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Authors: Mary-Anne O'Connor

Gallipoli Street (9 page)

BOOK: Gallipoli Street
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‘Us, no thanks to me. I got a duck,' he grinned, leaning over and kissing her hand, suddenly serious. ‘Gave me quite a scare there, Vera,' he said simply, but he didn't let go. The sound of a car and then women's voices carried across the lawn as Pattie, Alice, Mildred and Rose arrived.

‘There you are!' Rose waved, floating towards them, a vision in a flowered lilac dress that flowed with her every movement. Veronica withdrew her hand.

‘And how is our little invalid? Don't you boys go over-exerting my patient,' she reprimanded playfully, tapping her little parasol on Tom's head before offering her arm to Jack.

‘She's much better, aren't you, Vera Mags?' Tom grinned at his sister before gazing at Rose as if entranced. She looked very beautiful, Veronica had to admit, feeling suddenly insignificant. All three boys were staring at the sight of Rose lit up from the sunshine behind her, and for a moment no one said a word until Tom broke the silence.

‘Off on your rounds? Crikey, these new female doctors dress to kill. Don't know if the elderly fellows will be able to take it.' And he clutched at his heart for effect as they all broke into laughter.

‘Now, now,' Rose smiled at him, ‘just behave yourself and come on up to the house. Your mother has made the tea. Don't get up, Veronica. I'll get Eileen to bring yours down.'

‘Actually I think they're bringing it down for all of us as we speak.' Mick pointed, as Eileen and Molly appeared on the verandah with trays of tea, sugar, cream, scones and jam, led by Pattie holding a large blanket.

‘Come up and get some cushions will you, boys?' she called across the lawn and the men set off to do her bidding.

Finding herself alone with Rose for a moment, Veronica found the words she been trying to form for days.

‘I want to thank you, Rose. I…I am so grateful to you, the way you helped me and stayed so calm and focused. You saved my life.' She held out her hand in appreciation.

‘Don't bother with thanking me, Veronica. I'm sure we both know how you can repay me.' She ignored the outstretched hand, pulling at her gloves instead.

‘Repay you?' Veronica stared at Rose, perplexed.

‘Stay out of my way, and by that, I mean away from Jack. Don't dance with him, don't flirt with him and most importantly, do not attend Greenshades. I have secured an invitation via Jack's mother and it will be the perfect opportunity for him to propose, so I certainly don't want you around distracting him with your sweet-little-sister act.' She waved and giggled as the others came closer, before rounding back to face Veronica, her mask slipping.

‘But I…I thought…' Veronica stammered.

‘What?'

‘I supposed that after you saved my life we would be, I don't know, friends. I thought things would be different.'

‘Women are never truly friends, Veronica. Men are fickle creatures and women are always each other's competitors. Honestly, you really are naive, aren't you? I forget how young you are sometimes.' She opened her purse and took out a lacy white handkerchief, patting Veronica's brow with it as the others arrived.

‘Poor lamb. Boys, I think she may be suffering from the heat out here. Perhaps she should move back inside.' She lifted large worried eyes to Mick and Tom, whose medical studies quickly came to the fore, and they felt Veronica's brow and checked her pulse as Pattie eyed Rose suspiciously.

‘You are a little on the boil,' Tom confirmed.

‘Really, I feel quite fine,' Veronica began to object, hating to miss out on spending time with Jack.

‘Come along, let's get you inside.' Mick lifted her up and carried her back to the house, Pattie in tow. Tucking the sheets about her Pattie hummed a little tune before freshening up the flowers until Mick left.

‘Who sent you these, Vera? They're lovely. Must be from the city.' She looked at her sideways. ‘Don't tell me Jack actually sent flowers? He must have been worried. And purple roses, no less.'

Veronica tried to smile, but didn't quite make it, and Pattie sat on her bed, waiting.

‘What is it, darling?'

