A Change Of gender And Beyond
by F.W. Hinton
As the year advanced Rachel grew stronger and was able to
give up wearing the boots prescribed by the Kenny clinic.
Delighted with her progress, she had a trip into Richmond,
and for the first time in years bought a new pair of shoes,
good strong walking shoes that fitted snug around her
ankles. Most of her efforts and thoughts went into looking
after the twins. She had a feeling of guilt, believing that
because of her illness they had been neglected, especially
Shaun. They had also been separated, something she vowed
would never happen again. It became obvious that the twins
were different in many ways. Casey Ann, her long blonde hair
in tight ringlets. A happy child, curious about everything
and every one. Full of fun and mischief, just like Pauline
and Jillian when they were very small. She was concerned
about Shaun. Even though her hair was blonde, it was short
" Easier to keep clean," her sister-in-law told her, " too
much for me when it's long. Arthur told me to keep it that
Shaun seemed contented just to be on her own. Never crying
to be picked up and loved, in fact, Rachel thought, hardly
ever crying at all. She was happy to sit in her cot or her
high chair. When she did play with other children she
appeared to be dependent on her sister. Her mother thought
she was withdrawn, even a little retarded. She spoke to the
doctor in Richmond about it.
" She'll grow out of it eventually," the doctor told her, "
you worry too much Mrs Maclaren. Treat both the girls the
same, be sure you don't favour one more than the other."
Rachel blamed her sister-in-law for Shaun's problems.
" How could anyone leave a tiny baby in a cot, day after day
without ever picking her up," she said angrily, " never
making a fuss of her, never talking to her. Never trying, or
wanting to love her."
Her anger with Jane for neglecting her dead brother's baby
overwhelmed Rachel, and she was determined to talk to her.
Then she remembered her father telling her when she was in
the clinic that she should be thankful Shaun was being
looked after by relations, instead of being placed in a
foster home. She knew Jane and her husband were an elderly
couple and realized they would have very little patience
with tiny children. Rachel thought about asking Jillian,
just sixteen to help with the twins. She knew she would
refuse. Jillian had always wanted to be the youngest in the
Maclaren family. She hated being the middle child, and the
thought of looking after two small children abhorred her.
Not only was she jealous of the twins, but she thought that
a woman of her mother's age had no right in getting
pregnant. Secretly Rachel disgusted her.
The running of Luckham Downs was becoming more than Rachel
could cope with. The banks were a constant problem. On
occasions they threatened to take some action against her.
but every time she managed to resolve the situation. She
knew Susan and her husband had borrowed more than was really
Rachel made some inquiries about her father's property, and
was told he died intestate, and it would take at least a
year to obtain administration of his estate.
When George came home on leave he helped where he could, but
it was obvious the Station was beyond being saved. Joey and
Ilarra, with most of the station hands had gone walk-about.
Somehow Rachel Maclaren survived the winter and was
sustained through the spring by letters from George and
Pauline, who eventually got a divorce and came home to her
mother with two very small children. After many sleepless
nights Rachel decided to go to Richmond, sell Luckham Downs
and stop the banks from foreclosing. She hoped to come out
with enough money to buy a cottage close to the town, or
even somewhere near the sea. Feeling happy that at last she
had made up her mind to leave Luckham Downs, early the
following morning she dressed the twins in soft white
blouses and their best tartan skirts and went to the real
estate office in Richmond. On the way she bought the two
girls a gold signet ring, which they showed to anyone who
happened to glance at them.
Sandy Highfield was the only real estate agent in Richmonds.
He had known Rachel for years and when her husband was
killed, more than once he was tempted to visit Luckham
Downs. He never married, and his happiest moment was when
Rachel Maclaren walked into his office with the twins. He
was fond of all her children, in his eyes they could do no
wrong, and more than once Pauline had confided in him about
Secretly he wished all of Rachel's children were his, but
the twins, and especially Shaun were his favourites. He was
a year older than Rachel and had come to Richmond to work as
a delivery boy in her father's general store. He fell in
love with his employer's youngest daughter, and when she
married Ian Maclaren, Sandy Highfield was heart-broken.
