Valley of the Eagle excerpt

Benjamin Clarke relaxed in the high-backed padded chair in the office of his grand old homestead. He bent his head forward and massaged his neck with both hands, coaxing the muscles to relax. It had been a long day. Ben squared his shoulders and ran his fingers through his thick dark brown hair. The prematurely grey sideburns blended perfectly with the steel grey of his eyes, giving him the appearance of being much older than thirty-two. His looks, his mode of dress and the polished accent might have suited an English aristocrat but his life had changed dramatically.

A satisfied expression spread over the Englishman’s weather-beaten face as he gazed at the cattle cheque he pulled from an envelope. The sale of five hundred prime bullocks at top market prices was indeed a tidy sum. The war had brought prosperity to the cattle industry. The troops needed to be fed.

His thoughts went to his sister Annie. It was Annie’s adversities that provided the catalyst to swing him onto a different path, spurring him onto a road of changing values. Ultimately, through obscure and unforeseen events, these changes had brought him success – if one called wealth success.

He leant forward, picked up the glass of Scotch and swallowed it in one gulp. He sighed deeply, allowing his head to fall back against the plush leather. Piercing eyes beneath his arched brows darted absently around the room.

His eyes played over the original oil portraits; a dark man’s inspirational talent that brought memories tumbling back, memories of a place more beautiful than any other on earth.

The beauty of the art burrowed into his mind as it blazed a trail through his vision, a trail of wonder and enchantment. Ben’s eyes settled on the portrait of the giant wedge-tailed eagle, the enormous wings spanning seven feet or more, with clawed feet ready to land on the branch of a white-barked gum near the entrance to the gorge. Ben shook his head. The whisky must have riddled his senses. The damn eagle was looking straight at him with that piercing, discriminating stare he knew so well. He half expected to hear the ear-splitting, cat-like screech this eagle rendered when making his presence dominant.

He inhaled deeply, his eyes determinately searching the other oils: Moorooba Downs Homestead stirred images of a beautiful dark girl holding a half-caste baby boy to her plump breast. There was a middle-aged woman, a little crazy, old before her time, cradling a pink baby with soft, auburn hair. She was in a rocking chair, singing in a soft, sweet tone until the baby girl fell asleep.

Ben shifted in his comfortable seat as the doorknob turned. A small boy stole a look at him. He feigned sleep; he was too tired but not too tired for a memory that had been haunting him for weeks. Whenever that child appeared, the memory, his look, an expression, returned.

Would he ever escape those eyes that used to shine with an effervescent glow? Would he ever escape that memory? Was he going to do anything about its insistence? A sudden dark anger gripped his soul, tore at him with a maddening rage. What possessed him to come to this damn country, anyhow? What? Suddenly his life was spiralling down that lane of years ago . . . he had been angry then, too.