Beyond the Horizon by Peter Watt – Extract

Beyond the Horizon

 Prologue

Central West Queensland

early April 1918

The devils danced in the shimmering haze above the stunted brigalow scrub. Wallarie was transfixed with horror, watching the shifting shapes rippling like water.

The old Aboriginal warrior raised his long, hardwood spear, although he knew full well that a spear was no defence against these demon spirits and their macabre corroboree. Wallarie must not approach these devils, whose twisted mouths spoke to him of approaching death. This death was so terrible that it would strike even the young and fit of all peoples, black and white, drowning them from inside, choking off the very air they breathed and carrying them off to a painful but quick death. It would come to the land that Sir Donald Macintosh had given the name of Glen View all those years before, when Wallarie’s clan had lived in harmony with the gentle spirits of the bush. Before his people had been slaughtered by the Native Mounted Police and Sir Donald’s shepherds.

‘Go now,’ the ghostly voices told him. ‘Go now and do not return until death has swept these lands.’

The demons melted into the haze of the afternoon and Wallarie lowered his spear. It was time to heed the warn­ing and travel beyond the horizon, far from his traditional lands. One day he would return to sit under the bumbil tree in front of the Glen View station house, to smoke his bat­tered clay pipe and wait patiently for Tom Duffy, the last of his blood, to return to him from the other side of the world. Young Tom was the grandson of the infamous bushranger of the same name who once roamed the wild places beyond the colonial frontier of Queensland. The bushranger, who had been felled by a Native Mounted Policeman’s rifle, had married a Darambal woman, Mondo, and their children carried Darambal blood into the next generation.

Wallarie was not so sure that Tom Duffy would return, because the ancestor spirits sometimes liked to joke with those still living, and nothing was certain except that he would one day join the ancestor spirits in the night sky.

First, though, he would make a short journey to Glen View homestead to visit the woman and child there, exiled from their home far to the south. There he would gaze on the face of the boy who was inextricably linked to the future of his blood.

Afterwards, Wallarie would leave his place to wander the desolate lands, meeting others of different clans who had also been dispossessed by the white man’s cattle and guns. They would sit around the fire and talk of the times past. Wallarie, a warrior of many skirmishes against the white man, would be feared and respected by those strangers for his prowess and magical powers. They would be polite, but he knew they would be pleased to see him pass from their camp. His path was a lonely one, but that was the way of the warrior.

Wallarie scratched his scarred chest and set out for Glen View homestead.

 The Western Front

March 1918

With his back to the newly dug trench, Sergeant Tom Duffy slid the oiled metal bolt of his Lee Enfield back into place and locked it down. The young man was in his early twenties, but years of fighting in the trenches of France and Belgium had taken their toll. His dark hair was streaked with grey and his deep brown eyes aged by the horrors he had seen. His dark skin was covered in red rashes from lice bites and he stank, just like his comrades.

‘Sarge,’ said one of the new reinforcements to his platoon.

The reinforcements had come just as the Germans had launched a massive attack across the Western Front, causing both the French and British armies to reel back in confu­sion. It seemed possible that the Germans might win the war after all, as the German army had changed its tactics, using small groups of highly trained shock troops to rush sections of the front line with submachine-guns, flame­throwers and a good supply of grenades. Tom knew that the aim of the shock troops was to break into the Allied rear echelon where they could disrupt logistics and artil­lery support. In his desperation General Haig had deployed Aussie and Kiwi troops south to take up defensive positions against the seemingly unstoppable onslaught. The Germans had advanced so deep into the Allied rear that they had been able to bring up artillery to shell Paris itself, and it was only a matter of time before the Imperial German Army would be in France’s capital city, beating the newly arrived American army still being deployed alongside their war-weary Allies.

‘What is it . . . Private Dean?’ Tom asked, eyeing the new man and pleased that he had been able to remember his name.

‘Where are we?’ the soldier asked.

Tom had already scanned the red-brown rolling fields from the gentle rise on which they had dug their trenches and he could see the tower of a church and several elegant chateaux. He had also seen a textile factory and cross-referenced these landmarks with the map in his possession.

