In Beryl’s mind, it was doubtful the sisters had anticipated the estrangement. Most likely it wasn’t intended. They had simply reached different conclusions about their migration experience. Then, understandably, time and fate had carried them off in separate directions.
What a pity, Beryl reflected, that they couldn’t have agreed to disagree, and lovingly conceded their different views rather than parting on thorny terms. This important lesson was, she knew, how she would repair her relationship with Alan. She’d do her best to see things his way more often from now on. Let him know it was OK for him to feel differently from her; the bond of marriage, of compassionate partnership, and of love, hopefully dissolving any thorniness.
The voice of a youngster drew her attention back to the Dundonian gathering.
“There’s a taxi outside!”
Sally moved to the window.
“It’s Susanne,” she said, voice buoyant. “She said she would join us after dinner. And she’s brought her friend Walker with her.” Turning to Beryl, she then noted, “It’s a shame those two aren’t a couple they look braw together.”
Beryl watched. It was true. Susanne and Walker were well suited. And tonight, if she wasn’t mistaken, there was a change in their body-language, the way they made their entrance, moving round the room together, saying their hellos with wide smiles, standing so close to one another their shoulders touched.
The togetherness was there for all to see and Beryl guessed what she was witnessing. Call it mother’s intuition.
Kate might not be eating that hat of hers, after all. She laughed inwardly.
Later, as Beryl bade farewell to the assembled family, Helen handed her an old coin.
“Take that tae Australia,” her cousin said with an emotional look on her face. “It’s one of the three shillings that Grandad Euan kept with him till he died. Mum told me that he’d always wanted his bairns to be reunited, and he kept three shillings in his wallet, one for each of them. Of course, his wish never came true, but I think he’d be chuffed tae bits if he knew that his Australian granddaughter got one o’ the shillings.”
Tears not far away, Beryl stared at the coin, too overwhelmed to speak.
She knew the sadness that her grandad had endured, his thwarted efforts to trace his three children, followed by a remarkable degree of acceptance and forgiveness. Then the joy of Jean’s arrival back in Dundee after the war and her news of Nell’s contentment with the Australian way of life must have comforted Euan tremendously, and Beryl imagined him resting easier knowing that his younger daughter was settled albeit a long way from his protective arms.
Holding the shilling, she felt she was in possession of a link to her mum’s Scottish yore.
“I’ll treasure this,” she said, voice faltering, but with sincerity. “Thank you, Helen.”
“Mind,” Martin said. “Dundee will always be your home from home, Beryl. It’s a city that has grown out of its old, industrial past. It’s finding a new way forward for itself.” His tone was conciliatory. “Mum would have liked Nell to see the changes, to know the hardship of their childhood had been replaced with something better.”
Beryl was surprised at how sentimental she felt, and more than a little misty-eyed.
“What I’ve seen here is a beautiful city with an interesting history and a really positive future. I’m proud to have Dundee in my blood.” Her lips trembled. “I respect the lives our mums made for themselves. It’s sad that they went their separate ways, but their differences were outweighed by the thing they most definitely had in common: they both believed in family life. If they hadn’t, none of us would be here today.”
“How true that is.” Sally touched Beryl’s arm as she spoke. “It doesn’t matter where we are in the world, an invisible web of togetherness continuously connects us all, even when we don’t realise it.”
“What a comforting thought,” Beryl agreed.
A kaleidoscope of place names tumbled through her mind as she lay in bed that final night before leaving Dundee. Places Susanne and she had explored, streets that bore witness to the lives of their descendants: Ferrybridge Works, the Low Mill, Stobswell Loan, Claredon Drive, Dundee Orphan Institution.
She couldn’t have been more glad that Ruth Jones had turned up out of the blue at the St Andrew’s Day ceilidh. Truly, that chance encounter had led her on a journey of discovery which had enriched her identity as a daughter, granddaughter, mother, wife and more.
“I love you, Mum,” she whispered. “You brave, determined, hard-working, wonderful woman.”
Closing her eyes, she tried to picture her mum and Jean aboard the North Star as it made its 42-day voyage to the farthest side of the world. Had they been given any choice at all about starting a new life in Australia? What had they been told about the colony? Did they know anything about the dramatically different landscape that lay ahead of them?
Sally had said that, although her mum had been open about her migration, she never spoke about the outward sea voyage. She only recounted the bus journey from Dundee to Glasgow port. The sea voyage itself, apparently, was something that Jean had been reluctant to discuss. Perhaps the memory of it upset her deeply, or, understandably, aroused anger in her.
The truth of some stories, Beryl acknowledged silently, was so extraordinary, it existed only in the hearts and minds of those who had been there: the children who climbed off a bus at Glasgow port, lined up in obedient rows of boys and girls, eyes wide as they boarded a ship that promised to transport them to a better place.