolted upright in the night. She is carrying it all now. Monique thought, taking the whole burden and shielding Henry, and even Louis, while she tries to make sense of what happened. Cilla wants to read all that is left of her real Mother Loretta, but she is afraid of what she will find in the diaries: Insanity and suicide maybe or perhaps, kindly, her Mother's last words will give no clue.

That she wants to read them is only natural. That she won't... can't bring herself to do so, is understandable...

And Harry, taking up Monique's unvoiced thread, thought, Maybe I can give her a tiny, gentle shove before she takes matters into her own hands and destroys the diaries un-read. Whatever tragedy they might tell, she shouldn't throw away the chance to know, to see. Fear of the unknown is more terrible than whatever is revealed. Unless she suspects that she and Henry might somehow also be like her Mother... that hereditary insanity is possible...


Chapter 11 next

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