Nash McLeod, Hard to FigurebyEgmont0409©
Although it was the first calendar month of spring in South Australia a nip in wind from the south-south-west and originating in the Southern Ocean, swept across the plains to the ranges and into the remote servicing town of Respite Crossing to emphasize only the foolish would be wearing warm weather clothing just yet.
Dressed in a zipped fleece-lined jacket that reached just below his hips, snug wool trousers, thick socks and old Army boots and a battered black stockman's hat, Nash McLeod drove into town in his veteran open ex-Army Jeep.
Town dogs cowered and crept away to hide, perhaps indicating what smart dogs they were. Everyone knew Nash farmed sheep and shot stray dogs from up to a quarter-mile away where the dogs believed they were safe from anything. Nash had been a sniper in the war, no one knew what war or where, but he was reputed to have turned fifty over winter.
Nobody particularly liked Nash McLeod but he was polite so everyone had no reason to actually dislike the grumpy sod, unless they had a dog missing.
Rumor was Nash had fathered two of the seven children in the Mayor's brood and that perhaps explained why Nash was positively polite to the Mayor's wife, the only woman in town that Nash raised his hat to. Nash knew that Stella Stephens was his half-sister but only Stella and Nash knew that. Mayor Athol Stephens tended to believe the rumor about two of his brood being fathered by Nash, because one tends to believe persistent rumors. But the Mayor couldn't decided which two kids to cull because they all looked similar, having his blue eyes and pointy ears.
As usual, brown-eyed and rounded-eared Nash doubled parked outside Ma Brown's coffee and cake shop.
Double parking was a tow-away offence but the khaki Jeep was left untouched and never drew a complaint or had a traffic violation ticket stuck under a windscreen wiper. Apparently having a reputation as a highly decorated sniper and being known to regard complainants as dogs has its benefits.
Stomping sheep shit from his boots before walking on Ma Brown's pristine scrubbed floor, Nash glanced across the street and stopped. Fully turning he left the boardwalk and crossed to the pathetic-looking youngster huddled and shivering on the concrete surround of the statue of a bronze rifleman commemorating the district's dead from the Boer War.
"What's wrong kid?"
The white-faced and blue-lipped waif with dark bags under the eyes looked up at him and said, "Nothing."
"Christ, you're a girl, a young woman."
"I'm eighteen and pregnant."
Nash rubbed his chin. "So?"
Nash bent down and picked her up.
The girl screamed, "Put me down you brute" but Nash returned across the street oblivious to her screams and the mouth-gaping stares of the few townspeople out and about before most businesses began to open for the day's trading. The kid was warming herself thumping at Nash with her fists, but she may just have well tried hammering a brick.
"Good morning Nash, what do we have here?"
"Ida grab a blanket and bring hot soup."
Ma Brown was staggered. In the fifteen years she'd known Nash he'd never called her anything but ma'am. She hadn't been aware he knew her name.
Ida hurried back with the thick wool blanket and then fetched a big mug of hot vegetable soup.
The girl looked at it and looked away.
"Start sipping or I'll cuff you," Nash growled.
She turned to look at him defiantly, saw his fearless, uncompromising face edged with a scowl and quickly cradled the cup and began sipping.
"It's the Findlay's brat isn't it?"
"Call her parents and get them down here Ida."
Without looking at Ma Brown, Nash said she should tell Jake if he wasn't at the café with his wife within ten minutes he'd get a bullet up his ass.
The girl sitting beside Nash began shaking and he whispered, "Just kidding darling. He'll come running."
The both heard Ma Brown on the phone saying, "Yes Jessica, that's what he said, a bullet up the ass. No he didn't make a threat against you."
Burly coalminer Jake Findlay and his buxom wife hurried in and stood at the table in front of Nash.
"This your daughter?"
"Yes, she's my slut daughter."
"Watch your mouth Jake."
Jake thrust out his chest and bunched his hands into fists but Jessica urged, "No Jake, you know what happened to the O'Donovan family, completely obliterated."
"That was proven in Court to be a defective gas system."
"Jake, my mother told me Nash's uncle was a gasfitter. Nash would have learned from him."
Taking a step backwards, Jake said belligerently, "What do you want Nash?"
"I want to know why I found this girl dressed poorly and not at home?"
"Because I won't let the slut in the same house as me. When I'm home, she's out."
"When he's home I abide with Jake's decision."
