The local Aboriginal people revered the waterhole as part of their Dreaming. They peered through the bush, fearful. The approaching riders—a young woman with strange red-gold hair, an elaborately dressed older man, an armed policeman leading a laden packhorse, and the two men with shotguns who trailed them—would shatter the peace in their country. Their worst fear was that the creator, the rainbow serpent who slept in the depths of the billabong water, might be woken by the greed of these trespassers.
“Come, dear Jane,” Cornelius said. “Put on your new bonnet and let’s be off.”
“You expect me to wear this on the trail?” Jane looked at the flowery thing with disgust. “You may as well send up smoke signals to every bushranger and thief in the area—defenceless woman coming. You can see it for miles.”
“We both know there’s nothing defenceless about you, Miss Mutta.” Cornelius gave her the bonnet when she straddled the horse. “But I do expect you to look and act like a lady when you’re in my presence.”
“You're setting me up for rape, or worse.” She threw the bonnet on the ground and jerked her brown felt hat over her head.
“It would be easier trying to steal milk from a kangaroo.” Constable Green chuckled.
Both Jane and Cornelius shot him dirty looks.
“I've allowed you to wear a split skirt and ride like a man.” Cornelius straddled his horse and steered it closer to Jane. “Do not test my patience, woman.”
“You'll allow me nothing.” She shook out the reins and slapped her horse’s rump. The horse bucked, but Jane stayed on. She rode to the head of the line so as to control further outburst. The arrangement she had with Cornelius—to be his travelling companion, with a contract to fulfill once they reached Melbourne (to his benefit)—might not be too difficult for her to break. When she controlled her temper, she could make him see reason.
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