20 June 1873
Maiden’s Creek, Victoria
‘Out of the way, woman!’
Eliza Penrose jumped back, tripping on the wooden boardwalk as a chestnut horse careered down the road, avoiding bullock carts and pack horses and sending pedestrians jumping for safety. She fell backwards into an undignified heap, gasping for breath as a small crowd began to gather around her. A child laughed.
‘Are you ’urt?’ Amos Burrell, the coachman who had brought her to Maiden’s Creek, crouched next to her, concern written on his broad, friendly face, a beefy hand outstretched to help.
Only her dignity.
‘Don’t you have eyes in your head?’ The rider’s angry voice was tinged with the soft consonants of a Scottish burr.
Her face burning, Eliza allowed Burrell to help her to her feet and managed a shaky thanks to the coachman before turning to the inconsiderate rider, who had brought his horse to a halt and now glared down at her.
‘Look what you’ve done!’ She held out the mud-streaked skirts of her green travelling coat, her anger masking a sudden, irrational urge to burst into tears. She had not come all the way from England to greet her brother in this dishevelled state.
The Scotsman looked her up and down. Even in the saddle he sat straight and tall, his broad shoulders straining beneath a heavy woollen jacket. Brown hair curled beneath his wide-brimmed felt hat. He leaned on the pommel of his saddle and said, ‘And you, madam, shouldn’t have been standing in the middle of the road.’