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Authors: Mary-Anne O'Connor

Gallipoli Street (10 page)

BOOK: Gallipoli Street
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She told her mind to hush for the umpteenth time that day.

Rose glared at her from beneath her white umbrella, her impeccable peach dress and white gloves seeming to recoil with her as she stepped back and snapped it shut. ‘Veronica. What a surprise. I thought you had decided you were too unwell to attend,' she gritted out.

‘Hello, yes, well, I am quite fine now and…I couldn't really miss my family Christmas.' Veronica tried for calm defiance, but found herself bumbling. ‘So, you…you've arrived. Guess I'll just be off to uh…change.' She tried to exit gracefully but stubbed her bare toes on the step instead, tripping into Jack's arms with force. There was nothing to stop the momentum as her body collided with his and she saw Rose's expression contort to fury at the same moment as Jack's hand landed on her breast.

‘Sorry!' Veronica mumbled, disentangling herself, her face flaming. ‘The step,' she added, looking back at it in dazed confusion, as if it had suddenly appeared there as a way of explanation. Rose glared and Jack gaped and Veronica decided to limp off with what little dignity was left, reflecting that greeting Rose by thrusting her chest into Jack's hand wasn't the finest way to let her know she'd decided to attend Christmas at Greenshades after all.

Rose was no fool. She knew that Veronica in a swimsuit was stiff competition, even for her. Especially when her would-be fiancé stood there grappling with the other girl's bosom.

‘Veronica is such a pretty girl, isn't she?' she said casually.

‘Hmm? Oh yes, I suppose she is,' Jack replied.

They were walking about the front lawns, which were refreshingly green and lush compared to the dry farming paddocks at home. The tiered waterfall sparkled in the midday sun and Rose stopped their stroll to watch it.

‘It's a pity she doesn't like me, although I thought, after the incident, she might have seen that there is something more to me than this.' She picked up her pearl necklace and dropped it back against her neck, drawing his eye in the right direction, along with his feelings. ‘I believe I'm just not the sort of girl who ever makes female friends easily. They always seem to think I'm too…too…' Her eyes began to well as she continued. ‘I'm sorry. I don't know why I'm telling you this. I try not to let it hurt me, but she so obviously dislikes me, and the way she looks at you…I think she and Pattie wish I'd never come along, and that you and Veronica…' she dabbed at her wet cheeks with her handkerchief.

‘Of course they don't wish that. Veronica isn't like that, Rose. I think she just…doesn't know how to talk to someone as sophisticated as you. Oh come now,' he crooned as she continued to cry. He pulled her behind an enormous gardenia bush and held her close as she sniffled into his shoulder. ‘Just give them time.'

‘I just don't know what else to do. I've tried to help out at the orphanage and visit with Mother and…and join in the fun around the piano. What else is there? I mean I even…you know…looked after her that day. Some might say I saved her life. I supposed at least then she might warm towards me a little.'

Jack seemed thoughtful about that. ‘Hasn't she thanked you?'

‘No,' Rose lied, pulling back and shaking her head. ‘It's all right. I don't expect any thanks. I'm just glad she's all right.'

Jack held her hands protectively. ‘Don't you worry. I'll have a word with them, and soon they'll get to know you better and grow to love you the way I do.'

‘What did you say?' Rose stared at him, urging him on.

‘Surely you know how I feel, Rose,' he began. ‘I think the time has come–'

‘Lunch!' called Pattie, ringing the giant cowbell on the verandah and spying Jack and Rose across the lawn. ‘Hurry up there, Jack. It'll get cold.' Even from a distance both could feel the hostility Pattie sent Rose before heading back indoors.

‘See what I mean?' Rose shrugged. ‘Anyway, it doesn't matter. What were you saying?' She lifted her face to him and gave him her sweetest, most encouraging smile.

‘Wait up, Jack, we're putting bets on for this afternoon. Are you still in?' Tom called, running across towards them.

Jack looked at Rose, exasperated.

‘Don't worry, darling, we'll continue this when you're not so in demand shall we?' She kissed him softly on the cheek, stroking his chin before heading for the house, feeling the relief wash over her. Soon there would be nothing to worry about.

‘Can I have a word?'

‘Better make it quick. I'm starving,' Jack replied as Pattie chased after him towards the stables. She knew he would want to give Tilley a quick check before this afternoon's race and she grabbed these few minutes while she could.

‘She's looking strong,' Pattie observed as they arrived and Jack gave the mare a once-over as she dipped her nose and nuzzled against him in welcome.

Jack nodded. ‘Pass me that brush, will you?'

She handed it to him and stood, trying to find some rare tact. ‘Jack,' Pattie began, ‘I wondered if I could talk to you about Rose.'

‘Funny, I wanted to talk to you about her too.' Jack glanced over and continued brushing.

‘I don't know if you are aware of it or not but…she isn't exactly…a nice girl.'

He paused and stared angrily at his sister. ‘What the hell is that supposed to mean?'

Pattie frowned, kicking her toe at the stall.

‘Spit it out, Pats.'

