Castle Roland

The Odd One Out

by Gary Conder


Chapter 9

Published: 16 May 16

The Odd One Out

Copyright © 2015
by Gary Conder
All Rights Reserved

Odd Man Out Logo

Auction day or more to the point, garage sale day, a lazy Sunday, had arrived and Colt had two horses saddled and hitched to the back stairs. All that was now needed was for Mavis to arrive with her Women's Association and a horde of inquisitive towns folk and the occasional customer, willing to open their wallet or purse to add to their private collection of unnecessary junk.

It was a clear sunny day with a slight scattering of cirrus clouds towards the hills, without the slightest chance of rain. Colt, with help from Charlie, had moved most of the paraphernalia from the shed the previous afternoon, finding much more than they realised.

There were boxes of clothing, almost new; dating back a good fifty to seventy years and in a jar tucked into one of the boxes a wad of money. Charlie had called his find to Colt, who after scrutinising the jar told Charlie, seeing he found it he could keep it. Besides it was old currency and wasn't sure if the bank would still exchange it for new. Both thought it looked more like money should than what they held in their wallets. At least it was real folding stuff and not made from plastic.

Even more excitement was produced when Colt discovered another small jar containing a number of gold sovereigns. Fortunately Mavis hadn't yet arrived so he would keep them himself, before she could claim the horde for her sale.

"What have you there?" Charlie called, hearing Colt give a whoop with his find.

"I found a jar full of sovereigns." Colt answered.

"What's a sovereign?"

"Money from yonks back,"

"Can you spend them?"

"Doubt it but they are gold and people like gold."

Colt opened the bottle and counted his find – seventeen. He passed one of the shiny gold coins to Charlie.

"I like that." Charlie admitted and passed it back.

"Keep it."

Charlie smiled and placed it deeply into his pocket. "I'll give it to mum."

Mavis arrived on the morning before Colt had risen. By the time he had descended the stairs, she was amongst the piles of jumble, picking up items, placing them elsewhere, moving boxes and complaining most vigorously. She also created a corner for her special items. Those she knew dealers would pay a higher price than would the local townsfolk. Years working in the Opp-shop had taught her what to look for and how to handle dealers, to whom she gave first choice but never the lowest price.

"You're early." Colt called as he approached.

"Have to they will all be here in a couple of hours."

"You hope." Colt commented softly standing to one side, his hands on hips while Mavis shifted a box of clothing from amongst a selection of books.

"I thought you and your fancy mate were going to arrange it all." Mavis continued to move boxes around, placing items for better advantage.

"We did, well I thought we did." Colt protested.

"Neither of you would ever get a job in the shop." Mavis complained. "By the way where is your boarder?" She added standing amongst the jumble, her eyes fixed on the house and stairs.

"In bed I suppose." Colt answered.

"Well East, get him out of bed and you both can give me a hand rearranging it all. It's a bloody mess."

Mavis had met Charlie on previous visits. She also knew him as the opposition bowler from her voluntary work at the cricket club and was most displeased on hearing he was staying at the Blake farm. What she wanted from Colt was marriage, or at least living with some woman to take the taste of Harry's indiscretion from her lips. She had no fear Colt may be like his uncle but was under the impression a perfectly normal heterosexual lad could catch homosexuality like some airborne infection, just by standing too close to an affected body. She had also read books on men in prison and how they ravished their cell mates, only to go back to their women once released. Two men living together, as were Colt and Charlie may not be strong enough to resist the temptation.

It is most uncanny how fact can be stronger than fiction and chance can take an unwelcome turn. Such was the day during that previous visit when Mavis discovered Charlie was Colt's boarder.

Mavis arrived most early in her usual flurry of floral skirt and picture hat, only to be met by Max at the base of the stairs. It was as well she didn't like the dog, as the encounter with Max caused her to take time climbing the stairs towards the open door, otherwise she may have discovered the two in the one bed, naked and as described, at it.

Both Colt and Charlie had continued to roam the house in a state of undress for some days after their joint confession, until Colt decided it was time to admit his sexuality, at lease to Charlie and without words, had only the previous night before Mavis' visit, lead the opposition bowler to his bedroom.

The encounter had been most clumsy and spent physically exploring each other's bodies but with the morning they fell into a quasi sexual embrace and were still entangled when Mavis met Max on the stairs. Colt grabbed a towel and fled to the bathroom, while Charlie still in naked state, his digit proudly pointing to the ceiling, rushed to his bedroom, both doing so only moments before Mavis' yoo-hoo sounded down the hall and was inside.

