Beryl glanced round her cousin Helen’s sitting-room. It was lively, filled with various branches of her Dundonian family tree three generations, no less, because several of the younger offspring were themselves now parents. Some of the faces had grown familiar to Beryl, others, not so much.
Jean’s brood, it had to be said, were very healthy in number, the roots strong, and it moved Beryl that she and Susanne had been received into the family with open arms and plate upon plate of shortbread, sausage rolls, black bun, and cups of tea.
It was very cold outside, a glistening white winter wonderland. Inside the house was cosy and, as she observed the good-natured coming and going, Beryl sensed there was a loveliness in her Scottish heritage, it being so particularly vivid in its memories, stories, recollections an education she had found absorbing.
Martin took a seat beside her, a disk in his hand.
“I’ve put together this compilation of family photographs for you, Beryl. There’s some of Mum, Dad, Sally, Helen and me, taken years ago. And there are a couple of really old ones, too. Granny Colleen and her brothers and sisters, Mum and Auntie Nell that one was taken in nineteen twenty-eight, before Douglas was born. Oh, and there’s one of baby Douglas. Marigold Pettigrew must have sent that to Grandad Euan before they emigrated.” With kind eyes, he handed her the disk. “Not exactly a full account of our family history, but I thought you might like to have something to take home with you. Something to show Alan and your granddaughter.”
“That’s very thoughtful. Thank you, Martin. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my visit. You’ve all been so welcoming, so kind.” Beryl’s heart constricted. It was impossible to put into words how much she’d gained from the experience. “I hope you’ll think seriously about coming out to see us in Australia. I’d like to show you around our part of the world.”
“Well, you never know. One or two of us might just find our way Down Under some day,” Martin replied. “Emu Hill is as far removed from this place as Sydney Harbour Bridge is from Edinburgh Castle but here we are. A family reunited.”
Beryl met his gaze with a contemplative smile. Not quite a family, she thought, for she was all too aware that her husband wasn’t by her side.
Emu Hill had rarely been out of her mind during the holiday, which had surprised her. It was with a pang of sadness that she’d gone to bed alone each night, seeing Alan in fond, sleep-drenched thoughts. He was missed. So, too, was the farm, and the heat of the tropics. She looked forward to her return.
It had taken a pilgrimage to the other side of the world for her to appreciate how much she enjoyed life at home. Of course there had been sorrows and difficulties, but they’d gone on the best they could, though. That counted for something, she reckoned. And her heart now brimmed afresh with affection for Alan and their homestead, and everything in between.
“We have the sweetest pineapples you’ll ever taste,” she murmured.
“I don’t doubt it,” Martin said pleasantly.
They exchanged a warm glance. For her part, Beryl believed that the family she’d met and spent time with in Dundee would remain connected to her life story from that point onwards. She accepted that her mum had preferred not to hark back to the sad times, and that she had chosen to loosen her ties with her sister rather than resurrect the spectre of misery surrounding their early misfortunes.
Bereavement and separation overcome in a faraway sunlit country, a land of opportunity where she’d made a life for herself, and with no certainty that her father and brother would ever be found who could blame Nell for her decision not to sail back to Scotland with Jean? And, equally, who could blame Jean for longing to be reunited with her kin?