Veronica's eyes swam. ‘With you calling me darling and Mick calling me dearest I must be a sorry sight.' Pattie stroked her hair and for the first time since the snake attack Veronica cried. She cried for the fear of nearly dying, for the look on her mother's face, for her father's tears and for the gentle care of her brothers. But most of all she cried because the man she loved would marry a woman who didn't believe in their world. He would marry someone who used people, who played at life like a puppeteer pulling the strings. Who thought women could not be friends. She would take him away from them, bit by bit, and they would never again share in his life and walk along together. Jack would never be hers; that was hard enough. But her bitterest tears flowed because the Jack she knew would eventually cease to exist, perishing in the coldness of Rose's heart. All of this flowed out of her in the form of broken sobs as Pattie waited.

Finally she managed to speak. ‘We're losing him, Pattie.'

Pattie nodded slowly, looking at the purple roses again then back at Veronica.

‘You mean…
you're
losing him, don't you?'

Veronica pulled at the thread on her coverlet as Pattie stared. ‘Does he…I mean have you…?'

‘No, no it's nothing like that. I just…' Veronica ran out of words as she wiped at her tears. ‘It's just me,' she admitted.

‘I wonder.' Pattie looked thoughtfully at the flowers. ‘You sure are one for secrets, although I think Rose may be cottoning on to something.'

‘She…she says I need to repay her by keeping away from him. That she's waiting for him to propose and she doesn't want me at Greenshades. She said I'm not to c-come…'

‘Not to come to your own auntie's Christmas party? Since when does she rule the roost?' Pattie scoffed.

‘Since she saved my life.'

‘Well I saved your life plenty of times when we were kids. Remember the crazy mule in the east paddock?'

Veronica smiled. ‘Pickles?'

‘Yes, that's the one. Chased you cross-eyed into the shed until I convinced it the cricket ball was an apple? Never seen an animal so determined to break its teeth.'

Veronica's smile turned into a watery giggle.

Pattie stood up and wagged her finger. ‘Seems to me you need to obey Pattie and I say do what you want!'

Veronica laughed a little more as the tears subsided into small shudders and Pattie closed the curtains, kissing her cheek before leaving.

‘She said women can never truly be friends because they are always com-competitors,' Veronica whispered.

‘Humph! Charming. Well…just goes to show then, doesn't it?'

‘Show what?' she sniffed.

‘Rose can be very, very wrong.'

Pattie winked and closed the door and, staring at the vase of flowers until her eyes fell closed at last, Veronica felt a little hope.

Seven

Greenshades, Wahroonga, 24 December 1913

‘Hurry up, Vera!' Pattie shouted, laughing as she ran down the stairs, her long limbs covered by a large towel. Veronica stood in her bedroom at Greenshades, peering nervously out the window. Her aunt Marjorie had placed her in her usual room overlooking the pool and she looked out below across the sparkling, kidney-shaped water and green lawns and down the frangipani-lined driveway, seeing who was about. Or, more importantly, whether Jack had arrived. She bit her lip and stared down at the new swimsuit Pattie had bought her as an early Christmas present. She was surprised her mother had let her wear it but Pattie had done an excellent job of convincing her that the new fashion was a far safer option that the contraptions women usually bathed in. Veronica's wellbeing was obviously still high on Catherine's priority list. She found herself wishing she had been forbidden, feeling very unsure about the outline of her shape showing through the thick black fabric. And bare legs! No one had seen her legs in public for a very long time.

Except Jack when you drove the cart.

She told the voice in her mind to hush. She'd made a pact with herself to try not to focus on him while she was there and to just enjoy herself with her family and friends. After all, Pattie was right: what right did Rose have to tell her she couldn't come to Greenshades? It was her family Christmas after all. And besides, if she'd stayed at home fabricating a relapse as an excuse her brothers would undoubtedly want to stay with her, which would mean they all missed out. No she was right to come, she assured herself. And who cares what Jack thinks of the swimming costume?

Brilliantly done, Veronica. Almost a full thirty seconds of not thinking about him.

She shook her head clear, deciding she couldn't really hide in her room all day. Wrapping herself in a towel she timidly slipped out the door and headed down towards the pool, picking her way quietly along the bushes.

‘Hello, Vera Mags! Going for a dip?' Tom jumped out and scooped her up onto his shoulders, running down to the pool as she screamed and wriggled, finally landing with an enormous splash in the middle to shrieks of laughter from Pattie.

