Mary Mageau, one of our most productive contributors has ventured into a completely new area in the following story – she has tried the paranormal for the first time, and if this story is anything to go by, then she has found one of her many strengths – Read on and you shall see.
Last night I dreamed again of Coleraine.
In my waking memory its image is fleeting, but I still recall a sign near the long driveway, displaying its name. Set in acres of open range with its blazing floral gardens, and the elegant homestead with sweeping verandas on three sides – what could the dream signify? It has aroused such an aching within me I’d better talk to Geoff about it at breakfast.
My partner is a successful vet who specializes in large animal diseases. Geoff travels the length and breadth of the countryside, helping station owners and breeders with their livestock problems. Occasionally when I’m free I join him on these trips. We both love the Australian outback—so vast and empty—such intense colours—The Dry Lands.
‘Geoff, I had a strange dream again about a place called Coleraine. I looked up the name on a search engine and found that Coleraine is a large town in the Irish county of Londonderry. In Gaelic, its name means, nook of the ferns. There is a town by that same name on the Glenelg Highway in Victoria and another in Itaska County in Minnesota. But none of these places seem to fit into my dream.’
‘Gwen, what a coincidence! I was just going to tell you that I’m leaving again tomorrow morning, to visit a remote station. Can you come along with me?’ Geoff had that open, hopeful look on his face I loved so much. ‘I’d really appreciate your company as we’ll be away for several days. And by the way, the place we’ll be visiting is called, Coleraine.’ I could barely contain my excitement as I replied, ‘Absolutely, I’ll join you. I have a deadline to meet on a piece of writing, but I’ll bring along my laptop and work on it at the station. Oh Geoff, this might be the place I dreamed about.’
We packed that evening and found ourselves on the road just before sunrise. On the second morning Geoff remarked, ‘Our destination isn’t that far away now. We should reach the outside gate of Coleraine in a few more minutes.’ I squeezed his hand with excitement.
No sign marked its dusty road. We followed an endless track until I experienced a hint of recognition as we passed a windmill. Excitedly I cried out, ‘Geoff, after this hill crests, you should catch your first glimpse of the house. It’s very large and elegant. There is a circular drive filled with flowers near the front door. In its centre is a fountain set in a small reflecting pool.’
But as we reached the hill top, only the run-down shell of an old house appeared below. It was unpainted and the large verandas had been removed. Neither a flower nor a fountain was in sight. The working sheds scattered behind it were all in the same state of disrepair. I was in shocked disbelief as we reached a dusty circular drive and pulled up near the front entrance. The entire homestead looked dilapidated and uncared for. What could have happened here to change things so drastically?
‘Gwen, I’m sorry to disappoint you but this can’t be the house you saw in your dream. It may have been splendid long ago but it’s recently seen some hard times. Let’s get out and find the station owners. Don’t fret, sweetie – we’ll still have an enjoyable time here.’
As we walked toward the entrance a woman’s voice called out, ‘Welcome to Coleraine! I’m Mary O’Neil. Bill and I have been looking forward to your visit.’ A tall raw-boned woman appeared, held out her arms and gave us each a big hug. I warmed to her immediately. ‘You’ve been on the road a long time and I’ve got the jug boiling. Come on in for some morning tea and let’s get acquainted.’
When we entered the kitchen a strong, burly cattleman put out his hand. ‘Gwen and Geoff is it? I’m Bill, and you are both welcome.’ As we tucked into Mary’s country-style cooking he shared their story. ‘Two years ago this property came on the market and it was in our price range so we grabbed it. The house isn’t much to look at but there are acres of prime grazing land. Mary and I run several hundred head of cattle here on agistment.’
Mary added, ‘Thomas Hanlon built the original house in 1882 for his wife Marie, and their five daughters. It must have been grand in its glory days. Everyone regarded it as the showplace of the district.’
‘And what happened to the house since then, Mary?’ I asked.
‘After the fire of 1895, the back of the house and most of the verandas had gone. Two of the Hanlon daughters perished in the flames. The rest of the house was saved but the family was so destroyed by it all, they just upped stakes and walked away.’
‘Finish your tea, Geoff, then we’ll saddle up.’ Bill rose from the table. ‘One or two of my steers aren’t doing so well and I need the advice of a vet.’