He began selling real estate. His dealings were in money;
real money, or it's mysterious, volatile ghost; credit, and
the people of Richmond were finding it hard to remember him
as the boy on a trade bike delivering John Carlyle's
Sandy Highfield had his defenders, although he had no real
friends. When he agreed to do something, he did it promptly,
efficiently and to the extent he had contracted. He was firm
on money matters, and took opportunities to create business
whenever he could. He did nothing against the rules that
applied to business or politics and it gained him respect.
Twice he had run for Mayor of Richmond, twice he had lost,
knowing it was because of his being a bachelor. He realized
he should marry, had been tempted more than once, but his
undying love for Rachel Maclaren put all thoughts of
marriage out of his head. He joined the church, attended
Sunday service regularly and contributed varying amounts of
money as he prospered. Every man in Richmond had his own set
of ethics, and those who were in a position to be critical
of Sandy Highfield made a compromise.
Sandy was prospering, perhaps, some thought at the cost of
strict adherence to a code of honourable conduct. But he
behaved himself, lived respectably, and those bold enough to
question his unmarried state were reminded of his love for
Rachel Maclaren. Whenever he consumed too much amber fluid
at the local hotel he would loudly declare his love for her.
He arranged to sell Luckham Downs as quickly as possible,
and to stop the banks from foreclosing, without Rachel's
knowledge, advertised the Station extensively. In a last
desperate attempt to stop her from losing everything, he
bought Luckham Downs himself, and a cottage large enough for
Rachel and her family at Westhill-on-Sea.
Rachel hated leaving the Downs and as she went about the
homestead on the last day she was conscious of a terrible
weariness. Her legs seemed to have lost the power to move,
and remembering the feeling when the twins were born forced
herself to walk. Her throat ached, and there was a pain in
the middle of her chest she had not experienced before.
In the empty hall of the homestead dust had settled
everywhere. The men who Sandy had sent to take some of the
furniture to the cottage had torn a strip of wallpaper off
and left it hanging. There was straw from the packing cases
in one corner, and through the door could see branches of
bougainvillea dangling around a window, tapping against it
in the wind, until a shutter blew and stopped it.
Rachel walked through the rooms, her footsteps echoing,
ghosts moving about her. Ghosts were dying, perhaps passing
on. Angus, Ian and his grandfather Shaun Casey Maclaren.
They wandered about trying to find a place to remain, but
everything they had lived among was gone . The dust on the
floor their ashes. The sound of hammering came from the
verandah. There were men outside, repairing, replacing
broken and worn boards. Sandy had told her that the new
owner wanted the homestead renovated, and as she climbed the
stairs, wondered who had bought Luckham Downs.
The midday sun came through the slats of the room that
belonged to Angus Maclaren. The room where she had
eventually learned to walk, and had fallen so many times
onto the canopied bed, exhausted after hours and hours of
trying. The room Angus allowed no one to use, but when the
old man went out for an afternoon, the room where Pauline
was conceived. Rachel turned away, wishing she had taken
Sandy's advice, who told her she should not go back to the
" It's always best," he said, " to keep the bright glowing
images of the past as if they went on continuously. There
was no danger in the place where they had been created."
As the hammering continued Rachel felt she had reached the
end of a phase in her life. Wanting to leave it all behind
she ran down the stairs. There was a slip of paper in a
crack in the woodwork of the bottom step. She picked it up,
it was Ian's last letter.
She remembered spending hours searching for it, wondering
where it could have gone. She sat on the step and read it.
The homestead seemed suddenly very cold. With an effort she
stood up, shivered and ran out of the door.
It was dark when Rachel arrived back at Westhill-on-Sea.
There were lights shinning from the windows of the little
town. The lamp that hung from the breakwater pier drew a
moving wavy line across the water, revealing that the great
darkness in front was the sea. There was a soft lap, a
splash on the beach below and a smell of fresh seaweed in
Rachel woke early the next morning and looked out of her
bedroom window. She had slept only a few hours. Perhaps the
bed was not as comfortable as the one in Angus Maclaren's
old room. Perhaps it was the twins on her mind. She leaned
out of the open window, saw a soft throbbing light that made
the stars grow pale, and as it strengthened flush the sky
from east to west with a rose colour that turned the great
sky of cloud into a deep purple gloom.