Colt quickly doused his hair with water, roughly dried and pulled on a pair of dirty track pants from the washing basket, before meeting Mavis standing by his open bedroom door. Fortunately Charlie's discarded clothing, from their previous night's encounter, had been dumped on the far side of the bed and out of sight. Moments later Charlie arrived fully dressed from his own room. Booth looking as guilty as they possibly could.

"Who's this then?" Mavis had demanded, pointing her nose in the direction of Charlie.

"Wysie, you know him from the Wanders cricket team." Colt advised.

"I know that but what is he doing here?" She ordered.

"He is living here, has a job at the Bacon Factory."

"Star boarder status eh," Mavis sounded most displeased. She saw her brother Harry in everyone and once again told Colt that she would rather he had a female boarder, or better still was married.

As Mavis turned away Colt gave Charlie a wink and a smile.

"That was close, if only she knew." He said softly.

"Knew what?" Charlie asked wrinkling his brow with curiosity.

"Last night, if only she knew I'm more like Harry than she expects."

Mavis fussed about her placement of jumble, as Charlie arrived eating a slice of toast and vegemite, carrying a second slice which he offered to Colt.

"What's going on?" He asked.

"I'm undoing the mess you two made yesterday." Mavis grumbled.

"I thought Colt and I did a good job."

"Anyway, come here boy and give us a hand, the selling starts at ten."

For the next two hours it was move that, hang this, don't put that there and forceful assertion that one should never ask a man to do a proper job. Finally there were racks of clothing, benches of recordings and videos and ancient tapes of music; more tables with clocks and kitchen utensils. There were boxes of unused crockery and others with cutlery and more with books. All set up like an outdoor Op-shop and then just as Mavis was almost satisfied, her woman's club arrived.

Come on Charlie, were leaving, I have the horses ready around the back." Colt then turned to Mavis, "Now that the petticoat brigade has arrived well be off." He announced and before Mavis could issue another command both were gone.

At the swimming hole the boys watered the horses before crossing to the scrub on the opposite bank. Colt moved his mount up the slope pausing at the top with Charlie nervously following.

While waiting, movement in the scrub ahead caught Colt's eye. At first he thought it was someone wearing a yellow top but on second glance there wasn't anything except for a noisy flock of parrots feeding on the bottle brush and the low hum of traffic on the distant road.

"What's up?" Charlie asked eventually bringing his mount along the bank, noticing Colt's attention to the scrub ahead.

"Nothing I'm seeing things now,"

"What do you mean?"

"I thought I saw a young fella wearing a yellow top in the scrub over there but with a second look there's nothing."

Charlie also cast his gaze around but found nothing. "May have been the parrots they are at eye level and they do sort of have yellow in their feathers." He suggested.

"Yea you're probably right but of late when swimming I've felt as if I'm being watched, even when we were both down here the other day."

"You didn't say anything."

"Na you were so flighty about getting your gear off, I thought someone watching would have scared you away altogether." Colt laughed and moved his mount on.

"So that was all planned." Charlie feigned displeasure as they rode further into the scrub.

"I didn't plan you loosing your jocks that happened to be the rivers idea but a good one I must admit."

"Where are we heading?" Charlie asked.

"There are some old caves a few miles up river I thought I'd give you a look."

"What like the Jenolan Caves?" Charlie asked, expecting some grand natural phenomena.

"I wouldn't think so and as caves go I believe you will be disappointed but there is some native art I wanted to show you."

Four hundred meters of scrub and they reached the main road. Another two hundred brought them to the Jones holding where they found Sid attending to his well appointed vegetable patch.

"Morning Sid," Colt called on approaching.

The old man straightened his stiffening back as best he could and removed his sweat and dust stained hat. Wiping his brow with the sleeve of his faded, torn flannel shirt, he spoke.

"Young Russell Blake how's the cricket going?" Sid enquired replacing his hat well back on his head to such an extent it fell from behind. He slowly retrieved the hat from a stand of late fruiting tomato bushes.

"The Crickets finished for the year Sid." Colt answered. "I wish I could grow vegetables like you do." He added.

"It's all in the soil preparation young feller. "If you don't do the right thing all you get is weeds."

"I've tried that but still get weeds."

"Who's that with you?" Sid asked, his old eyes squinting towards Charlie without recognising Colt's riding companion.

"Charlie Wyse," Colt paused, "the opposition."

"Charlie Wyse eh, I knew your father, he was a great fast bowler and played football locally. Do you bowl?"

"Yes Mr. Jones but spin." Charlie answered proudly.

"Bloody spin," Sid complained, "where are you two off to? He questioned further.

"The Native caves, I was going to show Charlie the old paintings." Colt answered.

"Mind how you go young fellow that place is haunted and the ground around is full of mine shafts, you could lose a horse down some of those holes." Sid warned and reached for his hoe, all the while complaining that the weeds grew faster than his vegetables no matter how he prepared the soil.

