They were together in the brown grass, Matt and the girl, in a slight hollow, a depression in the crest of the hill. They lay looking up into the deep, intense blue of the midsummer sky, on their backs in the softness of the sun-dried grass.
Matt rolled over sideways and looked at the girl. He was tall and brown, strotched out in the dry grass like a sleepy tiger in the sun. He pulled a couple of sharp bidi-bidis off his white shirt.
"Susan ?" he said softly.
"You're ready to come away now ?"
"Oh yes," she whispered. Her eyes were very blue as she smiled across at him; and her long hair was the colour of wind-touched grass in a wheat-field, a shining, ever-changing golden brown.
"You're quite sure you want to do this ?" He looked at her anxiously. "It's your final decision."
The girl closed her eyes. In the brilliant sunlight she was very beautiful, lying close beside him. "I made up my mind a long time ago," she said. "All I want is to marry you."
She glanced mischievously at his worried face. "That's if you still love me enough," she said, teasing.
Matt swallowed hastily, taken aback. "Of course I love you, more than I could ever describe." His troubled expression disappeared as she smiled again at him.
"What about your brother ?" he asked. "Does he know you're going?"
"Steve's only a half-brother," she retorted. "He doesn't know about us ---- yet."
The wavering song of a skylark filled the hot air, drowning out one by one the other summer noises; by half-closing his eyes against the blinding sun Matt could just see it, a tiny speck, a black cross against the dark sky, tumbling high above the fields. He reached over and touched the girl's outstretched arm, pointed up.
"I only want you to be happy," he smiled, "just like the bird."page 44
Further along in the clear sky a brown hawk circled over the hillside, gliding slowly on wide, ragged wings, methodically searching the ground. A flight of small birds fled low over the grass down into the valley.
"I've got everything I need here." She kicked a small suitcase, sliding it towards him in the grass. "When do we go?"
"Soon. But it's so nice here." He spoke softly: it was very quiet on the top of the hill, even the song of the lark was sometimes muted, borne upwards on the rising heat-wave so that it barely reached the ground.
A quick shadow slid across them, as the brown hawk crossed under the sun.
The girl suddenly giggled, helplessly. "Oh," she squealed, laughing, "I can't help it. I can just see Steve's face when he reads my note." She dissolved again.
"You gave him a note?" Matt asked sharply. "Then ...."
"No, I didn't give it to him. I left it on the kitchen table, he won't see it for hours yet, not till he gets in from going around the sheep." She giggled again. "Ooh --- won't he be mad; he'll be simply furious."
She wriggled her feet in the grass, arching herself up on her shoulders until the curves of her body began to press out against her thin cotton dress. She saw him watching and collapsed back into the grass with an indignant noise.
"You're quite sure he won't find it till then; we need a bit of time to get away."
"We don't really need to get away," she said, "He isn't my brother, and I'm twenty-one now; he can't stop me. But he would be awfully mad if he caught us." She made a wry face, as if imagining the consequences.
"Anyway, he said he was going across the river this afternoon; he took Chin --- that's his sheep-dog --- with him, so he'll be going right around the big paddocks."
She was silent for a moment, frowning. Then she rolled away from him in the grass.
"Oh, he's awful!" she suddenly burst out. "I hate him --- I'm glad I'm going away." She kicked her heel viciously into the ground.
She pushed Matt away. "It's alright for you, you didn't know him. He was awful. All those years I had to stay with him, doing the housework, cooking, washing his dirty socks and ...."page 45
"You'll have to do the same for me soon," he reminded her.
"Oh yes, but you're different," she said happily, relaxing a little.
She stiffened again. "About the only thing he ...."
"Shh." Matt put his fingers across her lips. "You must try to forget about him now."
She gave a deep sigh and snuggled against him.
The brown hawk went on slowly searching, seemingly tireless in its silent circling, drifting away gradually in the slight wind coming over the rise in the hill, passing down to the lower slopes.
Susan disentangled herself. "Where are we going for the honeymoon?"
"I don't know," Matt murmured sleepily, "Wherever you like."
"As long as it is far away from here it will be wonderful."