‘The town over there is Villers-Bretonneux,’ he told Private Dean. ‘But you don’t have to worry about where we are – just make sure your rifle is in good working order and your bayonet hasn’t rusted.’

Tom watched the young soldier amble back to his section and take a cigarette from Corporal Smithers. Tom knew that the corporal hated him because he had been promoted to platoon sergeant ahead of him. But Smithers had never demonstrated any leadership ability; his promotions thus far had come through attrition in the units he’d served with.

Tom turned away. There would always be bad apples in the army, and he would always cop criticism from some people for being a blackfella. That was the way of the world, war or no war.

‘Bloody blackfella,’ Corporal Smithers grumbled to no one in particular. ‘Wouldn’t know his way around a white man’s world. Not bloody right that the CO should promote him over a whitefella.’ Smithers was a burly, powerfully built man who stood over six feet tall. He had a flat face with small piggish eyes that never smiled. He was a well-known bully who had grown up in the slums of Sydney, where it was rumoured he had been a hard man in the criminal world. It was also rumoured that the only reason he had enlisted was to get away from the law closing in on him for the murder of a prostitute in Sydney’s Rocks area. Those in his section feared him with good reason.

‘Shut yer bloody trap,’ Corporal Dan Frogan snapped. ‘Tom Duffy has sent more Huns to hell than the whole bloody battalion put together.’

Corporal Dan Frogan glared at the new recruits strung along the trench. ‘Sergeant Duffy was once recommended for a Victoria Cross but the system stuffed it up. If you want to get out of this war alive you’d be well advised to follow Sergeant Duffy without question. He might be a blackfella, but around here the colour of a man’s skin don’t mean a thing – all that matters is he knows what he is doing when the whiz-bangs are overhead and the enemy is staring down your throat.’

Corporal Dan Frogan fell into silence then and the men looked away uncomfortably. Dan glanced up the trench to where Tom sat alone. He could see his old friend gazing down at the battered photograph he always carried in his breast pocket. Dan loved Tom Duffy like a brother; they had relied on each other to stay alive through many bloody battles.

Dan knew that the photograph was of a young French girl Tom had met a year earlier. Dan had met her when he had been on leave with Tom and had been struck by the girl’s beautiful face and soul. Her name was Juliet Joubert and she had short dark hair, big brown eyes and a cheru­bic face that reminded Dan of the pictures he had seen of pretty young girls on chocolate boxes. Tom had told Dan that when the war was over he would marry Juliet, who was a schoolteacher in her village far behind the front lines.

Tom looked up and noticed Dan staring at him. He gave Dan the briefest of smiles, then tucked the photograph back into his pocket. Dan nodded and returned his attention to his section. Sergeant Tom Duffy was one of the best soldiers in the Australian army and it was just lousy luck that he was considered a half-caste, otherwise he would have been made an officer by now. Dan knew how proud Tom was of his Darambal heritage. There was only one full-blooded mem­ber of this central-west clan – an old man by the name of Wallarie – and he and Tom shared a special empathy which Dan could never quite understand. Tom had been spawned by two cultures and was spurned by both, yet he had a deep spiritual connection with the Darambal that was difficult to explain to a whitefella.

Dan hoped to God that he and Tom survived this war and that his friend could marry the girl he loved; perhaps then he would find an acceptance he hadn’t found anywhere else in his young life.

The sound drifted in the early morning mist. It was a sound Tom Duffy knew so well, yet it still made his stomach churn.

‘What’s that?’ he heard Private Dean ask in a frightened voice.

‘Where’s Mr Sullivan?’ Tom asked Dan Frogan, who had made his way up the trench to him.

‘He should be back by now,’ Dan answered, reaching for his bayonet in its scabbard. ‘He was at an orders group with the CO.’

‘Then it’s you and me, Dan,’ Tom said.

‘What’s that noise?’ Private Dean asked again, and Tom felt annoyed. It was obvious what the sound was. It was death coming for them in the crackle of small-arms fire and the crump of hand grenades.