‘Let’s have a look at them.’ Geoff left the table, took out his medical bag, and the men departed. Mary and I cleared the table and washed up. “What do you plan to do with yourself, Gwen, while I carry on in the yard?’
‘I brought my laptop together with some work. Can you set me up at a table next to a power point, Mary? I’m finishing a piece of writing that’s due next week.’ As soon as I had settled down Mary moved outside to weed her vegetable garden.
Time flew by until I heard the clock chime three. Geoff and Bill had returned. The first scent of a baked dinner wafted through the rooms. We all met in the dining room for afternoon tea, and Mary’s buttermilk cake covered with rich chocolate icing.
‘Geoff is a good vet, Mary, and he put my mind to rest. The cattle will be fine and some antibiotics will fix up the steers that worried me,’ Bill explained. ‘Now we can all relax.’
‘We eat just before sundown,’ Mary told us. ‘Bill and I turn in early because we get up with the chooks. After your long drive you might enjoy a quiet evening too. And we also found something I know you will both enjoy looking at.’ Mary passed a ragged cardboard folder toward us. ‘Not long ago Bill found this, covered with dust, on the shelf in a back shed. When we opened it, we discovered several pictures that probably belonged to the original Hanlon family. In a few days the Charleville Historical Society is coming to collect them, but before they go you’ll both find these old photos interesting.’
As Mary removed three sepia-tinted photographs my hands suddenly began to shake. Why did I feel a sudden sense of apprehension? Bill passed the first picture across the table to us.
‘Look at this family all gathered in the parlour. Thomas Hanlon and Marie are seated in the centre. She’s such an elegant woman in her lace trimmed dress and pearl necklace. Standing behind them in a semicircle are their five daughters. They were such beautiful girls.’
Suddenly Geoff exclaimed, ‘Gwen, look at this daughter, the third from the left. She is the exact image of you.’
‘Why she could be your twin, Gwen!’ Mary called out in amazement. I looked carefully at her and had to agree that our likeness was uncanny.
‘If you rolled your hair back and pinned it away from your face you could be this young woman.’ Bill remarked.
Mary added, ‘Turn the picture over, Bill, as there are names written on the back. The date, 1890, is inscribed on the front of the photograph so this picture was taken before the fire. There is a list of names on the back, written in a darker ink. Most likely these were added later. Read aloud what it says, Bill.’
‘The names start at the left and move across. Emma, Fanny, after her name it says RIP, Georgina, also RIP, Edith and Margaret. It seems that Fanny and your look-alike, Georgina, must have both died in the fire,’ Bill nodded toward me. ‘On the next line it identifies Thomas Hanlon and Marie Hanlon.’
Mary took up the next picture, a smaller photograph in a slim oval frame. It featured a young man dressed in full military uniform, mounted on a horse. Mary read from the back, ‘Lieutenant Patrick O’Neil. Isn’t he handsome!’
‘We’ve kept the best for last.’ Bill held up a large photograph of Coleraine, taken from the road in front of the house. I cried aloud as there it was—the elegant white house behind a floral bed. In the centre of the circular driveway was a two tiered fountain.
‘Geoff! That’s the house I saw in my dream. It’s Coleraine, exactly as I dreamed it.’ Then for no reason I burst into tears as Geoff came to my chair and put his arms around me.
‘It was only a dream of something that happened long ago. Let it go, Gwen. What is really important is that you and I are here with Mary and Bill, these two wonderful people. Thanks to you both for sharing your pictures with us. Perhaps the time has come to close the folder now and put it away.’
My composure returned and sometime later, we enjoyed a delicious dinner over a bottle of red wine we had brought along. We all had a good laugh over Bill’s tales of his early days as a cattle drover. After the table was cleared and the dishes washed, Bill and Mary excused themselves. ‘Breakfast is on at 6:00 tomorrow morning. We’ll see you in the dining room.’
The night was so peaceful we decided to step outside to admire the sweep of stars spread above us in the shining heavens. The Milky Way traced its meandering ribbon of white through the darkness, as far as the eye could see. All this beauty took our breath away. It was a perfect end to the day.
I never dreamed of Coleraine again: not the station surrounded by acres of open range, with its dilapidated old house and dry, dusty roadway, or the beautiful white timber home with its floral gardens and gracious fountain. Yet I know that in the distant corridors of time past, many years ago I lived in Coleraine. It had once been my home.
Mary Mageau © 2018