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Authors: Mary-Anne O'Connor

Gallipoli Street (5 page)

BOOK: Gallipoli Street
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The men filled their whisky glasses and the conversation turned to hospital politics; the ladies listened, sipping their sherry.

Catherine relaxed, able to do so at last now that dinner was finished and her guests were satisfied. This was by far the best time of evening for the hostess, she observed, settling comfortably into her armchair in the soft light of the parlour and focusing on Mick's story.

‘So he had only moments to decide either way and went with his instincts. Luckily for the patient he was right and it was appendicitis.'

‘Extraordinary,' said Dr Dwyer.

‘The poor girl would have died if he'd listened to that damn charlatan,' Mick finished.

‘Mick, please,' Catherine admonished.

‘Oh he can call a spade a spade there, my dear. Dr Smythe is an old quack – isn't that right, George?' Kevin deferred to his old friend, George Murphy, who knew the man well.

‘I have found in life it is best not to disagree with one's host,' George replied, ‘however it is even more advantageous to refer to the lady of the house in all matters of polite society. They are the ones who feed us after all.' He nodded and tipped his glass at Catherine and she noted, not for the first time over the years, that he really was a very nice gentleman. Alice was a fortunate woman. A charming husband, a successful handsome son in Jack, and Pattie…well Catherine had to admit, the girl was unfailingly likeable even if she was a bit wild. Not that she was in a position to judge, after her own daughter's antics that morning. Noticing Iggy Dwyer standing quietly by the window she realised he had hardly said a word all evening.

‘And how about you, Iggy?' she said, after acknowledging George with a smile. ‘Have you never thought to study medicine like your father?'

Iggy looked to be considering his response. ‘I'm afraid my studies were somewhat interrupted during my formative years, Mrs O'Shay.'

Mildred leant on her husband's hand. ‘He was terribly ill with scarlet fever, I'm afraid. Spent a good five years bedridden, poor lamb. Only got well again this past year.'

‘Oh I am sorry. I didn't mean to pry,' Catherine said.

‘Not at all, not at all,' Mildred assured her. ‘We don't like to mention it, but so far the Sydney weather seems to agree with him, bless him. Never seen him so well and strong.' She smiled at her son, still patting at her husband's hand. ‘What God takes away with one hand, he gives with the other.'

‘Can't say I wasn't disappointed,' Dr Dwyer said stiffly.

‘Now, now,' Mildred said. Catherine felt the tension from Iggy as he shifted his weight away from the curtain he'd been leaning against. She knew he had endured some kind of ill health – Mildred often alluded to his ‘disposition' then seemed to catch herself – but she'd no idea it had been for so long and of such a serious nature. She looked at the doctor, figuring it wasn't something he liked people to know about his son.

‘It's no use denying it was a great disappointment to me that he couldn't continue his studies for many years. He has a fine mind but he missed too much school in the end – and wasted his opportunities to boot.' Dr Dwyer took a gulp of his brandy.

Mildred added quickly, ‘Of course he's excelled at his piano. The master at the Conservatorium said as much, did he not, dear? Says he's got real potential.'

‘Humph.' Dr Dwyer drained his glass. ‘Yes, piano playing. That's quite a career choice for a man.'

Catherine shifted in her chair, wishing she'd never broached the subject, as Iggy placed his glass on the mantel.

‘The boys were talking about the trouble in Europe today,' he said lightly. ‘Perhaps you'll get lucky and end up with a son in uniform. That's something any father can be proud of, is it not?'

Silence stretched across the room.

‘Let's hope it doesn't come to that,' Kevin said reassuringly, noting Mildred's stricken face.

‘Surely not,' she said. ‘'Tis a long way off from us.'

‘If the Brits need us then Australia will rally,' Jack said firmly. ‘Half our relatives are over there.'

‘What about your family here?' Pattie countered.

Everyone seemed to consider that for a moment.

‘They say if you join the Light Horse you get to take your own mount over with you,' Dan said shyly. ‘Imagine that. Riding across Europe. I've never even been out of Australia.'

‘I doubt it is much of a holiday,' Mick remarked. ‘Still, if it comes to pass I'll be doing my bit, no doubt about that. They'll be needing doctors.'

‘And I couldn't let you sail off alone and charm all the nurses in your shiny new uniform. I'd better come along and pitch in a stethoscope too.' Tom grinned across at his brother.

Catherine eyed her sons with concern. She supposed if war came she would be grateful that both had chosen to study medicine and would therefore tend the wounded rather than fight on the front lines, but no one was safe, of course. Already the ladies at church were atwitter with patriotism, but she knew only too well that casualties always exceeded glorious, unsupported expectation. Her brother had sailed off to the Boer War filled with confidence and survived all kinds of horrific battles, only to die in a field hospital while being treated for dysentery. Remembering her mother's face when she'd received the news of his death, Catherine felt the sudden urge to hold the hands of the clock above the fireplace. To cheat the fools who made war. She bent her head as the memory of her brother's cheerful wave goodbye returned to her with full force. Then she felt someone move to stand behind her shoulder and a hand covered hers. Looking down at the long brown fingers, she saw her own tear land upon them.