Nash asked Ma Brown to get lawyer Tom Little down pronto.
"He doesn't leave for the office until 8:50. It's only 8:15."
"Ma'am, I know about your little secret."
Ida Brown turned white and raced to the phone.
"Jessica, grab two coffees and food for you and Jake. It will go on my tab. Sit down Jake."
Nash stood and repeated his request. The unsmiling Jake complied.
"He's on his way," Ida said. Nash thanked her and ordered hot milk for the kid and asked Ida to put everything being consumed on his tab.
"No, I owe you one Nash," she replied. "This is all on me. I'll pour coffee and butter a muffin for Tom."
Lean and bearded Tom Little entered and grinned. "A family conference with legal advice from me and no fee payable I take it?"
"You're sharp for a lawyer," Nash grinned. "Here comes your second breakfast. I understand any introduction between you and ma'am is unnecessary?"
Tom, who'd also been Nash's late father's lawyer, coped with his coughing fit and his secrete mistress managed not to drop his coffee and muffin.
"First Tom, I want you to seek from the Findlay's the age of their daughter Lisa sitting beside me."
Tom pulled out a notebook and ready to take notes asked, "Jake?"
"She's eighteen. What's this all about?"
"Preliminary moves to have Lisa removed to a more hospitable environment for her own safety and that of her baby, I would think," said Tom, who had a wife and three teenage kids. "But then I'm not running the show so don't take too much notice of me. This is for confirmation. Jessica how old is Lisa?"
"Eighteen years, three months and er three days."
There was silence.
Nash said softly, "Answer Mr Little."
"As mother said, eighteen years, three months and three days. Or four days if this talkfest continues much longer."
"Watch your lip Lisa."
"And if I don't daddy?"
"Shut your fucking mouth you slut."
Nash stood and said, "Let's have this out now Jake. Ma'am please fetch us a matching pair of carving knives."
Jessica screamed and Jake turned white and gasped, "Knives?"
"Yes daddy. Carve him up good Mr McLeod."
Nash was surprised the girl knew his name. He then heard Jake apologize to his daughter so sat down, bringing a gushed sigh of relief from Tom and a groan from Jessica. Ida Brown smiled.
"Right, Lisa has the choice of agreeing to come into my home care or going into care of the authorities until after the birth of her baby," Nash said. "What is to be Lisa, I'm giving you no other choice."
"I'm not going into state welfare care."
Nash smiled and said that was settled.
Lisa looked at him horrified while Tom ran his finger around his shirt collar, aware the parents were looking at him expecting some action. He cleared his throat and said, "Nash is entitled to lay a complaint of child neglect and alleged abuse. Although Lisa is eighteen it would appear she has not shifted away from home so legally is still under the care of her parents. The Judge will either send her to a foster home or toss out the complaint after giving the parents a rap over the knuckles for mistreating their teenager. It is not for me to give an opinion on what happens after that."
"Then I choose to go with Mr McLeod."
"Well, that's settled," Nash smiled. "Thank you Lisa and please record her comment of acceptance Tom and record who heard her declaration and send them copies of your account of proceedings here and my undertakings."
"Jake, you stay away from your home for the next hour because I don't want you there when Lisa, her mother and I are packing her things into my Jeep. I have a live-in housekeeper, Mrs Young, wife of my foreman Gary Young and a resident cook, Mrs Stewart, whose husband Lance bases his farm accountancy business in my home where he also acts as my accountant and business manager. Those two women will be paid a fee and charged to be Lisa's mentor and companion."
"Should Lisa ever request to join me in bed then that's her business and I'd have to give serious thought to such a request. Lisa's parents may visit her and lunch with her on any Sunday we are in residence, providing they give either Mrs Young or Mrs Stewart at least two hours' prior notice and representatives of any welfare group interested in visiting Lisa should contact either of her mentors and arrange a visit. Lisa will be placed under the care of Doc Hobson."
"Now get the hell out of here Jake. Jessica you come with Lisa and me. Thank you everyone and Tom we'll home-kill a prime cattle beast at the weekend of which you will share generously in volunteering to so ably serve Lisa here today."
"Thanks Nash," Tom grinned. "I have Nancy make room in the fridge and in the freezer. Take to Nash kindly Lisa because beneath that hard exterior lurks a good guy. We've seen evidence of that here today."
Nash double-parked outside the most popular pub in town for a minute and went in.
