Frank awoke with the warm sun on his eyes. It took a few moments for his brain to alert his body that he needed to move. He seemed to be moving, but connected to the earth at the same time, as though the ground beneath him was moving too. It was peace he was unaccustomed to. Something felt lighter in him; it wasn't that he didn't want to wake up, more that at the present moment there was nothing pushing him, the frantic urging in his brain was absent. As his lids flickered open he took in the brightness of the sky. He knew it was Drogheda's, but from where he lay it could have been anywhere, each time he closed and opened his eyes he thought of a different place, names he had read in books but would never see. He understood that morning that it was the same sky, the very same he had looked up at in New Zealand. There were some things a person could never run away from, but for the first time that thought gave him comfort.
Stretching he got up and looked around him, struck by what he saw, staring stupidly ahead. Almost all the sheep were gone; the last few were moving forward briskly, being herded by figure on horseback. The girl plied her whip with an expertise he could never hope to match. As she came closer and caught his eye an odd expression crept over her features, not the conceit he had witnessed in her before but real pride. She smiled as she passed him but did not slow her pace. He felt his head whip around as he followed her, shielding his eyes as he stared out towards the sun. Within minutes it seemed she was nothing more than a silhouette. For the second time he wondered if she was a figment of his imagination, but brushed this aside, gathering up what was left of makeshift camp and bounded up to the piebald, who glared at him, thoroughly unimpressed by his master's enthusiasm.
'Oh come on you silly beast', he told it; 'do you want to be shown up by that pony'.
The piebald remained unmoved, but was quick into action as Frank fixed the saddle and jumped up. By the time he reached the home paddock the sheep were all settled and the self-satisfaction was back in Rose's face. She leaned against one of the many gates watching him, as he was forced to dismount to close the one behind. He really was no kind of Stockman, definitely not one cut out for Drogheda, she thought. He approached her slowly now, riding the piebald at a steady trot, while she waited as if completely unmoved. It was not the same woman who had fallen down in his arms last night, and clutched at him and begged him not to send her away. There would be no allusion to that now, he thought, but his witnessing it had levelled the contest and he no longer felt inferior. As he dismounted her look of appreciation grew. He noticed that she was more muscular than he had realised, she must have had experience working the paddocks. It was unheard of in his world for a woman to do a man's work. She must be strong, so why had she been so weak last night. It had been a long long time since he himself had been as weak as that.
'When did you start', he asked, unsure of anything else to say.
'A few hours now'.
'And you worked all the gates yourself?'
She held up her hands and waved them theatrically. 'One of my many gifts'.
'You should have woken me'.
'I disturbed you enough last night'. Something about the way she phrased the sentence unsettled him, but recovered quick enough. She had disturbed him greatly, in ways he could not fathom but he was determined never to hand her the advantage again.
'Thank you', she said meeting his eye with more sincerity than he had yet seen in her.
'What will you do now?' he asked, not sure she wouldn't fire up again. He was not used to being the person hoping to quell another's temper.
'I must go back and speak to Mary. I have to apologise, something I think you know I do not find easy'. He noticed how her voice had become refined once more, as though that was part of her armoury. 'I do so hate being in the wrong. But I hate not having her approval more. She is all that I have out here'.
'Are you here then?... I mean are you staying here', he felt the blush creep over him but pretended he was unaware of his mistake.
'Only for another week, then I must return to the city. But I am supposed to always be welcome here did you know that? It was stated in Mr Carson's will that I must always be welcome on Drogheda as long as I am alive. I'm afraid I may be causing you trouble for some years to come. Or when Drogheda is yours will you build a wall high enough to keep me out'.
'Why would Drogheda be mine?'
'You are Mr Cleary's eldest son?'
'I won't be staying on Drogheda any longer than I have to'. As he heard himself speak the words he felt a new conviction. They were no longer just words, a wish or a dream. It was a fact. It was his truth.
'I'm sad to hear it', she said. It was impossible to tell if she meant it.
They heard a movement from one of the sheds. It was later than he realised. His grip on his emotions wavered at the thought of someone discovering them like this. He knew they were doing no wrong but something told him it would not be appreciated. They occupied separate sides of a fence and neither would be permitted to cross. Not that he wanted her on his side he told himself. He would forget her after this. She would go to the city and come back here and be welcomed, while he was somewhere else, away from here. He felt a fluttering in his belly at that thought.
Squinting, he could make out the shape of Bob and Jack, walking out from one of the sheds.
'Well, I thank you again', she said watching him as he watched his brothers. She moved swiftly passed him out of the paddocks. He refused to look at her as she left and instead occupied himself with the gate.
Frank didn't return to the head stockman's house straight away. Instead he leapt back onto his horse, and spurred him to a gallop. They raced around the perimeter of the home paddocks until horse and rider were panting. He managed to avoid his father and brothers and when he finaly returned home, he collapsed on his bed and was lulled back into a peaceful daze.
Over the following week Frank went about his duties quietly, drifting along in his private sphere, watching the world. Now he knew it was only a matter of time before the thing happened that would force him to leave. His small victory over the girl from the big house had buffered his confidence, but his dread was only slightly dented. The main difference from before was that he no longer had the alternative to fear.
Out in the paddocks with Jim and Pete one day he saw a figure coming towards him. Somehow he knew it was specifically for him and not for the others. They gawped at her having never seen her out there before. She cast them a swift glance and they looked away. Frank straightened awkwardly as she walked up to him.
'Hello', she began.
'Hello'. He didn't know what else she expected him to say.
'I came to say goodbye'.
He couldn't understand what had been so funny about his answer, but the smile that split her face gave way to a fit of the giggles. She looked ridiculous, he thought. Slowly the smile came of his own features. The flashing eyes became softer, and for a moment he looked younger, softer. Not the man the who had stood over her that night.
When she recovered the said, 'Can I ask you something Frank'.
He nodded. He liked the way his name sounded on her lips.
'Will you write to me? I mean if I write to you first, will you write back?'
He thought about seriously for a moment. He had never written a letter to anyone before, there had never been anyone other than his family. The idea of it excited him, an odd thing to get excited over, but none of his brothers had anyone to write to. But she was most likely teasing him again. If only he could make himself believe that. She just wasn't the same person who had taunted him so expertly all those months ago.
'Perhaps I will', he said at last, moving past her returning to his work, careful not to seem as though he were really taking notice of her.
'Well then', she said to herself and moved off.
I have to be going crazy Frank told himself, and shook his head. His mother told him to that when he had cobwebs in his brain. Jim and Pete were watching him now, smirking. He felt his hands shake. Anger pulsed through him, he could hear his heartbeat loudly, pumping right in his ear drums. He felt dizzy. Suddenly he was kicking at the fence. He didn't know when he started or why. The anger grew in him and then left him with every kick. The stockmen were on him in seconds, pulling him back. Frank thrashed in their arms but even his strength was not enough to overpower the older men. The last thought as he was wrestled to the ground was of a woman with golden hair, and the sting of tears that was behind her eyes and his own.