‘Fix bayonets!’ Tom bellowed and his order was fol­lowed by the scraping sound of long, sharp knives being dragged from scabbards, followed by the click of bayonets being fixed to the end of rifle barrels.

The spear point of the whole German army was coming, and all that stood between their victory was a handful of Australian and New Zealand soldiers. Should the Germans break through, the war would be over.

‘Here they come!’ someone yelled, and Tom stood to take his place on the parapet. Through the mist he could see the German shock troopers in their grey uniforms, dashing in small groups from cover to cover. Tom aimed at a soldier carrying a flamethrower on his back.

‘Fire!’ he roared as he pulled the trigger. He watched as the German with the flamethrower collapsed. He heard a Lewis gun to his right open up on the advancing enemy. All Tom could do now was pray that Wallarie’s magic was still with him; pray, and kill as many Germans as possible. The next few minutes could decide the outcome of the war on the Western Front.

 Part one

1918 Death and Destruction

The elegant sandstone building bedecked with climbing ivy was one of the finest houses overlooking the beau­tiful harbour of Sydney. Time and technology had changed it only slightly. Where horse stables once stood, there were now garages for cars; but the sweeping gravel driveway still saw the arrival and departure of the city’s most notable resi­dents, all come to visit George Macintosh, heir to the vast financial empire of his forefathers.

George Macintosh was well known as a philanthropist, and it was rumoured that he would eventually be knighted by the king for his services to Australia’s war effort. Such was his public persona; those close to him saw beyond the veneer of respectability and knew him to be a man with ruthless ambition and little empathy for the suffering of others. Those who knew him even more intimately dared not openly speak of their suspicion that George had had a hand in the murder of his own sister in his efforts to gain sole ownership of the many and varied lucrative Macintosh companies.

It was midmorning and George sat in his library perusing the daily paper and reading the grim war news. Not so grim for him, of course. If Germany won the war he had much to celebrate, as his secret investment in their chemical industries would prove very profitable and he would be viewed by the Kaiser’s Germany as a good friend. He could at least thank the war for taking the lives of his stupidly patriotic father, Patrick, and his brother, Alexander, thus eliminating them from any control of the Macintosh empire.

George flipped through the paper to an article about how the infamous fighter pilot, Manfred von Richthofen, aka the Red Baron, had been shot from the skies over Aus­tralian lines. A Canadian fighter pilot claimed the victory but so too did Australian machine-gunners firing from the ground. Who really cared? George sneered, flipping the paper closed and reaching for a cigar.

He snipped the end and lit the cigar in a cloud of blue smoke. There had been a time when George had looked down on smoking and drinking, but that had changed in the last couple of years. Perhaps he indulged in both vices because his wife, Louise, did not approve of such practices, and he took pleasure in spiting her. Their relationship might appear sound from the outside, but within the confines of their home it was a different matter. Louise had had an affair with Sean Duffy, the former war hero and Sydney solicitor, and while George would never forgive her this, he certainly wasn’t going to allow her to undermine the respectability their marriage brought him. He had threatened to keep their toddler son, Donald, from her, and Louise had very sensibly decided to end the affair and remain by George’s side.

There was a timid knock on the door of the library.

‘Come in,’ George called and the door opened to frame his young housemaid. ‘Mr Dwyer is here, Mr Macintosh,’ she announced and slipped quickly away.

‘Come in, old chap,’ George said, not bothering to rise from his comfortable leather chair to welcome his solici­tor. After all, the man worked for him and was paid well. George had arranged the meeting at home so as to ensure absolute privacy.

Mr Dwyer entered the library, clutching a leather brief­case with apparent nervousness.

‘Take a seat,’ George said. ‘Would you like a drink?’

‘No thank you, Mr Macintosh,’ Dwyer answered carefully.

George got up and poured himself a tot of Scotch, then sat down behind his desk. ‘What news of my father’s will?’

