With fresh supplies of powder and shot, Jimmy the Nail, Hobson, Billhook and Samuel Bailey sailed to Whalers Cove. The heavy rain of the previous few days were blown away, leaving scudding clouds and flashes of sunlight. They pulled the boat onto the beach. Jimmy and Hobson agreed to head sou’ east over the hill to Observatory Island. Billhook and Bailey walked west along the little beach, over the sheets of granite that sloped down to the sea and along the next beach to where the spring seeped out of the hill.
Billhook stopped to drink the brown water. It tasted good, if a little of the trees that grew above. They climbed the isthmus until they could see the harbour, stepping over the short, scrubby reeds, using the plates of stone as their path. As they walked down the other side towards the karri forest, Billhook found one of the roads the blacks had made, a neat path of chopped grasses and worn with many feet. The only sound was their footfall on the slippery leaves blown down from the last northerly.
Bailey started baiting.
“How did you find that Captain Cook, Billhook? Tasty?”
“Did not meet the man, Bailey.”
“He musta been a tough old man, an old boiler, hey Billhook?”
A thorny branch with yellow flowers flicked past Billhook's rifle and into Bailey’s face. He swore.
“Something impolite about eating your own kind.”
“Too salty anyway. The white man’s flesh is tainted with salt.”
Bailey’s silence quickened around him. Sometimes Billhook watched his broods and imagined that inside Bailey's chest, things crashed around and tore at each other to bits like crabs in a barrel. He glanced behind him and saw Bailey’s face. One day, Samuel Bailey would like to leach my body of blood, he thought. But it is not my destiny to die in this country with its fires and pale skies and dry, prickly earth. Where would my soul go?
Suddenly, there was Woman. She stood shining and brown, naked but for the possum string wrapped around her waist. Her sister, for they had the same berry faces, sat on the ground, her bony knees butterflied. Billhook breathed in a quick shock of delight and felt that breath course down to his loins and stall.
Her heavy hair swayed as she raised her head. She looked straight at him. She was not afraid. All was swollen silence with that stare. The clouds flew across the sky but they were in the forest now and the air was oily from the sweating trees. There was no sound in that moment, not even the alarm calls of the birds.
Her sister leapt from the ground and stood by her side.
Bailey thudded into Billhook’s back, lost in his own dark meanderings. He swore again and then stared. When he spoke, his voice was like rocks in a hopper.
“So this is where they hide their titters.”
The skin broke and everything fell through. The young women shrieked together, an unearthly noise in that thick still air. They ran into the forest, a splash of brown knees, feet, hands, hair. All that was left was the Frenchmen’s compass, shining all moony on a flat, lichened stone. Next to it was a woven bag half full of tubers. While Bailey sniffed into the deep, dappled green, Billhook weighted his pocket with the sun-warmed compass.