Next door in the sitting-room she could hear that Alan had turned on the TV. There was no point hoping that he would share her enthusiasm for saving Anzac Hall or researching Nell’s family tree. He didn’t like raking over the past. He didn’t see the point. He didn’t feel any connection to it.
With a heavy-hearted sigh, she lowered her eyes and found herself staring once again at the copy of her grandad’s marriage certificate to Margaret Docherty dating back to 1956. When they’d examined it earlier on, Kate had pointed out to Beryl that the nuptials took place in Dundee and that Jean might have been in attendance and, if so, it might explain why the sisters fell out if indeed they did.
Beryl drummed a finger on the table. Had Nell been unable to accept that her dad had found love again later in life? Surely not. She’d been such a warm-hearted, loving person, it simply didn’t make sense that she’d have become estranged from her family because of that. Unless, Beryl surmised, her mum’s resentment ran much deeper. After all, Euan had given his two daughters up for adoption and allowed them to be shipped to another country. Was that it? Had Nell been unable to forgive her dad for giving them up?
So many unanswerable questions, Beryl thought.
She got up and walked across the kitchen to the counter top where a batch of freshly baked white chocolate and macadamia cookies were cooling. It was a recipe her mum had taught her; an Emu Hill Christmas tradition. Beryl had gone ahead and made them because it wouldn’t seem like holiday-time without them. She’d missed her mum’s company terribly. They used to get so much joy from preparing Christmas food together. How could the holiday ever feel as happy again?
Tears ran down her face. The thought of not seeing her mum on Christmas Day felt impossibly sad, and she wished she could fast-forward to the New Year, skipping the festivities rather than facing up to her grief.
She reached for a tissue and wiped the wetness from her cheeks. This isn’t what Mum would want, she told herself. She wouldn’t want me to be miserable. She’d want me to keep Christmas special for the sake of the family.
Then it suddenly struck Beryl that Nell must have endured an even greater sadness, a much more tragic bereavement when her own mum, a young woman in her prime, passed away just days before Christmas. Although Susanne had been unable to find any information on the internet to shed light on the circumstances of Colleen’s death, it seemed obvious that Euan, Nell and Jean must have been left broken-hearted.
December 24, 1929
Mither an’ me cannae cope wi a’ these bairns,” Caitlin Dailey said, cradling baby Douglas in her arms. Behind her, a knot of scruffy-looking children of varying ages were sitting dolefully in the passage, some crying, some barefoot despite the bitter cold. “Surely you can see that fer yerself.”
Euan met his sister-in-law’s dejected gaze with one of his own as he reached forward and grabbed both Jean and Nell’s hands and pulled them towards him protectively. The last four days had been wretched. He’d hardly slept and it had been a struggle to get through a day’s work at the mill.
“I’m sorry,” he said in a daze. “I have tae work. They’ll throw me out o’ the hoose if I don’t.”
Caitlin let out a throaty breath.
“We’re a’ feeling terrible about Colleen passing away like she did. But we’ve twelve in here tae look after. You’ll hae to find yer ain way wi’ yer bairns.” She patted Jean and Nell on their heads. Her face, however, Euan noticed, lacked real affection. “What about yer faither?” she went on. “Can he no’ help?”
Euan shook his head.
“He’s crippled. Did you no’ see that yesterday at the cemetery?”
“Aye, I did,” Caitlin conceded, her voice softening a touch. “Shame yer mither is awa’. She maybe could’ve helped find someone tae take him in.”
“Take him in?”
“You’re no’ expecting me tae keep him, are ye?”
Instantly Euan felt both his lassies squeeze his hands and he knew they were as distraught as he was. He wished he could reassure them that everything was going to be all right, but it wouldn’t be the truth. He’d never felt so lost in all his life.
Colleen’s death made everything dark and unrecognisable. At first he wouldn’t let himself think about her being gone for ever. Then, yesterday, at the cemetery, it had hit him and he felt a pain like nothing he’d ever known before. Yet he’d been unable to shed any tears not one. Anger choked them inside of him.
How could his darling wife be taken from him so suddenly? How could life be so cruel? Earlier, walking home from the Low Mill, he’d thought about the morning Colleen died and he remembered her last words and tried to find some comfort in knowing that she’d not been scared.
“My Jimmy says we’ve enough on our ain hands,” Caitlin went on. “An’ he’s right enough. It’s awfy sad fer ye, Euan, I ken that. But you need tae decide what tae dae aboot this wean o’ yours. He needs a mither.”
“I’ve no’ had time tae think about it,” Euan said in a quiet voice.
“Well, you’d better start thinkin’, hadn’t you?”
“If you could just ”
She shook her head crossly.
“I’ll keep him till Christmas is over an’ done wi’ and then after that you’ll need tae sort something else out.”
Euan’s mind whirled. This was a nightmare. Losing Colleen had been devastating enough, but he could hardly bring himself to contemplate the idea of giving up his newborn son.