Where Rainbows End
“I’m not a man, but that won’t stop me. Just you wait and see.”
It’s 1850 and the Noble family have arrived in Australia to start a new life after scandal drove them from their native England. Headstrong Pippa Noble is determined to reclaim their honour by making her father’s plans for a successful stud farm a reality.
Pippa is immediately spellbound by the untamed outback landscape, although she learns the hard way about the unforgiving nature of the bush – sometimes with devastating consequences. When circumstance leads to Pippa tending the new farm alone, it is the steadfast friendship of neighbouring country estate owner Gil Ashford-Smith that helps her through.
Then an unexpected visitor from England arrives, putting Pippa’s dreams in jeopardy. But she refuses to let go. She will hold onto her family’s land and make her mark, even if it means losing everything else …
She whipped around at the urgency in Robson’s voice and blanched at the strain on his face. He skidded to a stop in front of her and pointed to the ridge. ‘Bushfire. From the west. I’ve sent Colin to saddle a horse and ride up to the road to see how far away it is. But we must prepare.’
Pippa’s mouth went dry. ‘Bush … Bushfire?’
Esther hurried back to them, her hand clasped against her chest. ‘Oh, my dear lord. What will we do?’
Robson took off his hat and scratched his head, his expression revealing his concern. ‘We must fill every bucket and wet down the buildings, starting with the grain store. I’ve already got Peter and Barney digging a hole to bury feed and harnesses. The water in the creek is too low to last for long. We’ll need to put valuables in the sawpit and cover it with wet sacking.’
Pippa’s mind went blank. He talked too fast for her to absorb his meaning. ‘Robson, please, what are you saying?’
He took a deep breath and then glanced away sharply as Colin galloped across the valley floor, the hoof beats thundering. ‘Miss, try to understand. If the fire gets into the valley, it’ll wipe out everything in its path. We must bury what we can. Once the fire reaches, if it reaches the valley ridge, we’ll all have to escape from the other side, and there’s no track there, so we can’t take the wagon. I’ll get the horses saddled. The ladies must pack only lightly.’
‘Escape?’ Esther swayed just as Hilary and Davy joined them.
Running his hands through his hair, Robson’s eyes implored Pippa to take action.
But she couldn’t move or think clearly. Bushfire. Escape. ‘It … it may not even come this way, Robson.’
‘I hope to God it doesn’t, miss.’
She swallowed, but her throat was suddenly dry. ‘But you think it will?’
He looked up at the large gum trees, their top branches swaying in the warm breeze. ‘If the wind doesn’t change, the fire will sweep over that ridge and head straight for us.’
‘But it’s not summer yet. You said bushfires came in January or February.’
‘Miss, we’ve had very little rain, and dead grass will burn whether it be the middle of winter or summer. We were spared fires last year, but all it takes is one spark to set the bush alight, and this wind will not help us.’ He shifted from foot to foot. ‘Please, miss, we cannot waste time talking. We must prepare—’
‘What of the horses? The mares are due to foal within weeks, they mustn’t be scared into bolting.’
‘I’ll get Peter to take them to the far side of the valley. If the fire breaks the ridge, he’ll take them out and head towards Mittagong.’ He gave another nervous glance at the widening plume of smoke on the horizon. ‘Please, Miss Noble, we need to act now.’
‘Yes, go. Do what must be done.’ Pippa waved him away and turned to her family. On seeing their scared and worried expressions, she hid her fear and straightened her shoulders. ‘Come, we must do as Robson says. Pack lightly or bury what you cannot carry. Quickly, now!’
As the others turned and ran back to the house, her mother stepped forward and gripped Pippa’s arm. ‘This valley, the stud, is all we have, Pippa.’
‘Yes, Mother.’ Distracted, Pippa nodded, looking beyond her towards the scurrying men.
Esther’s hand clenched Pippa’s arm like a vice. ‘No, listen to me!’
Pippa stared at her, shocked.
‘You must not let all that we have slip from our grasp. Not now we are finally finding our way out of the depths of despair. I’d not survive another disappointment.’
‘I promise I won’t let that happen.’
Her mother’s gaze remained fixed on hers. ‘If we lose the stud, that will be the end of us. The Nobles will be finished forever.’
‘I know. I’ll do everything I can to prevent it. Trust me.’ She kissed her mother’s cheek and gently pushed her in towards the house. ‘Go help pack. Take only the most important things and hurry!’
Robson, bless him, sprang into action. He ran about issuing orders that everyone instantly obeyed; even her mother showed extreme courage and did as she was told without complaint.
Pippa knew all kinds of fear. The fear of being turned out of their house when her father squandered their money, the fear of being unloved and rejected by Grant, the fear of being in the middle of a vast ocean on an insignificant ship. Yet nothing eclipsed the fear she was experiencing now.
The terror seemed tangible, as though she could taste it, reach out and touch it. She wasn’t one to panic and hated being vulnerable, but as the wind carried the smell of smoke and the sound of crackling wood, her throat closed up through pure dread.
Astounded by the enormity of losing everything she’d worked for and dreamed of, Pippa stood trance-like, unable to move or think. The noise and confusion around her dimmed.
‘Pip.’ Davy tugged at her skirts, his face pale.
For a long moment she stared at him. She didn’t realise she was frightening him until his bottom lip quivered.
‘Will we die, Pip?’
Wrenched out of her daze, she blinked as his words sank in. ‘No … No, darling.’ His hand inched into hers and she squeezed it tight. ‘We’ll be fine. I’ll take care of you.’
A shout made her jump. Colin rode like the devil towards them, waving his hat in the air. Everyone stilled and then quickly joined Pippa and Davy near the creek as Colin pulled up his horse to a skittering halt before them.
‘Well?’ Robson demanded, his body tense as he ran towards them.
Colin winced as he swallowed, his lips dry and face coated with dust. ‘It’s heading this way about four or five miles from here, maybe a mile more, but that’s all.’ He sagged in the saddle. ‘It’s coming from the direction of the Merediths’ property.’
Time froze for a second and then everyone started talking at once.
Millie stared in horror at Pippa. ‘Oh, no. Amelia and the baby, and Douglas.’
‘They might be safe. Don’t worry.’ Pippa patted her arm and then looked to Robson for direction.
‘It’s closer than I thought.’ He frowned, rubbing his fingertips across his forehead. ‘Right, we’ve got to leave the valley now. Colin, bring the work horses here for the ladies to ride.’
‘Can we not fight the fire, Robson?’ Pippa felt her heart would explode from the pain of losing it all. ‘I mean, we’ve got water at our feet. Can we not—’
‘Miss, a few buckets of water will not stand up to a bushfire. You’ve never seen one before. It’s a wild beast feasting and growing in front of your very eyes. There’s no stopping it.’
Her frustration burst into anger. ‘I will not lose this place! I will stay and fight.’
‘Don’t be silly, Pippa,’ Millie scoffed, returning to her side with a large canvas bag bulging with clothes. She took Davy’s hand. ‘We’ll do as Robson says. We must get out of harm’s way. Nothing is worth putting yourself in danger.’
A rifle shot echoed across the valley, sending birds screeching from the trees.
Pippa wheeled around to stare at their entrance into the valley, but no vehicle or horseman came dashing out of the trees at the base.
Robson scanned the slopes, shading his eyes with his hand as the sun burnt down relentlessly. ‘Someone needs help. It’s a signal.’
A shiver of trepidation ran down Pippa’s back. ‘Father,’ she whispered.
‘No!’ Esther jerked. ‘He’s in Berrima.’
Hilary, eyes wide, stepped closer to her mother. ‘But what if he had started to journey home?’