Dwyer flipped open his briefcase and spread legal papers out in front of George. ‘The will has been authenticated,’ Dwyer sighed. ‘It seems he must have had a portent of his own death and rewritten his will before his untimely demise. It appears that the first will has been superseded by the one that Major Sean Duffy produced, naming him as sole executor.’

George swallowed the tot in one gulp, placed the empty tumbler on the desk and stared intently at his solicitor. ‘So where do I stand?’ he asked in a cold voice. The fact that the probate matters were in the hands of Louise’s former lover made the alcohol sour in his guts.

‘You are to share the control of the companies with your brother Alexander’s son,’ Dwyer answered after clearing his throat. ‘It appears that Brigadier Duffy stipu­lated that your sister-in-law, David’s mother, is to manage his interests until he turns twenty-one and assumes shared control himself. In the event that she is unable to manage her son’s affairs, the brigadier has nominated his solicitor, Sean Duffy, to do so.’

George could not sit still: he rose from his chair and walked over to the large window overlooking the drive­way and gardens. He stared out onto one of the flowerbeds, where an old man was hunched over pulling out weeds. His brother’s son was like a weed in his perfect garden, George mused angrily. If only he could dispose of him as easily as the old man was disposing of the garden weeds. And what was to stop him? After all, he had reached halfway across the world to have his sister, Fenella, murdered.

‘Where does that leave my son?’ George asked without turning around.

‘Er, um, Donald assumes his control of an equal third when he turns twenty-one,’ Dwyer answered and shifted uncomfortably in his chair. ‘On your demise, the family companies come under the dual control of your son and that of your late brother. However, you are a man of good health, Mr Macintosh, and I am sure you will be at the helm, guiding your son and nephew, for a long, long time to come.’

George turned, his hands clasped behind his back. ‘Thank you for your briefing, Mr Dwyer,’ he said in a flat voice.

‘If that is all, Mr Macintosh, I will pay my respects and return to the office,’ Dwyer said, placing the papers back in his briefcase and rising from his chair. ‘Before I depart, I should alert you to a matter that will arise at the next direc­tors’ meeting.’

‘What matter is that?’ George asked sharply.

‘It appears the auditors are puzzled by a large amount of money that was transferred to a Swedish bank account last year without authorisation from the board. They are nervous as the bank has a reputation for dealing with the Germans and fear that if such a transfer were to leak to the newspapers it would raise embarrassing questions. I’m sure there is a simple explanation but I thought I should warn you that the matter has been added to the agenda.’

For a brief moment George experienced a chill of fear. The money had been used to purchase shares in Germany’s chemical industry, which in turn had produced some of the horrific gas weapons being used against the Allies. Many Australian soldiers had died or been crippled by those gases on the Western Front. It would look bad, George knew that, but he was a businessman and such morality had no place in the making of money. After all, were not some of America’s biggest industries doing the same thing?

‘Thank you for the warning, Mr Dwyer,’ George said calmly. ‘Your information confirms you in my eyes as the best legal representative in this town.’

Dwyer nodded once and then left.

George slumped into his leather chair and stared at the wall. In the hallway the old grandfather clock chimed eleven. That damned will and testament had turned up in the mail weeks earlier, after a tortuous voyage from the battlefields of France. It had arrived long after news of his father’s death. His gaze fell on a barbed spear adorning the wall and for some reason he recalled that there was a story in the family of an ancient curse brought down on the Mac­intosh name after a horrific slaughter of Aboriginals living on land now known as Glen View Station. But that had been over fifty years ago and George knew it was nothing but a silly story handed down by his superstitious great-grandmother, Lady Enid Macintosh.

George poured himself another Scotch. After lunch he had a meeting in town with the police inspector, Jack Firth. Firth was well known and feared by the city’s crimi­nal underworld for his ruthless disregard for the rules of evidence; he preferred to manufacture his own evidence to ensure successful prosecution. But he was a popular figure in the press for his apparent clean-up of the streets of petty criminals. He was a colourful character, built like a brick wall, and even in his early forties he was a man who could handle his fists in any street brawl.