"Have you seen any kids around here of late?" Colt asked as his mount impatiently moved away from the fence line. Colt made it circle to arrive back at the fence.

"Not of late but about two weeks ago there was some town kids down by the river; fishing I expect." Sid volunteered.

"I saw them but a single kid, maybe with a yellow top."

"Nope can't rightly say I have." Sid paused. "How's that Aunt of your's young fellow." Sid's face glowed with fond memory as he spoke.

"You know Mavis, she's much the same."

"Good looking woman that Mavis." Sid commented and continued hoeing, while his thoughts drew back to younger days when, as the old man admitted, he stepped out with Mavis Blake. He even asked her to marry but Mavis wasn't interested in farming and had declined his offer.

The caves were a good hour's ride from Sid's holding and well past the billabongs, where once again Colt rested the horses, while Charlie stood motionless peering into the black depths of the water.

"Want to go for a swim?" Colt suggested wearing a broad grin, nodding towards the murky abyss.

"Not in there, it looks spooky." Charlie turned from the stillness of the pond and sat with Colt on the incline of the sun baked clay bank.

"You know there are stories about the billabongs, especially that one." Colt disclosed, pointing to the closest pool of dark water and the twisted tree roots.

"I reckon they wouldn't be good ones." Charlie gave a light shudder.

"They never are. You remember the Jolly Swagman, drowning in a billabong."

"What in this one?" Charlie gasped.

"No silly that was somewhere in Queensland but this one has its own tale."

"And what would that be." Charlie requested but wasn't sure he wished to know.

"This billabong is called The Drowning Gin."

"Gin's an Aboriginal woman isn't it?" Charlie asked, his attention now fixed on the tale Colt was about to tell.

"It is and some years back, even before Great Grand-daddy Blake founded the farm a young black girl was in love with this joker, who was speared to death on the bank." Colt paused and pointed to a patch of dark soil beside where Charlie was seated, "just there on that flat part beside you."

Charlie flinched and moved away. "Just there, are you serious?" He gasped.

"Na I wouldn't have a clue where it happened but it got you going –anyway, his young woman in sorrow drowned herself in the water of the billabong, that's why the water's black and since then anytime a young man passes or swims in there, she drags him down until he drowns."

"And you want me to swim in there?" Charlie felt a chill flood over him and moved further back from the water.

"Suit yourself." Colt laughed.

"Is that true or are you shitting me?"

Although Charlie had doubt in his friend's story, there was enough of a spark of belief to have him avoid the water. He knew the area was alive with legends, most of which were song lines or ways of explaining why things were. Why the sun shone, why the moon was there and who made the valleys, the trees the mountains but the way Colt narrated the girl in the billabong story was a little too real for Charlie to disregard entirely.

"Don't rightly know but the natives have lots of stories like that, it could be so; anyway lets make tracks or we won't reach the caves before lunch."

A short distance from the billabong Colt found himself riding a little ahead of Charlie. He had lost his thoughts in the whispering of the trees and the sound of magpies warbling to each other at distance. Hearing his name called he turned back towards Charlie.

"What's the problem?" he asked swivelling in his saddle to face his friend.

"Nothing why?"

"You called me."

"Nope, I didn't say a word."

"I heard you, you called my name."

"It wasn't me."

"Someone bloody well did." Colt stood in the stirrups, his eyes everywhere. Looking through gaps in the now sparse covering of trees, to rock formations, grass trees and termite mounds but saw nothing.

"Now you're not only seeing things but hearing things, I think you're spooked by your own stories." Charlie laughed and brought his mount beside that of Colt.

"Yea you're probably right, more than likely it was the wind in the trees but we better get a move on." Colt brought his mount to trot then as it stepped into a gallop he reined in to stand silently some distance ahead of Charlie. Once again he trained his ears into the breeze; nothing. Now even the birds were silent and as he listened the breeze fell from the tree tops.

"Come on hurry up." He called back to Charlie.

As Charlie came to his side, Colt pointed off to his right. "We have to go that way and around the clearing."

"Wouldn't it be quicker through the clearing?" Charlie suggested.

"No way, the clearing is where the mine shafts are and some are covered with old branches and you don't see them until right on top of them." He warned and turned back into the scrub.

"What sort of mines?" Charlie asked.

"Gold but it petered out a good eighty years back, now the vein is to the west of town." Colt explained as they headed back into the scrub.

Colt's Aboriginal caves were among a large cairn of igneous basalt boulders and stood out of a diminutive treeless plain like a pimple on someone's arse. Some of the boulders were larger than a house, others parked vicariously on others and in anyone's belief ready to topple with the slightest breeze. As for the caves, they were in truth no more than an overhang to a ledge half way up the cairn and the art work was on the underside of the ledge.