They looked down into the valley, down across the dry grass to the little farmhouse below, distorted and bright in the shimmering heat-wave, with its clutter of fences and sheds and kennels; over the wide, grey, shingle bed of the river, to the green of the low-lying river-flat paddocks, the green flecked with white, the dots of scattered sheep.
"Is that where Steve is --- over there ?" Matt asked, pointing.
She did not answer for a while. "Y-es," she said hesitantly. "But he doesn't seem to be there now."
"How can you tell ? It's so far away --- you'd hardly be able to see a man at that distance." His eyes watered from looking into the glare and he turned away.
"If he was there the sheep would all be moving, but now they're not, they seem to be just grazing."
Matt saw her anxiously biting her lip. "Perhaps he has gone right over to the other side," he suggested.
"No, our boundary fence is on the top of the ridge up there." She squirmed a little in the grass beside him. "I'm worried --- I think we should go."
He said nothing. She tugged at his sleeve, "But Matt, Steve could be anywhere, please let's go now."page 46
"Quite ..." he whispered. She saw then what he was watching. Coming towards them along the crest of the hill, in the narrow track pressed into the grass by some previouse animal, was a small grey rabbit, hopping slowly; little Purple and blue moths flew out from under its paws. They lay very still.
When it was close Matt lunged out suddenly, he grabbed one of its hind legs as it turned to run, then he closed his other big hand around it, trapping it. As he rolled over and showed it triumphantly to the girl it kicked strongly for a second and then was still. Susan took it from him and pressed it against her.
"Poor little thing," she said softly, stroking the ruffled fur. "Sometimes they die from shock when you pick them up suddenly like that, but this one seems alright." She held it up and rubbed its soft warmth against her neck.
"The shadow of that old hawk must have frightened him," she passed the rabbit carefully back to Matt. "They do that, wait for an animal on the ground to move, and then pounce on it. I expect this time it was a bit close to us for the hawk to come down." She rolled on to her back and squinted up into the bright sky.
Just then they heard the sharp bark of a dog, below them on the hill. The rabbit started violently and struggled in Matt's hands.
"That's what frightened him," he said.
She stared at him, unhearing, her face pale. "That was Chin," she whispered, "I know hie bark anywhere." Her voice was husky and afraid. "That means Steve must be coming too. He can't have seen us --- he just can't!"
Matt listened to the sound of the dog, behind it he could hear the cursing, irritable voice of a man, shouting at the animal to be quiet.
"They're just around that spur of the hill, it sounds like," he said. "Can we reach my car from here without being seen?"
"No, he could see the road from where he is, we'll just have to stay here and wait till he goes." She slid back into the deep grass, motioning for Matt to do the same.
"He's probably only going around to the pumping shed, it's along further, down near the river. He won't be coming up here."page 47
Matt raised his head and looked down across the dry, yellow grass. He saw a man dressed in dirty overslls and a torn shirt come into sight, kicking viciously at a black-and-whitedog as it tried to get in front of him. They were at the bottom of the hill, and would pass a good two hundred yards below where he lay.
"Quick, get your head down," the girl behind him hissed. He crawled back beside her.
"We'll be alright, they haven't seen us."
They lay very still in the thick grass, listening for any further sound. The sheep-dog was quiet now. The wind rustled faintly down the hillside, touching the grass seed-heads together, whispering; the lark's song was audible again in the stillness. Matt could hear the slow, even breathing of the girl beside him.
She touched his arm. "Whatever you do don't let the rabbit go, if Steve seen it come tearing down the hill he'll know there's someone up here. He's probably seen your car on the road, and realises there's somebody else on the farm."
He nodded. The rabbit was quiet in his hands, warm and soft, pushing its head into the darkness of his pocket as he held it against him.
Susan gave him a small smile. "As soon as they're out of sight we shall go," she said, "I can't stand this." She shivered, and Matt knew she wasn't cold.
They lay in silence, motionless. The sun blazing down was very hot, almost unbearably so, Matt could feel it prickling on the back of his neck. A cicada suddenly shrilled into noise further along on the ridge, rasping, filling the heat-drenched air with exasperating sound. He shifted uncomfortably on the warm cushion of grass.