‘The woman is a two-faced, lying pain in the neck!' she blurted. So much for tact.

Jack glared at her.

‘And she is horrible to Veronica behind your back. Did you know she tried to forbid her from coming here?'

Jack looked momentarily confused. ‘I'm sure she was only worried about her health…'

‘She only worries about
herself.
She sees Veronica as a threat.'

Jack said nothing but Pattie sensed there was some level of admission there. So Veronica was competition. She pressed on. ‘She only pretends to like you, Jack. She's just trying to trap herself a husband.'

‘Now you're being ridiculous.' Jack banged down the brush hard, causing her to jump.

‘It's true.'

‘Are you quite finished?'

‘No,' Pattie said firmly. ‘She isn't…good enough for my brother and she never will be.'

Jack shook his head in disbelief. ‘You know, I really thought if I could talk to you about Rose you'd come to see what an amazing woman she is, but I can see now how wrong I was.'

‘She's amazing all right…amazingly conniving.'

‘Watch it.' Jack's tone was low and Pattie stopped, recognising that she had pushed him too far. They faced each other, neither backing down.

‘I just don't want you to be unhappy, especially when there is someone else who–'

‘Don't tell me who to marry, Pats.'

‘But–'

‘Rose will be my wife, and, whether you like it or not, your sister. God help her. And if you don't accept her then God help me, because you won't be mine anymore.'

She watched him head back towards the house and realised Veronica's tears had been well founded. They were losing Jack and the time to stop it from happening had long passed.

Lunch was a seemingly festive affair that day as the four families joined for the first time, though in fact not everyone at the table was in a celebratory mood.

Veronica avoided all eye contact, especially with Jack, taking her seat and attempting to slip into the background as much as possible. She had changed into a dark blue blouse and skirt, pulling her hair back tight and smooth, and felt safely back in conservative territory, although somewhat drab and dull compared to the warm epicentre that was Rose.

The latter seemed to have recovered her composure and was now holding court over the men nearby, charming them with her flirtatious comments and tantalising glimpses of cleavage beneath the soft peach gown. Meanwhile Alice was busily singing her praises at the other end of the table, retelling the story of the snake bite and Rose's brave rescue. ‘And to think she managed to stop the venom spreading by making her own bandages! It really was quite ingenuous. You must be so proud, Dr Dwyer.'

Dr Dwyer looked across and tipped his glass. ‘Yes, quite. At least one of my children seems to have taken notice of my work over the years.'

An uncomfortable moment followed and Veronica felt for Iggy as he stared hard at the table.

‘I hear Ebony has an excellent chance at the races this afternoon,' she said, forgetting to feel self-conscious around Jack and changing the subject.

Iggy lifted his eyes, looking surprised.

‘I've got two bob on him either way,' Tom said. ‘Which reminds me, I think I might go down and give Tilley a pre-race brandy. Just to calm her nerves.'

‘Keep your devilish paws away from my mare,' Jack said pointedly as the others began to laugh. Soon the conversation flowed easily again and Veronica turned to her mother, who sat beside her.

‘When do the children arrive?'

‘Tomorrow morning. I think Cook has outdone herself this year,' Catherine said.

Vera could see that Catherine and Alice had thoroughly enjoyed their morning in the kitchen with Marjorie and ‘Cook', catching up on all the news and laughing over old times. (Mildred was lying down in her room with the curtains drawn, shielding her aching head from ‘‘t' hellish sun'.) With over thirty children, a dozen nuns and forty or so other guests due for the lawn party on the morrow, there was still much to be done. ‘We will be requiring your help this afternoon, ladies,' Catherine addressed them.

‘But Clarkson has offered to drive us to the race,' Mary protested.

‘The men work hard all year and can go on a drive if they please, but the young ladies are needed, I'm afraid,' Catherine said in her gentle yet firm way.

‘Has he already arrived then?' Clarkson Senior asked from the end of the table.

‘He's just gone to pick up a friend from town, but he should be back soon,' said Agnes.

‘Oh Daddy, it's marvellous!' Mary exclaimed.

The conversation turned to automobiles, the men excited by the prospect of seeing a brand new Sunbeam. Although cars were becoming more commonplace about town, many of the men still preferred to ride by horseback. Yet even this horse-mad company felt the excitement of having the fastest model of car in the world in their own backyard.

By the time Clarkson arrived they were all out on the front verandah waiting for him and he didn't disappoint, putting on a dazzling show as he arrived with a flourish and a grin.

‘May I introduce the Sunbeam, winner of the French Grand Prix 1913 and freshly imported to sunny Greenshades to grace Mother's lawn?' Marjorie laughed as he continued. ‘Oh, and may I also introduce the importer of this fine automobile and a new friend of mine from good old mother England, Gregory Chambers?'

A large muscular man stepped out of the car, taking off his hat and revealing a head of white-blond hair, dramatic against his olive skin and white suit. He was impeccably dressed and made a perfect foil for Clarkson's dark good looks. Veronica suspected they'd made quite an impression in town.

BOOK: Gallipoli Street
9.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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