She saw the grey little town that nestled around a grey
little church. At the end of the beach there were cliffs
that rose majestic, grim, uncompromising, then dip down, as
if on purpose to allow the fishermen of Westhill to launch
their boats. Headland after headland came into view. And as
the sun showed it's bright face over the horizon, the
crimson sky and shore were bathed in a sea of light.
There was a rush of small feet behind her; then she was
dragged down stairs by the twins who begged her to take them
to the beach. They dug in the sand, caught tiny crabs and
picked up empty shells. Rachel marvelled at the sudden
change in Shaun. Playing with Casey Ann away from the Downs
she seemed a happy, ordinary little girl and Rachel was
thankful she had decided to move.
For hours they played on the beach by the pools in the rocks
with seaweed that waved as pale little crabs sidled away.
Tiny fish that flitted over stones on the bottom. Stones
that looked like priceless gems until they reached them;
slippery boulders over which it was exciting to climb.
With the help of Casey Ann, Shaun filled the skirt of her
blue dress with shells, then she dropped most of them when
she went to help her sister.
Rachel, with a sort of exhaustion that is almost pleasant,
if one is left alone, even only for a few minutes, can sit
still and dream, leaned against the breakwater. She thought
first of Ian, then her father, John Carlyle. Life seemed so
short just then and the promised land so near. She thought
it wasn't hardly worth worrying about how she should manage.
Luckham Downs had been sold. There was enough money in the
bank to see them through the coming year, and the cottage
had been paid for. Even so she still wondered who had bought
the Station and secretly hoped that they were nice, kind
It was early when Sandy Highfield came down to Westhill the
following Sunday. With the twins and Rachel, Sandy walked
slowly along the beach. Somehow he had managed to hold her
hand. Rachel gripped his tightly, it gave her a feeling of
A fishing boat anchored near the end of the pier reflected
on the placid surface of the sea. It's mast prolonged in the
reflection of the ripples of water that fell from the sand
and sunk back with a murmuring sigh.
The gulls seemed to be resting, settling down on the water
in groups. Idly rising and falling with it's gentle motion
as if the strong wings that battle against storm and wind
were weary. The little cracked bell of the church rang out.
Rachel and Sandy decided they should all attend morning
service. It was a sleepy old church, with high narrow pews,
sombre galleries and dusty monuments. Sunshine streamed
through the greenish glass windows, striking the head of a
marble cherub and the board that displayed the numbers of
psalms and hymns to be sung.
The singing, although rough and unpretending, had an honest
ring and a simple sweetness that stayed in the minds of
those who heard it and associated it with the murmur of the
sea. The twins sat on either side of Sandy Highfield, and
resting against his arms dropped off to sleep during the
sermon. Delighted that Rachel's children found a kind
security and comfort in him, he sat very still not wanting
to disturb them.
Rachel raised her eyes on occasions to the thick crimson
fringe of the pulpit cushion, over which, from time to time
she saw part of the minister's black gown. She tried hard to
listen to the complexities of his reasoning. Her eyes
refused to remain open and at the end of the sermon she
awoke with a start.
In the afternoon the twins wanted to go down to the beach
again, but the beautiful morning had clouded over. It began
to rain, and their mother told them that they had to stay
indoors. Sandy sat in the armchair and began to doze. Rachel
went upstairs to her bedroom. The twins sat on the seat in
the bay-window and watched the showers of rain sweep across
the sea. Sometimes the rain mixed up with the sea and the
sky into one grey misty mass. Sometimes clearing off,
showing an indigo, hard horizon against the sky.
Bored with the view the twins went outside. They stood under
the eaves of the cottage and giggled as tiny drops of rain
ran down their necks. Suddenly Shaun ran across the road,
jumped over the low stone wall and raced down to the water's
" Come on!" she called to her sister, " come and look at the
" We mustn't. It's still raining. You know how cross ma gets
when we go out in the rain."
