The old man slumped into his favourite armchair in the homestead of the sprawling station he had built from nothing and reached for the next mouthful of the inevitable Bundaberg rum. It had been yet another hard, hot, day in the outback. All those cattle – enormous herds of Murray greys – the heat and bull dust had drained him. But the chopper pilots and ringers had done well rounding up far-flung stragglers. ”All is safely gathered in”, he smiled ruefully to himself, remembering instinctively the harvest festival services from long ago and far away. “Another year over, another just begun”, but he could not quite place the words he had heard in a song over the radio several Christmases past. Although still lean after a lifetime of hard toil, he was tired, old and wizened now. The sour woman he had married, remained faithful to, but who had left him childless was long since dead, swallowed by the red soil of the outback whence she came and the little empire he had built had both taken their toll. What was he still working for? What was the point of it all? The sweet rum tasted bitter in his mouth but the soporforic effect inevitably kicked in as it always did.
His mind drifted back….
1954, and the New Elizabethan age had dawned well for Robin – Eighteen years of glorious English manhood. Head prefect, captain of rugby and cricket with the improbably-coloured blazers that accompanied such accolades in those days, a potentially applauded First, but a First nonetheless, in Mods and Greats awaiting at one of the better Oxbridge colleges and thereafter a glittering career leading to the very highest echelons of the Civil Service. Sir Robin Hastings-Smythe, KG, GCMG, RVO. No military honours, mark you, for despite his academic and athletic prowess it had been decreed that Robin would never be allowed to sully his hands with blood and gun oil in the service of his country.
It was the day of the house cricket finals on one of those perfect English country afternoons. After lunch he changed into his whites in a pavilion redolent with the strangely pungent and reminiscent smells of linseed oil, wintergreen and faintly surreptitious nicotine. He was both by dint of hierarchy and skill the opening bat and walked to the crease to the polite, if scattered, applause of the few spectators and parents gathered on the boundary. He looked over and saw Sarah, the only daughter of the Lord Lieutenant of the County, his ‘Sassie’ smiling and clapping under her summer chapeau and floaty summer dress which did little to hide the bright sunlight behind her. A young girl in the first flush of womanhood – an English flower of one of the oldest families in the land.
He did well, as always, knocking out a valiant 56 before falling to a sneaky in-swinger from Thonpson II, star bowler of the opposing team. But on returning to the pavilion he was greeted by the peremptory message, “The Principal will see you in his study. Now!.” Bemused, he showered, changed clothes and presented himself at the Principal’s study as instructed. “I regret to say that there is a problem”, the Principal opened without delay. “It appears the young Sarah is, shall we say, enceinte and I am under some considerable pressure from above. In these circumstances, I feel it would be better if you were to leave School and seek your future elsewhere.” At that moment and in that one sentence Robin’s pre-ordaiined life ended.
The old man sighed again and reached for another Bundaberg.