Good Reading : August 2005
himself wheezing. His hand was wet with blood where he had taken a hold of that grass to pull himself up a steep pinch. Its leathery blade had cut him as clean and private as a knife. In the end he had to tur n back and settle for the plat- for m of flat rock that ran around the base of the ridge like a step. Above him the page of the sky opened out, scrawled with cloud. The cliffs glowed orange in the late sun. Below him the thumb was laid out plain, the river to right and left of it. He could see Sal, made small by distance, bend- ing over the washtub on her makeshift table, and Willie leaning on his pick when he should have been digging another yard of cor n patch. I see you,Willie , Thor nhill said out loud. By God, lad, I see you there. His voice had no resonance in this air. He cleared his throat to cover the puny sound. An enor mous honey-coloured ant ran out of a crack in the rock near his feet and zigzagged over it as if stitch- ing it together, running fast and high on its thready black legs, car rying along the shiny bulb of its body. It was the ant that made him notice that there was a line freshly scratched into the surface of the rock. At first he thought it a flaw for med by some natural action of water or wind. But the line joined another a little further along, and then another. Even when he saw that the lines for med the outline of a fish, his first thought was to admire the way nature could mimic a picture. It was only when he saw the spine on the fish’s back, the exact fan of spikes of a bream, that he had to recognise a human hand at work. He walked the length of the fish, four or five yards. The lines were more than scratches: they had been grooved to a depth and width of an inch, standing out as bright against the grey skin of the rock as if car ved that same mor ning. A bulge in the rock surface made the fish seem to be bend- ing itself against a current, and its long frowning mouth could have been just about to open on its row of teeth. Towards the tail another cluster of straight lines and triangles half-overlapped the fish, a patter n that made no sense until he came around to look at it from the other side. Then he saw it was a picture of the Hope. There was the curve of the bow, the mast, the sail bulging in a good breeze. There was even a line that was the tiller, bending in over the ster n. All that was lacking was William Thor nhill holding that tiller, listening to the creak of the ropes and staring out into the forest on his way up the river. He heard himself exclaim, a high blurt of indignation. It was the same tone he had heard from a gentleman in Fish Street Hill when William War ner had lifted the watch out of his pocket. The sound was swallowed up by the watching forest as if it had never been. With his foot he scraped over the lines, but they were part of the fabric of the rock. He looked around, but no one was there watching him, nothing but the eter nal trees, and the air under them where the light was full of shadows. It came to him that this might look an empty place, but a man who had walked the length of that fish, seen the tiller and sail of the Hope laid down in stone, had to recognise otherwise. This place was no more empty than a parlour in London, from which the master of the house had just stepped into the bedroom. He might not be seen, but he was there. Far below him Sal straightened up from the dish and went over to the rope she had strung up by way of drying- line. He could not see the line itself, only the way the squares of the baby’s napkins danced as she put them up one by one, and then hung still after she went back into the tent. He would tell her about the fish, even bring her up to see it. But not yet. She was content enough in her little round of flattened earth: what was the good of showing her the other world beyond it? The thing about having things unspoken between two people, he was beginning to see, was that when you had set your foot along that path it was easier to go on than to go back. Copyright © Kate Grenville 2005. The Secret River is published by Text Publishing, rrp $45.00 It was not until he had Willie at work on the new corn patch and had cut the twenty saplings, that he calculated were the minimum to start the hut, that he allowed himself to climb the ridge... It would be another way to possess the place, to look down and think everything I see, I own.