The two bartenders and a few of the dozen patrons replied, the others just stared at Nash.
"Guys, let it be known that some asshole has made the Findlay's eldest daughter pregnant. He's not stood by her so I'm issuing a warning: he's dog tucker if I come within 400 yards of him."
Nash strode out and the silence in the bar was broken by an uproar.
Within a few hours four males left town in the wake of that threat, presumably never to return within Nash's lifetime.
* * *
Before leaving Jessica waving in their wake, Nash said she was welcome to visit the sheep station anytime she wished. She could arrange for Lisa to be brought into town to meet her but Nash would wish to remain within fifty paces in case Jake made an appearance.
Jessica looked at the craggy-faced lean guy of not quite six feet with powerful-looking shoulders and a steady stare with sometimes of glint in his brown eyes. Gray was just beginning to show in his thick matt of black hair.
"I know you'll look after Lisa well Nash. I am so sorry I was so weak. Please forgive me Lisa."
As mother and daughter hugged and kissed Nash said, "It's bastards like Jake who weaken women."
Jessica hugged him and whispered her thanks to Nash for giving Lisa a chance in life. Jessica then became the only second woman in town to whom Nash had ever lifted his hat in deference.
As they set off, Lisa spoke for the only time during the 35-mile trip.
"Thank you for what you have done for me. Please take me to my salvation Mr McLeod."
She turned and went to sleep, now warmly dressed in her own winter clothes.
Noting his passenger was asleep Nash stopped and walking away for some distance pulled out his phone and called Molly Young. He explained Lisa's plight and that he'd taken her under his wing as he was legally entitled to do, having received Lisa's consent.
"She appears to be well educated but is in low ebb. She's pregnant, only just showing I'd say. I would like you and Irene to take a close interest in her. Just so there's no misunderstanding, I have no intention of possessing the mistreated girl but should she ever proposition me then I'd have to think about that."
Molly laughed and said she and Irene would dearly love to have the company and to bring the poor darling back to full health.
"I have seen the girl several times and spoken to her a couple of times. I was at school with Jessica. I believe the girl graduated from high school in the top stream and won several awards. You are, I'm sure, bringing a lovely-hearted lass to our household. I'll make her room ready."
Nash had expected Molly would come through for them but was pleased to hear her enthusiasm. He said they were twenty minutes from the homestead.
On the dirt track in from the highway and still a quarter-mile from the homestead, Nash pushed the red button on the dash of the Jeep and twin air-horns blasted out his arrival, stirring Lisa.
They drove around the circle of driveway covered in crushed metal to inhibit dust and stopped in front of the two-level homestead, built eighty-one years ago by grandfather McLeod for the slip of a girl who by then was on her way from Scotland. She would marry the wealthy shepherd who'd inherited and sold his late father's home and woolen mill in Stirling, Scotland to Immigrate to anywhere in Australia and ended up in Adelaide. He then leaving for the hinterland to find a farm on land that wouldn't remind him of his homeland.
Big boned and auburn-haired Molly, aged fifty-five and the shapely and wide-mouthed blonde Irene, twenty-five, were on the steps awaiting Lisa's arrival.
Nash was surprised by the thought that this must almost mirror the arrival of Duncan McLeod bringing Iona Stewart to the house all those years ago, only there would have been probably ten servants on the steps in those days.
Molly opened the far side door and swept the girl, still rubbing sleepy eyes, into her arms without effort and said, "Dear young lady, there's nothing to you, we will have to build you up. I'm..."
"Mrs Young, I recognize you. You know my mother."
* * *
Lisa remained in her bedroom suite for almost two and a half days before coming out for lunch unannounced just as Irene was prepared to take food on a tray to the bedroom.
"I'll join everyone for lunch," Lisa said sweetly and looked disappointed when Irene said only the three women would be in for lunch.
Molly who'd arrived in the kitchen caught that comment and heard Lisa's "Oh."
Molly said, "I wanted Mr McLeod to visit your room to chat with you but he refused, saying you would feel resentful at him pulling you away from your family. You have two younger sisters at high school don't you?"
"Yes, but I'm really not resentful Mrs Young. Mr McLeod was very brave standing up to my father like that."
"Call me Molly darling and you don't need to spare concern for Mr McLeod. He hasn't a clue about turning away from trouble and knows he thus has to take the consequences of his actions."
Irene smiled at their guest. "Are you scared of him?"