" I don't care!" Shaun shouted, " I'm tired of being
indoors. I'll go on my own. " Unable to resist the
temptation, Casey Ann ran across the road and chased after
her sister. For hours they roamed up and down the beach,
jumping over rocks, squeezing knobs of seaweed, making them
go Pop! They found an old crab pot, left high and dry by the
tide. Inside was the claw of a crab, which Casey Ann told
her sister had been left by it's owner trying to escape from
Overcome by hunger they decided to go back to the cottage.
They stood for a moment by the stone wall, hoping they had
not been seen. They clambered over the wall and side by side
waited at the edge of the pavement making sure the road was
clear. Shaun let go of her sister's hand, dashed across the
road, and waited by the cottage for Casey Ann.
" Go Back! Go Back!" Shaun shouted as her sister ran towards
Casey Ann stood in the middle of the road for a moment.
" Go Back -Cas - -Go Back!" Shaun shouted again.
Casey Ann hesitated, ran back towards the pavement. Shaun
screamed as a semi-trailer dragged her sister along the
The grim presence of death in the cottage seemed to have
swept away all times, seasons and objects for doing
anything. Shaun at the age of seven, and even with that
startling power of rapid recovery granted to children, sat
by her sister's empty bed and cried.
She lost all power to speak or move, and when her elder
sister Pauline and her mother insisted she leave Casey Ann's
bed, there appeared to be no power on earth that would shift
her. After two days and nights they tried picking her up,
but she screamed and kicked her way out of their arms.
Four days later Sandy Highfield penetrated her dulled brain
and managed to bring her back to consciousness, everyone
thankful he had succeeded. There was no way of knowing how
long she would have remained by her sister's empty bed, sunk
in a stupor of grief. Dazzled and shaking Sandy led her
downstairs. The daylight seemed to have an unnatural glare,
and the old familiar things, that with Casey Ann she had
played, to Shaun now looked strange and impossible.
There was a brilliant hectic flush in her cheeks. As her
mother undressed her and put her to bed, Shaun began
coughing, a deep seated cough, and her skin was hot to the
touch. She lay staring out of the window as if she were in a
trance. Her blonde hair pushed back from her forehead, her
hot little hands thrown outside the bed. It was around
midnight when she started to toss and turn in the grip of
" Go back Cas! Please go back!" she cried.
" She's out of her head," Pauline told her mother, " the
poor little thing doesn't know what she is saying."
Shaun was quiet for a moment. Then as she slid back in a
world clouded with fever she kept telling Casey Ann to go
back to the pavement again.
" I wonder how long it will be?" Shaun asked, laying
Rachel knelt by the side of the bed. Buried her face in the
bedspread, then covered her mouth with her hands in an
effort to stifle the agony.
" How long before what?" Rachel mumbled.
" How long before I'm with Jesus and my Casey Ann?"
It was then Rachel lost her self control. After the funeral
she believed she had reconciled herself with the death of
Casey Ann. But to be parted from Shaun seemed more than she
could bear. Crying, calling, sobbing she clasped Shaun to
her breast. She walked up and down with her begging her,
imploring her not to go.
Pauline terrified of the consequences, pleaded with her
mother to lay Shaun down. In desperation she dragged her
sister from Rachel's arms.
" Please let her live!" Rachel cried as tears streamed down
her cheeks, " please give me back my baby." Pauline laid
Shaun on the bed. Held her mother close for a moment then
led her out of the room.
The Westhill doctor diagnosed pneumonia and prescribed only
fluids until the fever broke, telling Rachel that sleep was
imperative. He visited Shaun every morning. Slowly she began
to improve, but when the flush left her cheeks she looked
ghostly white. She seemed unable to speak and Rachel put it
down to the soreness of her throat although she did manage
to smile at Sandy. By the end of the third week the
doctor's visits became less frequent. Rachel spent all her
days looking after her, and in her nightly prayers she
thanked the Lord for sparing her youngest daughter.
Rachel noticed that Shaun had become withdrawn as she had
when she was a baby in her aunt Jane's care. She spoke to
Sandy and Pauline about it. They both thought Shaun should
be taken to see a specialist. Rachel protested strongly.
She didn't want some strange doctor filling her baby's head
with weird ideas. She didn't want people thinking her child
was retarded or insane. " There's nothing wrong with her
brain," she told them angrily, " all I'm asking is a little
help from both of you. I know we can bring her back. It can
be done, if we all try."