George was slightly concerned that his key ally in the military intelligence world had been abruptly returned to his previous duties in criminal policing. This was a move that had pleased Detective Inspector Firth as he had never considered gathering intelligence about the German and Austrian residents of New South Wales as anything but a pointless diversion. Jack Firth was happiest hunting real criminals in the seedy back streets of Sydney, but his unex­pected transfer niggled at George as it seemed to smack of distrust. Had the intelligence agencies smelled a conspiracy between him and the police officer?

There was one advantage to having the policeman back on his old beat and that was George was once again able to collect useful information about his business com­petitors – which of them kept mistresses, which visited prostitutes on Saturday night and then attended church services on Sunday as respectable members of the commu­nity. George wanted to know all the seamy details – after all, you never knew when that kind of information would come in very handy indeed. Today George would ask Firth to investigate Major Sean Duffy; the man must have a few secrets in his past worth knowing about.

*

Sean Duffy had never liked being referred to as ‘Major’. He was a solicitor, and the choice of profession had been opportune for a man who had lost both legs fighting on the Western Front. But the people he worked with were proud that they had a genuine war hero in their ranks and wouldn’t let him be plain Mr Duffy. He tried to take it in the spirit which it was meant – and he was grateful they were prepared to overlook his occasional bout with the bottle. Several times he had faced up in court bleary-eyed and hungover, leaning on his walking stick even more than usual. He still managed to deliver sharp and incisive defence rebukes to the prosecution arguments.

Sean was still a young man with a lot of life ahead of him, but when sleep came to him at nights he would relive the hell of trench warfare, crying out, his body covered in sweat and jerking as if he had been electrocuted. It was perhaps fortunate that Sean slept alone in his flat in the city. The last person to share his bed had been the wife of another man – George Macintosh – but Louise had broken off their affair for the sake of her seeing her son and Sean had retreated to his work and the relative peace that came with too much alcohol.

It was early afternoon now and many workers were returning from lunch to open shops for the day’s trading. It was a pleasant autumn day and smoke lay as a haze over the city from the tanneries and other factories along the harbour shore.

Sitting in a chair beside the window in Sean’s office was Harry Griffiths. Harry had lost an eye in the trenches. He had been a Sydney policeman before the war and the sti­pend he received from Sean for gathering information kept his small family off the streets. Harry was a big, tough man in his mid-thirties and he was fiercely loyal to Sean, who had saved him from a life of petty crime and destitution.

‘Well, Harry, what have we got on the Morgan case?’ Sean asked and Harry took a small, crumpled notebook from his jacket pocket.

‘The shopkeeper couldn’t have seen Morgan in the street that night,’ he said. ‘The streetlights were out.’

Sean smiled. ‘Good, there goes the positive identifica­tion of Morgan as the one who broke into his shop.’

‘Morgan is a good bloke, boss,’ Harry said. ‘He was one of us at Fromelles.’

Sean had developed a reputation for defending former servicemen who had returned to a world indifferent to their suffering. Many carried the unseen wounds of war in their heads and turned to alcohol for relief. Some had slipped into petty crime to pay for the drink that kept them sane. These were shadow people, disregarded by those who had done well out of the war.

‘Any decorations?’ Sean asked.

‘He got an MID for Fromelles,’ Harry said, referring to his notes. ‘He was a battalion runner.’

Sean knew from personal experience how dangerous it was to be a runner in the trenches; they were often exposed to rifle and shell fire getting vital messages between headquarters and the front lines. A Mentioned in Dispatches was not a high award but it would show the magistrate that Sean’s client had proved himself serving his country.

‘Good. We can use that,’ Sean said.

‘There is one other thing, boss,’ Harry said with a frown. ‘Word on the streets is that Firth has returned.’

‘Is that going to be a worry for us?’ Sean asked.

Harry’s frown deepened. ‘We both know that he works for George Macintosh. There’s history between you and Macintosh and I reckon he’s out to get you.’

Harry was too polite to mention Sean’s brief affair with Macintosh’s wife, although they both knew that was the ‘history’ he referred to.

‘I think you need to be very careful,’ Harry said, lean­ing forward slightly to push home his point. ‘I can get you a pistol.’