"I don't think so but I must say his eyes look scary when he's wound up."
"Despite what they all say he has a soft center," Molly said stoutly.
"What do they say about him?"
"All sorts of things but calling him a hard bastard is almost universal and that will do for now. Let's get meat on to some of your bones. You're disappointed he's not here, aren't you?"
Now seated at the kitchen table Lisa looked at the tablecloth and almost whispered to the older of the two women, "Yes."
Molly said Mr McLeod was a busy man running a big business.
Lisa asked how could farming be big business.
"I asked exactly that when I came here as a new bride," Irene said. "Although the property is called a sheep station because it's a mega-size farm of 247,000 acres of mainly quite fertile land and usually sufficient water, the 30,000 sheep plus new season's lambs are not all it carries. We also run beef cattle and deer and grow pines as farm forestry in the rougher patches."
Lisa thought about that, chewing meat from a hogget chop. "How big is big?"
"Exactly what I asked," Irene smiled. "Those 247,000 acres equate to 230 square miles."
"Ohmigod, that's huge and must be really big business."
Irene laughed and said, "When we buy in 400 Hereford and Angus yearlings that's six truck and trailer unit trips and nine or ten truck-units, depending on stock condition, when they are shipped out for finishing down on the lowlands prior to slaughter."
"Ohmigod and so how many truckloads to ship out say 20,000 grown-up sheep?"
"That would take perhaps forty truck-unit trips for shorn ewes but we never have that many culls at any one time. Big business, huh? One of my extra jobs is to book road transport, so that's how I know. I'd be bored out of my mind if I only cooked and managed the kitchen had it not been for my involvement in mustering, shearing and drenching times."
"Lazy old me, I just manage house running and read fashion magazines," Molly said, pretending to yawn.
Irene said Molly also did the gardening with a little help from the men, prepared the quarters for the shearers and cleaned up after they left and co-coordinated farm workers by radio and orders in supplies, rushed out for emergency supplies, greeted the vets and livestock agents and generally kicked ass.
"Men find it difficult to get out of bed in the mornings," Molly sighed.
Irene whispered to Lisa, "It's because they watch TV or DVDs until late and then want to play with themselves when they wake up."
"Hush Irene, she's young."
"But Molly, I'm pregnant so I must know something but obviously not quite enough."
They laughed and Lisa said the house must liven up when Mr McLeod was about.
"Yes, absolutely," Molly said. "You appear to be a quick learner. He'll be pleased to see you up and about but darling, just call him Nash. Everyone does. I want you to have a bath and out of it by 5:45 and then Irene and I will do your hair so you look pretty when he arrives. He hasn't had a good look at you yet by all accounts."
"W-what will he do with me?"
"Oh God, nothing, don't even think like that," Molly said, embarrassed. "He has Widow Green down on the flats for that. He'd only consider touching you if invited."
"A widow, then she's old?"
"Well, many widows are. Jane Green is only thirty-three and runs the country store at the cross roads where there's only the store, a gas station and a 'just about everything store' that sells ice cream, snack food and burgers, videos and DVDs. You'll meet her. Her husband was a helicopter pilot."
"Yep, lived for four hours after being admitted to hospital. Shattered bones, severe head injuries got him. Just happened to fly into power lines in a gully on two farms away from here. He knew they were there but just forgot or was blinded by a sun-strike. We'll never know."
Lisa sighed, "Oh living in the country sounds so dangerous and unforgiving."
"Fuck the towns and city," Irene said, earning a soft reprimand from Molly.
"What uncouth Irene really means dear one tends to be heavily compensated for foregoing urban living although I must say not everyone is suited."
"Will I be suited Molly?"
"My instinct says yes."
Lisa seemed to like that reply. "What time does the boss come in?"
Molly looked surprised and Irene asked Lisa had Nash told her to call him that.
"No, we've scarcely talked. I supposed he'd told you how he rescued me?"
Molly said he'd mentioned it briefly.
"Well I thought if his operation was big business, staff would call him the boss."
"They do darling, but I'm housekeeper, Irene is cook and dog's body, her husband Lance is a farm accountant and lives here in the house with her as do I and my husband Gary who is foreman. The farmhands are farmhands... nobody around here is called staff and the word would be foreign to most of them. Gary and Nash will be in anytime from 6:00 to 9:00. They will radio us a couple of hours in advance so we have a meal waiting for them.