It was quite a climb to reach the gallery, having to crawl around five meters up through a crack in the cairn, using old tree roots for leverage but could not in any way be considered a dangerous climb and surprising, once on the ledge and being above the tree line, one had a wonderful view back towards the billabong and beyond to the main road. Also the twisting ribbon of the river was clear as it made its way to the west.

"Where's this art of yours?" Charlie asked on reaching the ledge and the over hang.

"Above your head." Colt pointed to the underneath of the rock hanging.

Charlie didn't appear to be impressed. There were fading outlines of hands splattered in red ochre, badly shaped kangaroos but were obviously roos, something like a giant wombat and stick figures chasing other stick figures. Those doing the chasing were certainly men as they had an extra line in charcoal between their legs, while those being chased had melon shaped tits.

"What do you think?" Colt asked somewhat excited by the art.

"Not what I expected." Charlie complained.

"What did you expect, the Tate Gallery?"

"Don't rightly know, how old are they?" Charlie reached towards the art and placed his open hand within the outline of another.

"Experts say most are at least ten or twenty thousand years old, the one you are touching is the oldest. Just think your hand is resting where another human rested his hand probably twenty thousand years ago."

As Colt spoke Charlie quickly removed his hand, as if he had received a static electric shock from the past.

"That's not what I really wanted to show you." Colt admitted as he moved to the far end of the gallery.

"See this one," He asked pointing to a half stick, half cartoon outline of what appeared to be a man wearing a large hat and carrying a stick.

"That one doesn't appear to be old." Charlie commented.

"It's not; well it is around a hundred years." Colt explained.

"What is it about?" Charlie at last appeared interested.

"That my friend was Great-Great Granddaddy Blake and the stick he's carrying is his shot gun and to my family's shame he shot half the blacks in the area." The gun is that old relic hanging over the fire place back home.

"Oh," was all Charlie could answer. All at once the figure on the ceiling seamed real and threatening, also the stick men appeared animated and although much earlier, seemed to come to life and were running in fear of the old man's gun.

"How do you feel about that?" Charlie asked at length.

"Not bloody proud I tell you but there isn't any Aborigines left in the area to hold it against me. "You know this gallery has national protection and not many around these parts know about its location."

"How did you find out about it?" Charlie asked.

"It was my dad who arranged the national interest." Colt turned to Charlie. He continued. "You're privileged so it's up to you not to tell anyone where it is."

As he spoke Colt placed a finger on the outline of his ancestor and moved it from side to side as if attempting to rub it from existence. He withdrew his hand and sighed. "Oh well there's nothing I can do about it, suppose as long as I treat folk right then I've done my bit but the Blake family's treatment of the blacks has sorta haunted me over the years." He paused and commenced to climb back to the plane below. "Come on I've brought a flask of coffee and sandwiches lets have some lunch."

Colt unbuckled the straps on his saddle bag, extracting a plastic box of sandwiches and thermos flask of tea, along with two plastic mugs.

"You came prepared." Charlie commented accepting a mug of white tea, which had been pre-sweetened and to his taste.

Charlie sampled the tea and found it perfect. "It has sugar, you don't usually have sugar." Charlie observed.

"It won't kill me for once. What did you think of the art?" Colt asked while sharing the sandwiches.

"At first I thought it was rubbish but knowing how old it is and when I placed my hand inside the outline of that red hand. I could almost feel the presence of its creator. It was as if he was reaching out to me through time." Charlie gave a shudder, "weird eh?"

"No, that is exactly how I felt the first time and I had done the very same thing."

"So your dad was interested in native art?" Charlie asked.

"That and horses were about the only interest we shared." Colt released an ironic smile and sipped at his tea.

"I think I would have liked to have met your dad." Charlie suggested.

"I think not, you're like me, much too bushy for my parent's life style. Do you like Shakespeare?" Colt asked. He finished his sandwiches and left the remainder for the birds.

"I did Julius Caesar at school but didn't really understand it."

"We did as well; had too many old words and hidden meaning for my liking. My parents loved the stuff and all those old musicals. They almost drove me mad with the crap." Colt paused. "No I don't really think you would have enjoyed meeting them and to be honest Charlie Wyse, they would have placed you in the same category as me and wouldn't have enjoyed your company either. They didn't much like the bush and took off to the city at every possible opportunity, sometimes leaving me home at a very young age to fend for myself."

"You obviously managed." Charlie observed.

"I did quite well and was glad of the solitude but I must admit they felt they could trust me to do so, otherwise I am sure they would have left me with Mavis or someone in town."

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