‘That won’t be necessary, Harry,’ Sean said with a smile. ‘I have my cane.’ It doubled as a weapon, with a deadly spring-loaded blade inside the stick.

Harry didn’t look reassured. ‘I still think you should carry a pistol. I can get one of those small .38s from an old mate who imports them from the Yanks.’

‘I’m right, thanks, Harry,’ Sean said. ‘Besides, I have you around to watch my back.’

Harry’s frown turned into a beaming smile at this acknowledgement. ‘If there’s nothing more, I’ll see what else I can get in the Morgan case.’

‘I’ll inform Mr Morgan that he owes you a beer for all your effort in his defence.’

‘I swore to the missus that alcohol would never pass my lips again,’ Harry responded sheepishly. ‘It has improved the situation with the family.’

Sean rose awkwardly, grasping the cane tightly, and held out his hand to Harry. ‘Good to hear. I’ll tell him he owes you a bonus, then.’

‘Thanks, boss,’ Harry said, matching the steely grip. ‘I’ll get back to you before the case is heard if I get anything else.’

‘Good man,’ Sean said, and watched as Harry Griffiths left his office. He had only been gone for a moment when young Michael Hopkins put his head around the door.

‘Mail for you, Major Duffy,’ he said, walking into the office and placing an envelope on Sean’s desk. Sean could see that the young man was bursting to tell him something.

‘You look like the cat that got the cream, young Hop­kins,’ Sean said.

‘I’ve been accepted, Major Duffy,’ the young man burst out excitedly. ‘I start my training next week.’

‘The solicitors’ admission board?’ Sean replied in a puzzled tone. ‘I thought you had a year left to go on your articles.’

‘No, Major Duffy, I’ve been accepted for the army. I’m going to get a chance to do my bit like you did.’

‘How old are you?’ Sean asked sternly.

‘Eighteen, sir,’ Hopkins replied, and he looked as though he was starting to regret sharing his wonderful news of enlistment.

‘If I remember rightly, Master Hopkins,’ Sean said, ‘you are only seventeen.’

‘Sir,’ he pleaded. ‘I need to do my bit for the country. I know I lied about my age but I think you would have done the same thing in my place.’

Sean stared at the young clerk; he was little more than a boy, really. He knew him as a bright, hard-working young man with an assured future in law. But what he saw stand­ing before him was a bloody, bleeding soldier screaming for his mother as the red-hot shrapnel tore away his flesh. Sean swayed unsteadily in his chair, gripping the edge of his desk.

‘Are you ill, sir?’ Hopkins asked but Sean shook his head. He had the power to derail the enlistment, but he could see the age-old eagerness in him to prove himself on the battlefield. Sean knew that would disappear pretty quickly when the first shells and bullets tore into those around him, and possibly into the clerk himself. Young Hopkins would see the futility of it all then. He would realise there was no glory – just the ever-present fear of being maimed or dying.

‘I should report you to the recruiters,’ Sean said in a tired voice. ‘But knowing your eagerness to get yourself shot, you would probably run off to enlist elsewhere.’

Sean glanced down at the letter on his desk. It was from Captain Matthew Duffy, his distant cousin, serving with the Australian Flying Corp in Palestine. Hadn’t Matthew enlisted well underage for the Boer conflict, and been bap­tised in war at the bloody and vicious siege of Elands River almost twenty years earlier?

‘Master Hopkins, when you get to the front, make sure that you listen to your platoon sergeant and do everything he says if you want to come home in one piece,’ Sean said eventually. ‘I will raise a toast to your safe return.’

The young man slumped with relief. ‘Major Duffy, I don’t know how to thank you.’

‘Just keep your bloody head down and come home in one piece,’ Sean said.

‘Thank you, sir,’ Hopkins said. ‘I’ll make you all proud of me.’

Sean was not a religious man but he prayed to any god who would listen to keep young Hopkins from being killed.

Excerpted from Beyond the Horizon by Peter Watt. Copyright © 2012 by Peter Watt.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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