An excerpt from my novel set in the Australian outback in the 1920’s. “Lillian’s Light Horseman” is a story about a dashing and heroic Light Horse officer, a long-lost love and a brutal land.
Lillian’s Light Horseman – Excerpt
She’d forgotten the desolation of the Australian outback—how dusty and dry it was and how unbearably hot it could be. She was lucky that she’d arrived in winter but the days in the outback, even in winter, could still be warm. She knew that her clothes would be impractical for the environment but there was not a lot she could do about that. Her wardrobe was designed for English weather and she knew that as the days grew warmer, her dresses and skirts of durable, heavy European fabric would be oppressively uncomfortable.
They drew nearer to Mulga Creek Sheep Station and her nervousness increased, making her palms damp and clammy. She’d spent the past ten years trying to forget about William and her memories of their time together, first as childhood friends then as childhood sweethearts, only now to put herself into a position where those bittersweet memories would be thrust to the forefront of her consciousness. She wondered where William was living and whether he bore any resemblance to the young man of nineteen he had been when last she’d seen him.
The buggy rounded a bend in the road and the homestead finally came into view. The house was newly painted white and glowed welcomingly in the midday sun. A garden fronting the residence was filled with hardy, durable flowers and plants—the only type to survive in such a dry and unforgiving climate. Geraniums and wattle bordered a pathway that led to the front door and an extensive vegetable garden took up the right side of the house adjacent to the kitchen.
The sight of the homestead and the sudden pang of déjà vu that it brought with it took Lillian’s breath away, and all too soon they were pulling up in the long drive and the station hand was unloading her belongings.
“I’ll take your trunk inside, miss. Mrs. Thompson has gone into Bourke to run errands. She asked that you wait in the drawing room for the boss. I’ll let him know that you’re here.”
Lillian’s anxiety deepened. She’d expected that Mrs. Thompson would be at the homestead to greet her and had hoped that she’d be present to ease any awkwardness that might arise when James Cartwright discovered her identity.
Lillian followed the station hand into the house and stopped in the hall to assess her reflection in the mirror. The image that greeted her made her gasp in shock. Her hair, which she’d styled so carefully that morning, was coming loose from its chignon and fell in dusty ringlets around her shoulders. And her face, usually of a peaches and cream complexion, was caked in a fine layer of red outback dust. She stepped back and surveyed her travelling attire, unsurprised to find that her skirt and jacket were creased and covered in fine ocher-colored powder. She’d forgotten how quickly the outback dirt permeated everything—even her mouth was gritty with the stuff.
She couldn’t meet James Cartwright looking like she did. She needed to freshen up. Making a decision, she left the hall and went in search of someone to assist her. Finding a maid in the kitchen, she requested a basin of water and a cloth and quickly scrubbed her face and hands. She scraped her hair back and re-pinned the escaped tendrils as best she could. There was nothing much she could do with her attire, so she settled for patting herself all over liberally with the damp cloth. It would have to do. One more inspection of her reflection in the hall mirror confirmed that she looked moderately better.
Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, she made her way to the drawing room. There were subtle changes in the décor. The furniture had been re-upholstered and beautiful hand-worked cushions dotted the room, giving it a comfortable and cozy feel. She picked up a gilt-edged frame and examined the photograph. It was of a woman, not conventionally beautiful, but she was handsome and radiated strength of character through a strong jaw and direct gaze at the camera.
“This must be James’ wife,” she mused aloud then replaced the frame on the mahogany table top and turned to survey the rest of the room.
Spying the piano, she walked to it, running her fingers over the polished wood, remembering when she used to sing and play this same instrument and recalling how William would sit and listen to her with a rapturous expression. She hissed in a breath and drew her fingers back from the piano sharply, not wanting the hurtful reminder of happier times.
Turning, she went to stand by the window, her back to the door, and took deep breaths to quell her anxiety. As she gazed out at the garden, she heard footsteps in the hall then the unmistakable sounds of someone entering through the door behind her.
“Miss Hamilton,” a deep voice greeted her. “My apologies for keeping you waiting.”
She turned to offer a greeting of her own and stopped abruptly, gasping in shock as she faced the man standing in the middle of the room. Her hand flew to her mouth and she swayed slightly, her equilibrium tilting.