He had a sudden dizzying understanding of the way men were ranged on top of each other, all the way from the Thornhills at the bottom up to the King, or God, at the top, each man higher than one, lower than another.
Winter wore away, and there it was at last, his whole name: William Thornhill, slow and steady. As long as no one was watching, no one would know how long it took, and how many times the tongue had to be drawn back in.
He was still only sixteen, and no one in his family had ever gone so far.
He was struck by the power of words. There was nothing going on in the court but words, and the exact words, little puffs of air out of the mouth of a witness, would be the thing that saw him hanged or not.
There were no signs that the blacks felt the place belonged to them. They had no fences that said "this is mine." No house that said, "this is our home." There were no fields or flocks that said, "we have put the labor of our hands into this place."
King George owned this whole place of New South Wales, the extent of which nobody yet knew, but what was the point of King George owning it, if it was still wild, trodden only by black men? The more civilized folk set themselves up on their pieces of land, the more those other ones could be squeezed out.
Thornhill could not believe he would be able to send a ball of red-hot metal into another body. But being allowed a gun was one of the privileges of a pardon. It was something he had earned, whether he wanted it or not.
Thornhill saw that although this voyage, from Sydney to Thornhill's Point, had taken only a day, and the other voyage, from London to Sydney, had taken the best part of the year, this was the greater distance. From the perspective of this unpeopled riverbank...Sydney seemed a metropolis, different only in degree from London.
He had thought that having a gun would make him feel safe. Why did it not?
Dick would be right, he thought, except that everyone knew the blacks did not plant things. They wandered about, taking food as it came under their hand...But, like children, they did not plant today so that they could eat tomorrow.
It was why they were called savages.
The unspoken between them was that she was a prisoner here, marking off the days in her little round of beaten earth, and it was unspoken because she did not want him to feel a jailer.
It was an old pain returning to find that William Thornhill, felon, was waiting under the skin of William Thornhill, landowner.
How did it apply to a moment like the one down by the blacks' fire, when a white man and a black one had tried to make sense of each other with nothing but words that were no use to them?
He could hear the great machinery of London, the wheel of justice chewing up felons and spitting them out here, boatload after boatload, spreading out from the Government Wharf in Sydney, acre by acre, slowed but not stopped by rivers, mountains, swamps.
This old fellow is a book, Thornhill thought, and they are reading him. He remembered the Governor's library, the stern portraits, and the rows of gleaming books with their gold lettering. They could reveal their secrets, but only to a person who knew how to read them.
He knew, as perhaps they did not, how pointless a thing it was. He could go through the rigmarole of loading it up and squinting along its barrel and firing. But after that, what?
Thinking the thought, saying the words, would make him the same as Smasher, as if Smasher's mind had got into his when he saw the woman in the hut and felt that instant of temptation. He had done nothing to help her. Now the evil of it was part of him.
They were too cunning to have anything as vulnerable as an army, for they knew what the Governor and Captain McCallum did not: that an army clumping along was as exposed and vulnerable as a beetle trundling over a tabletop.
He was no longer the person who thought that a little house in Swan Lane and a wherry of his own was all a man might desire. It seemed that he had become another man altogether. Eating the food of this country...had remade him, particle by particle...This was where he was: not just in body, but in soul as well.
A man's heart was a deep pocket he might turn out and be surprised at what he found there.
"They got no rights to any of this place. No more than a sparrow." He heard the echo of Smasher's phrases in his own words. They sat there smiling and plausible.
He would not have thought that William Thornhill could ever have any relationship with a house like this except of the trespasser. But if a man had enough by way of money, he could make the world whatever way he wanted.
Under the house, covered by the weight of Mr. Thornhill's villa, the fish still swam in the rock. It was dark under the floorboards: the fish would never feel the sun again. It would not fade, as the others out in the forest were fading, with no black hands to re-draw them. It would remain as bright as the day the boards had been nailed down, but no longer alive, cut off from the trees and light that it had swum in.
But there was an emptiness as he watched Jack's hand caressing the dirt. This was something he did not have: a place that was part of his flesh and spirit. There was no part of the world he would keep coming back to, the way Jack did, just to feel it under him.