For hours Rachel sat by her daughter's bed, trying to rsuade
her to play even the simplest of games, hoping, praying she
would speak-just one word- any word.
" You've got to stop blaming yourself," Rachel told her
constantly, " you know it wasn't your fault. No one could
have known Casey Ann was going to run across the road. You
tried to save her, told her to go back. You know you did,
she just did not listen. You've got to stop this silly
nonsense. Please Shaun, please come back to me."
Circumstances prevented Sandy Highfield from going down to
Westhill every weekend. When he did manage to get down, he
spent most of his time by Shaun's bed. Sometimes he held her
tiny cold hand, talking to her very softly, trying hard to
make her laugh, and when she did smile at him he felt a
sense of achievement that delighted him.
Rachel with the help of Pauline changed Shaun's bedroom
around in the hope that she would find the view of the
village interesting. They placed her bed by the window, but
she still stared at the ceiling as if waiting for something
Convinced at last that Shaun needed professional help Rachel
allowed Sandy to take Shaun to see a Psychotherapist. Sandy
told Dr McKinnon about the accident, explained that Shaun
was not a gregarious child and nothing like her twin.
" She was left on her own, when she was a tiny baby," Sandy
" Did her mother neglect her?"
" She was in hospital for a very long time - -in the Kenny
clinic. Her sister-in-law took care of Shaun."
" The twins were separated?"
" From a week old."
" Why didn't the mother bring Shaun to see me?"
" She wouldn't. She tried so hard to get Shaun to speak, she
felt that by bringing her to you she had failed. For months
Rachel has been trying to help her daughter"
Although Sandy Highfield was in love with Rachel and fond of
all her children, he had no wish to become involved in
arguments with other members of her family. Feeling that Dr
McKinnon should be given all the facts that affected Shaun's
behaviour, he persuaded Rachel to take Shaun to the doctors
rooms for the second session.
As usual Shaun sat on the settee, expressionless and showing
no interest in the toys piled high in the big boxes in the
corner. She stared at the ceiling, her eyes rarely blinking.
Rachel feeling the child was in some kind of a trance, and
doing her best to hold back the tears began telling him all
that had happened.
The tears flowed freely when she spoke of Ian being killed
by Japanese bombs in Darwin and of her father's untimely
" If only we had stayed at the Downs," she said drying her
eyes, " this would never have happened."
" You had no way of knowing that," the doctor reassured her,
" it could have happened at the Downs. It could have
happened anywhere. We both have a job to do, and I suggest
Mrs Maclaren that we try and put the past behind us and help
It was during the sixth consultation that Dr McKinnon
brought his Golden Retriever to his office.
" Come here boy," Shaun whispered.
The dog obeyed and sat down beside her. She wrapped her arms
around him and fussed him and Dr McKinnon gave her the dogs
brush. For more than an hour Shaun brushed and played with
the big retriever while Rachel, with tears in her eyes and
the doctor watched. When Shaun finished brushing the dog
she went to the doctor's desk.
" Thank you for letting me brush an play with your dog," she
said handing the brush to the doctor.
Tears of relief and joy streamed down her cheeks as Rachel
stared at her daughter in amazement.
" Come on Ma," Shaun said, pulling her up from the chair, "
we mustn't keep uncle Sandy waiting."
The last consultation with Dr McKinnon was two weeks later.
" Dogs and cats can be very helpful in cases like Shaun,"
the doctor told Rachel and Sandy as they sat watching her
play, " they offer a special kind of therapy but she has to
be moved from her present environment. She has to be with
" She is," Rachel told him, " she plays with Pauline's
children. I know they don't get along very well, but she is
never on her own."
" You have a good friend in Sandy Highfield, Mrs Maclaren,
and I know he will do everything he can to help, especially
with Shaun. But she must be taken away from Westhill. She
must go to school. Be among other children. I suggest you
send her to a boarding school. That you move from Westhill
as soon as possible. The memories are too strong and could
cause a relapse. There is a school I can recommend it is a
very good school and if you wish I can arrange for her to be
accepted. The fees are high but Mr Highfield has assured me
he will help."