Keeping Faith

By Roger Marchant

Per kind permission Top Dog Journal

It was quite dark now; the thick, hard darkness of an Australian bush summer night. And it was quiet out here in the back blocks. The flies were down, but the mosquitoes hadn’t made an appearance. Not that they worried us - we’d spent our lives around that tumble down shack. Living outside, mostly.

Blue and I had been out after rabbits. There were plenty around again now, and country style, we considered them true game. Anyway, we were plodding our way slowly home to the shack along the unmade road that cut across the property when I first heard the ute. Although it was a fair distance away I could hear the engine screaming, protesting against the treatment Matthews was handing out. I knew too well what that meant. He had been in town, twenty miles down the track, propping up the front bar of the only hotel for the whole afternoon. Now he was well drunk.

It wasn’t good. Matthews at the best of times had little love for us. Drunk, he was viscious, and all the hate he had in his soul would pour out. Either of us - Blue or me - could be the recipient of at least a curse, more often a kick or a slash from the stick he always carried. As we had done so often before, we slipped quietly off the road, back behind the bushes. We had learned long ago to keep well away from Matthews when the grog was on him.

Over the rise the ute lurched onto level ground. It was then that Blue made his incomprehensible move. He had been crouching in the bush on the opposite side of the track to me. It was just a matter of waiting a few seconds for Matthews to curse his vehicle past our position, then darkness and safety would return.

But Blue decided to cross to my side. Perhaps he was dazzled. I don’t know. I just watched, horrified, as he stepped onto the track, exactly as the bank of headlights cut a horizontal blaze again, lighting the whole track ahead.

Caught in the glare, Blue stopped and gazed with widening eyes at the oncoming danger. At once I heard the engine noise change as Matthews forced down the accelerator and the lights went up to full beam, catching Blue, just as a searchlight traps an aircraft. The ute was going fast now and it swerved quite deliberately. A split second seemed like an eternity. Blue hadn’t a chance. He was taken by the roo bar and tossed aside. As he rolled, already unconscious, first the front, then the rear wheel went over him. The ute didn’t even slow down.

A cursory examination told me Blue was dead and I had to fight to stop myself from pursuing Matthews straight away. But retribution carried out in hot blood is too good for a murderer. Revenge is a dish best taken cold, my plan formed instantly and instinctively.

Nowhere in it was there any intention of making the crime known to authority. This one was down to me and I knew exactly what to do.

By sun-up I had the shack under observation, waiting for Matthews to appear to take his usual desultory morning wash. For that, and the black tea he always needed to clear his head, water would be required. Bore water was all we had, although it was only just drinkable. Furthermore the pump had long since broken, the tank was empty and it was necessary to raise the water by bucket and windlass from the old-fashioned well.

Travelling in a wide arc - keeping to cover - I approached through the scrubby bush at the rear. Matthews was still inside, but it wouldn’t be long before he set out for the well. Five metres or so from the windlass a pile of old timber gave good cover. I was hidden in seconds, crouching and looking back towards the shack.

Matthews emerged carrying an empty bucket. I felt cold, emotionless. He attached the bucket to the well rope and let it run to the bottom. I heard the splash deep down. Cursing, he painfully started to wind in the full bucket. I tensed myself, ready, and as the bucket rose to the lip of the low parapet surrounding the well, I moved. He was a big man, heavy, and the timing had to be just right. I rounded the pile of timber and was at speed as Matthews took one hand off the parapet to grasp the full bucket. Then, as his other hand came off the windlass, and, for the second he was unsupported, I leapt.

He was bending slightly and I caught him with full impetus, square in the middle of the small of the back. His lack of balance, the full bucket, and finally my own velocity combined to produce an irresistible force.

With a terrified scream Matthews pitched forward, struck his head on the parapet, and still grasping the bucket, disappeared down the well. I crashed sideways on the hard-packed earth and rolled heavily a couple of times, but it was nothing to the fierce exultation that coursed through me.

Looking down over the low wall, I directed all my senses to detect any sign of life. Matthews was unconscious but breathing. He was probably lying in three or four feet of cold water with his head against the side. He would come round in a little while, but there was no way he could climb the black, slimy shaft.

There was nothing to do now but wait. He could expect no assistance, now matter how he screamed for help when he came to. His general surliness made visitors to the property very few and far between. It would probably be weeks before anyone thought to mount a search. Matthews would die slowly and in despair in the meantime. If he should by any chance make it to the top of the well, I was ready to deal with him again.

And I could wait. Oh yes! I could wait…..Indefinitely.

I backed off just a little way from the well head, and turning completely around, found myself a comfortable place. Then I lay down, put my head between my paws and started the vigil.=

Submitted by John Chandler

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