A small green lizard rustled through the undergrowth, Matt saw the girl give a start of surprise as it suddenly appeared in front of her, it looked at them for a second from a black, beady eye, and then vanished again into the grass.
He lifted himself cautiously up on his elbows to look down towards the river again; he saw the man still following the track around the bottom of the hill, but the dog had stopped. He stayed there looking down for several long seconds before he turned to face the girl.
"His dog must have caught our scent," he said simply.page 48
She raised herself beside him, and he heard her draw in her breath sharply as she saw the sheep-dog looking up the hill towards them.
"He can tell I'm here," she whispered in Matt's ear, "But he knows there's someone else up here that he can't recognise, that's why he's puzzled.
Steve was walking on, evidently unaware for the moment that the dog was not following. Chin took a step up the hill, his plumed tail waving uncertainly.
They sank back together in the grass.
"Oh Chin, go away," Susan pleaded softly. "Please, please go away." Matt closed his eyes, muttering something inaudible.
Then they heard a voice. "Come back, you thick-headed mutt ---- where are you going. Get back here at once!" The voice rose to a harsh shout. They stayed deep behind the tall grass.
Matt parted the screen in front of him. He saw the dog notice his movement, it barked loudly, and began bounding up the hill towards him. Its head was high, sniffing the air. He lay back by the girl, helpless. She was breathing quickly and deeply beside him.
"Oh, Chin," she moaned, "Go back. You don't know what you're doing. Go back and show Steve you made a mistake."
The dog barked again, louder. "I hate you, Chin ---- you're a horrible dog!" She looked despairingly across at Matt.
He began thinking of what he would say when they were discovered, he turned and smiled encouragingly at the girl. Behind the excited noises of the approaching dog he could hear the angry voice still.
A dragon-fly hovered near them, a miniature, iridescent-blue helicopter. Along further on the hillside he could see the brown hawk flying, low now, swooping and diving at something on the ground. A rabbit, perhaps. Probably it was the same hawk that had frightened their little rabbit ---- or had it been the sheep-dog?
The dog ----- and the rabbit: he suddenly remembered the warm grey bundle in his hand. He set the rabbit carefully on the ground in front of him, holding it gently.
"Now, little rabbit," he said softly into its long ears, "you'll have to run. Run for your life, and for us as well."page 49
He drew his hand away. The rabbit hesitated, then shot forward, fleeing down the hill in long, graceful bounds, leaping high to clear the long grass, his tail flicking white in the sun.
Matt saw it flash under the nose of the startled dog, swerve and dodge crazily, racing swiftly down into the valley. He saw Chin give chase with a loud bark of pleasure, bouncing clumsily down the slope in pursuit.
The barks grew fainter and further sway, fading into the distance; and they could hear the cursing of the man below them, angry, cursing the dog and all his kind. Matt smiled at the girl.
A little while later they left their hollow in the brown grass. As they walked down over the hill they passed Chin, panting home, weary after his long chase. He stopped by them, his brown eyes smiling.
"Hullo, Chin," said Matt, "You're a good old fellow, I hope you didn't catch your rabbit."
"Good-bye, Chin," said Susan, throwing him a kiss. "I love you very much."
She turned away, puzzled. "That's the first time he's ever chased a rabbit when he's been told not to." But she smiled. "Perhaps he suddenly saw us, and was trying to apologise for almost giving us away!"
"Matt, how did you know that the rabbit was going to run the right way, it could have gone anywhere? If it had gone the other way, Steve would have come chasing up and found us."
He laughed. "Perhaps I'm one jump ahead of you oountry people there; I suddenly remembered that I'd read somewhere that rabbits will always run downhill when they are chased, it's something to do with the length of their legs; and a dog's got a hard job to catch them."
"You beat me with that one," she said. "Let's go." She stroked the dog. "You bite Steve if he tries to hurt you when you get back."
Then they took hands and ran together, dancing, down across the golden grass to the white road where Matt's car waited, its windshield a brilliant dazzle in the sun.