Walker leaned forward, the journalist in him unbidden but automatically present in the way his mind worked.
“What about his late wife’s family? Colleen’s lot. You mentioned that they were a big Irish family. Why didn’t they take Jean and Nell in temporarily till Euan got himself back on his feet?”
“Lack of space, I suppose.” Susanne sighed. “Twelve people living in a tiny tenement house. Mind you, it probably wouldn’t have helped Euan even if they had managed to take Jean and Nan in, because apparently that branch of the family moved away back to Ireland just a month or so after he left for Glasgow.”
“What prompted their exodus?”
“Unemployment. By 1931 the Great Depression meant demand for jute had slumped, and the mill owner closed Ferrybridge Works and transferred all of his jute-making interests to Calcutta.”
Sadness crossed Susanne’s features then.
“We often forget that millions of people have none of the advantages in life that we do. It shouldn’t be the case, but a lot of the world’s industries are hugely profitable because business owners are still underpaying the labour force, and so poverty and the enormous gap between the rich and the poor continues to exist.”
“You should go into politics,” Walker said with a serious look.
“I’ll tell you this much,” Susanne said humbly. “After this trip, I’m going back to Emu Hill counting my blessings. Nan and Grandad put everything they had into the farm. Every cent they’d worked hard to save as a young couple went into buying that land, planting the pineapples and building the business up from scratch. It makes me proud when I think about it. Even more so now that I know what sort of background Nan came from.”
Her thoughts turned to Gertrude Pettigrew and the fact that, without her lies, Nell might never have had the prosperous life she ended up having in Far North Queensland. Ironically, Gertrude’s wrong-doing ensured a new dawn in Nell’s young life, which, in retrospect, was something to be thankful for. Jean’s experience of it had not been so successful something she shared in common with thousands of child migrants who subsequently felt lost, without roots.
Later, when Susanne and Walker had finished their desserts, the matre d’htel suddenly appeared with a bottle of champagne in a silver ice bucket. With a polite expression he lifted the bottle and tilted it towards Walker.
“Shall I open it, sir?”
“Thank you.” He and Susanne watched as the cork was discreetly popped, and then, after filling the champagne flutes in front them, the matre d’htel moved quietly away.
“I ordered this for us earlier.” With smoulderingly intense eyes, Walker looked at Susanne and raised his glass to hers. “Here’s to the Anzac Hall being saved.”
“To the Anzac Hall,” Susanne echoed as the glasses clinked. Preservation and change, together, she thought. Nan would appreciate the victory. Here’s to you, Nan. To my future being all the more meaningful because of your extraordinary past.
There was a quiet moment while she and Walker sipped the champagne. It was exquisite. The perfect finale to the evening. Well, almost perfect. A passionate kiss would be the absolute perfect finale, Susanne mused. Then, commiserating with herself, she thought, what’s the chance? Just because Walker plans to settle down in White Rock doesn’t mean he wants to spend the rest of his life with me.
She sighed inwardly.
Finally, when they’d both put their glasses down, she enquired, “When will you head home?”
“As soon as possible. No point delaying.”
“So we’ll be seeing a bit more of each ”
“Susanne . . .” Walker reached over and placed his hand on top of hers.
“Yes?” The rhythm of her heart sped up.
“There’s something else I want to tell you,” he began.