‘Now, now, I'm sure it will all come to naught,' Kevin said, smiling gently down at his wife, patting her hand. ‘Let's move into the parlour and see what Iggy's been learning on the piano and have a little singalong. Where's Pattie? Come along, young lady; give us a tune or two.'

Mischievous Pattie had certainly given her parents a few extra grey hairs over the years, but all was forgiven when she sang. Her beautiful voice washed over them as she began with ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling', which made Mildred cry openly. Pattie's parents rocked back and forth, arms linked, misty-eyed. With the applause barely over, Rose whispered in Iggy's ear and he played the opening chords to ‘You Made Me Love You'. Pattie didn't seem to have much choice but to sing as Rose curtsied in front of Jack. They danced in the lazy familiar way of lovers and, even though others soon joined them in the centre of the living room, they seemed isolated in their own world. Catherine observed the expression on her daughter's face, feeling her pain as she tasted the cruel sting of heartache for the first time in her young life.

Veronica watched them and knew somehow that the race had been run and that Rose had won, although what exactly she'd done to win didn't bear considering. Nor did she want to stay to watch Rose enjoy her victory. She was heading for the door when Dan appeared in front of her, his expression hopeful as he bowed for the second time that night and held out his hand. He was closer to her in age than Jack and nice enough looking, she supposed, with his brown hair and eyes and broad shoulders. She knew she should have been flattered by his attentions, but all she could feel was disappointment that he wasn't Jack. Finding herself unable to refuse, she allowed him to waltz her around the floor and, in spite of herself, the music began to lift her spirits.

Soon they were all dancing, her brothers singing with exaggerated adoration to Pattie, which made them all laugh.

You made me love you

I didn't want to do it I didn't want to do it…

Tom sent Veronica a grin before donning his mother's riding bonnet and placing one of her scarves around Mick's face; they hammed it up again in loud falsettos.

She felt Dan's eyes upon her and turned to him, shrugging. ‘I do apologise. They're a bit mad, I'm afraid.'

‘I think I need a bit of that in my life.' Dan smiled back. He really did have a nice face, she noted, trying not to look past him to where Jack stood, his arm still on Rose's waist.

The parlour resounded with applause as the brothers finished their duet on bended knee, before begging their father in squeaky girlish voices for their favourite Irish jig. Kevin promptly produced his fiddle. The music was like an elixir running up the dancers' veins as the room spun, the floorboards easing beneath the rug, flexing with the rhythm of the dance. Singing along with the familiar songs, Veronica found herself lost in the music, her feet moving effortlessly in time.

‘Hand her over unless you've got a spare camel!' Tom laughed, grabbing Veronica off Dan and twirling her about.

‘Slow down, you great ape.' She giggled as he pranced her back and forth, whooping as he went. He gave her an extra enthusiastic spin and somehow she landed in Jack's arms. Every part of her fell into alert and for a moment both of them stood still. The last time he'd touched her felt like years before, although impossibly it had only been that morning, and the same strange feeling of burning ran along the place where his hands lay.

She glanced up at him, unsure what to say just as Tom went sailing past, imitating an ape.

Suddenly they both began to laugh and Jack took one hand off her waist, leading her with ease about the floor as they let go of the troubles of the day and enjoyed each other again, old friends. They were young for a moment, with all the freedom she missed so much, the freedom that had driven her to stand on a cart galloping towards the sun.

The music ended and a voice broke through the hum of conversation. ‘Jack? There you are. Come on, darling, sing this one for us all.'

Rose had called him to the front and Jack dropped his arms from Veronica and went, leaving her feeling suddenly empty.

Like his sister, Jack was a gifted singer. His voice rang through the night, clear yet intimate, wrapping itself around the listener.

I wandered today to the hill, Ma
ggie,

To watch the scene b
elow;

The creek and the creaking old
mill,

Ma
ggie,

As we used to long
ago.

Rose held his hand and he looked down at her as he sang, the meaning of the gesture clogging in Veronica's brain, then forcing its unwanted way in. The words followed her as she quietly left the room.

But she missed the lift of Jack's gaze to the departing lavender dress.

But to me you're as fair as you were, M
aggie

When you and I were y
oung.

Four

Beecroft

I need to get that stupid girl out of the way.

Although she had played the situation artfully to regain the advantage, Rose was still seething over the sight of Veronica and Jack on the road earlier that day. She had followed him across the ridge, unable to contain her curiosity, hiding herself behind the rocks in Stan's Gully. Even from a distance she could read the heat between them. Despite her confidence that she had successfully driven the girl from his mind in the hours afterwards, she knew she had competition.

BOOK: Gallipoli Street
3.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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