A Sense Of Belonging – Episode 10

Beryl thoroughly enjoyed Kate’s company. They’d practically grown up together, hardly exchanging an angry word in over 60 years of friendship, and no subject was off limits. There wasn’t much that Beryl didn’t feel she could talk to Kate about, and it definitely helped that they both lived on a farm.

Not everyone understood what rural life was really like, Beryl thought as she poured some more iced tea into their tumblers. But she and Kate certainly knew. Oh, yes, they knew how, for all the beauty of Australia’s tropical far north, the sweet perfume of frangipani, the sight of the tablelands changing to the colour of cherry brandy as sunset quivered, and the syrupy taste of a mango picked straight from a tree in the garden, running a plantation whether it was sugar or pineapples required dedication.

As if on cue, in the distance, Alan’s tractor started up and the chugging noise caused both women to shift their gazes.

“I don’t suppose Alan has had any thoughts of taking things a bit slower?” Kate asked.

“He could if he wanted to,” Beryl replied. “I keep telling him he should hire a bloke to do some of the heavier work for him, but he won’t listen to me. He says he’s quite happy with things the way they are.”

“Out there on his own from dawn to dusk every day?”

With a sigh, Beryl folded her arms.

“Sometimes I think we should sell up while we’ve still got our health. Retire to Port Douglas. Buy ourselves a little house near the beach, maybe.”

“What about Susanne?”

“She loves this place, but realistically she knows that her dad and I can’t go on running it for ever. It’ll need to change hands at some point in the future.”

“She won’t mind it being sold?” Kate asked.

“Oh, she’d miss it, for sure,” Beryl said. “But that’s life, isn’t it? Her dad and I have done what we could to keep the farm going. Truth is, though, Susanne would be the first one to admit that she just couldn’t run it by herself, no matter how much she might like to, and you know as well as I do, Kate, that it takes a certain kind of bloke to make a proper go of farming. So, unless she suddenly meets a single farmer who’s looking to settle down to a life of hard work on a pineapple plantation, I’m not sure we’ve got any choice but to sell.” There was a pause. Then she added, “Anyway, her career at Travel World seems to be going real well, and I’d be surprised if she wasn’t looking to move to a place of her own within the next year or so.”

“The day you leave here will be the hardest day of your life, Beryl Reeve,” Kate declared with sincerity in her voice.

Born and brought up at Emu Hill, Beryl gave no reply. There was no need. Kate understood her sadness.

“What’s Alan saying about Nell maybe having had a secret sister?” Kate asked curiously before she left.

“You know Alan,” Beryl said with a sigh. “He doesn’t like raking over the past. We haven’t even talked about it. Something tells me he won’t want to. It’s Alan’s way. If Mum did have a secret, I already know that Alan will argue it was hers to keep and should be left where it belongs in the past.”

“Who says that’s where it belongs?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” Kate said. “Just that if you do have an auntie Jean, there’s nothing to say she’s not still alive and living somewhere here in Australia. I mean, if she emigrated here, it makes sense that she settled here, doesn’t it?” She studied Beryl, who returned her gaze with contemplative eyes. “If there’s any truth in what Ruth Jones said, don’t you want to find out more about Jean?”

“Ruth said she was Mum’s older sister . . .” Beryl murmured. “So chances are she’s already passed away.”

“Could be. But if she hasn’t, the question is, how would you feel about it?”

Beryl shrugged.

“I can’t say I’d be a hundred percent stoked, because part of me would wonder what had happened between Mum and her and why they cut off contact with each other.”

“Maybe they didn’t,” Kate said slowly. “Maybe they went their separate ways and just lost contact without meaning to. You hear stories like that. Orphaned siblings being separated then losing contact. Could even be that they didn’t work together in that big house in Toorak. Maybe Ruth and Nell worked there, but Jean was sent somewhere else. In those days the officials would have sent orphans far and wide maybe even to a different state.”

Beryl knew that it was a possibility.

“Can you imagine how upsetting it would’ve been for the two of them to have travelled all the way here from Scotland, only then to be separated and not able to find each other later in life?”

“Sadly those things happened a lot back then,” Kate said with a shrug.

In her heart Beryl knew that whether Alan approved or not, she’d like to find out the truth. And Kate was right; the past sometimes did have a bearing on the present.

She’d held the last-ever St Andrew’s Day ceilidh in Nell’s memory, and to all intents and purposes it had been a success. Not in a million years, however, could she have guessed that it would end up drawing her back in time and presenting her with perplexing questions about Nell.

She wasn’t sure why, but she sensed the answers lay not in 1940s Australia, but a lot further back, in the Depression of 1930s Scotland.


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