‘At least he saved your towel.' Pattie pointed to her own saturated sheet with exasperation before inclining her head towards a snoozing Mick, who had found a nice shady spot beneath the camellias. She snuck over with exaggerated stealth as Vera giggled. A flurry of splashing followed as Mick was rudely awakened and took immediate revenge, imitating a mad pirate as he thrashed about after them around the pool.

‘Stop it!' Pattie laughed as he cornered her.

‘Ye'll have to pay the fee,' Mick growled, loping over and making some effective ‘arrrr' noises.

‘I haven't brought my purse so worse luck for you, y'mangy dog!' she declared, showing her empty palms.

‘Hmm. Then I'll be feeding ye to the sharks,' he roared, closing in as she made a last-minute dash for safety.

Veronica's cousins Mary and Agnes interrupted them in an excited clatter as they arrived on horseback, their faces flushed.

‘You won't believe it. Come on!' Agnes urged as the two of them dismounted and grabbed arms, pulling everyone along with them towards the front drive. ‘Clarkson promised us a visit to the beach on New Year's Eve, although I don't know if we'll all fit.'

‘Fit what?' asked Mick, rubbing his wet blond hair with one hand and being dragged along by Mary with the other.

‘In that!' Agnes beamed as they rounded the corner, and her older brother Clarkson tipped his hat at them all from behind the wheel of a brand-new automobile.

‘Is that…a Sunbeam?' Tom asked reverently as Mary and Agnes clapped and the boys went forward to shake their cousin's hand. Clarkson laughed in a rich, deep rumble, sounding so like his father Clarkson Senior that Veronica had to smile. She adored these larger-than-life relatives, who were as generous as they were flamboyant.

‘Certainly is, young Tom. Good to see you!' They shook hands and Clarkson clapped the boys on the shoulder. ‘How are you, Mick? Long time between drinks.'

‘Where the devil did you get it from?' Tom asked in amazement, running his hand along the gleaming white bonnet and staring at the gold finishes in awe.

‘Just came back from picking her up in Melbourne: gorgeous, isn't she? Speaking of which, who's going to introduce me to that bathing beauty back there? Wait on a minute…Vera? Come here and give me a kiss.'

Vera giggled as he wrapped her in a bear hug and swung her about.

‘This is a beaut day, eh? What shall we do first? Drive down to Bobbin Head? Take you into town and show off the family genes?' He kissed Vera on the cheek, then finally noticed Pattie standing behind his sister, being uncharacteristically shy. Clarkson took his racing goggles off and smiled a slow dazzling grin at her, incredibly dashing, with his dimples and moustache, even to his sisters and cousins.

‘And could this possibly be Patricia?' He stood before her, taking in her shapely legs and tangled hair, stretching to his full six foot and two inches, then bowed low, never taking his eyes from hers. ‘Seems I shouldn't have stayed away last Christmas after all. The London lasses pale compared to such Aussie beauty as this.' They all watched in amazement as Pattie opened her mouth to respond and closed it again.

‘Blimey, he's turned her into a mullet,' Tom observed, causing them all to laugh.

‘Would you care to take the front seat?' Clarkson invited, opening the door for her. Pattie obliged dreamily as the rest of them piled in. The new Sunbeam raced up and down the drive in a plume of dust, to the thrill of its occupants; it was an exciting if short ride. With promises of heading up to the race that afternoon, Clarkson set them down at the house before driving back to town to pick up a friend.

Vera watched the beautiful car wind away as the others went off to change for lunch, taking a moment just to drink it all in, the beauty of Greenshades' front gardens enveloping her. Walking beneath the row of frangipani trees, she inhaled deeply, loving the summery fragrance and touching their velvety blooms, her face towards the sun. Veronica hadn't been able to sneak off to her spot by the creek since she'd been ill and it felt good to be barefoot, outdoors.

She scrunched the grass between her toes and smiled at the feeling one last time before turning towards the house and running up the stairs, feeling the carefree joy of summer at Greenshades embrace her.

She had completely forgotten about Jack and Rose in the fun of the day until that moment, when she landed on the enormous cream verandah and found herself face to face with them both. Jack's stare caused Veronica to instantly regret leaving her towel by the pool as she stood before them, clad only in her new black swimsuit, her hair wild and loose from the impromptu ride.

And you thought having bare legs in a cart was bad.

BOOK: Gallipoli Street
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