Zealous Attempt to Make the Best of a Bad Situation
Ruby read the letter again thoughtfully. It certainly put a new perspective on things. It could mean a future for Annie that she could not provide.
The letter arrived yesterday. It was from Edgar Lane, her husband’s brother, informing her of the death of her husband and Annie’s father, Walter.
“Oh Walter,” she thought. “What a disastrous couple we were! Even when I went back to Williamstown and we tried to make a stable home for Annie, it failed almost before it started.”
Walter had moved out to live with his brother, leaving Ruby and Annie in the house. Then in 1925 when the house was sold to pay Walter’s gambling debts, Ruby and Annie travelled to Terang to be with Christina in her last days. The funeral over, Reuben seemed keen to be rid of his family and set off for new pastures with a lady friend, so Ruby made sure Theo was safely employed on a dairy farm and tried to make a living as a dressmaker in various Victorian country towns. She finally ended up in Sydney, sewing night and day in her little house in Glebe, with Arthur as her landlord and then her husband in every sense but the legal one. Life with Arthur felt more secure and she slipped easily into the role of “Mrs Adams” until the Great Depression arrived. Business dropped off immediately. Her wealthy clients vanished. Arthur lost his labouring job and was unable to keep up rental payments on the cottage. He decided to head out west to look for work. It was time for her to move on to Charleville, the one place she would be sure of a job, and she had been here ever since.
The second part of the letter concerned Annie. Edgar felt his brother had provided very little for his only daughter and wanted to compensate in some way. He knew from previous correspondence that Annie was now training to be a dressmaker with a woman in Charleville but he wondered if she would be interested in working at Lucy Secor. The Melbourne company trained girls completely in every aspect of dressmaking. The girls would be carefully watched and selected for advancement as cutters, designers, supervisors and executive positions. An excellent salary would rise with advancement. Edgar and his wife Harriet would be happy to have Annie live with them in their cottage in Williamstown while she underwent the training.
It seemed like an excellent solution.
They say things happen in threes. Usually it refers to bad luck but in Ruby’s case she wasn’t sure if it was good or bad when a familiar whistle heralded a knock on the kitchen door. Standing in front of her was Fred Burton, older, stouter, but unmistakably the man whose family she had deserted 14 years ago.
“Well, if it isn’t Ruby Lane! I didn’t think I’d ever see you again!” Fred stepped uninvited into the hot kitchen, sat on a chair and stared at Ruby.
“How about a cup of tea and some tucker for a tired old man who’s just ridden all day since sunup!”
“What are you doing here?” Ruby was unsure of his feelings towards her. Maybe he hated her for what she did.
“Just got a job here. I’m the new manager. Boss and his wife are going to spend more time on the coast and want someone to run things. Thought they would have told you that!”
Ruby did remember them saying they were interviewing for a manager but she didn’t realise it would all happen quite so soon.
“How… how are the children?” Ruby was almost scared to ask.
“Married! All of them!” A shadow crossed his face.”All except Evie, that is. She passed away earlier this year. Went to Victoria for a housekeeping job in a big house. Died of the ‘flu, just like her mother.”
“Moo and Floey married two years ago and are in Sydney. Al’s still in Charleville with a new wife and Elvie just got hitched as well. All off me hands!”
“How did you manage after I left?” Ruby asked, barely breathing.
“Well strike me pink, that preacher friend of yours fixed me up with a nurse. She wasn’t working, needed the job. Trouble is I’m married to her now!”
Ruby was stunned. There was no reason why he shouldn’t marry again but in her mind he had always been waiting for her to be free. And now she was. No point telling him that, however.
“Is your wife with you?” Ruby said stiffly.
“Oh God no, we split up years ago. Sent her back to the coast because I was always moving on. No life for a woman being dragged from one station to the next like that. We did a stint at a hotel. She was cooking, I was the handyman. The heat, the hard work… it got to her and she became very cranky. Not the sort of person you want to have around. She’s happy back with her parents and I’m happy on me own.”
“That’s the way I like it too,” said Ruby, but she wasn’t sure what she felt. Fred obviously didn’t hold a grudge against her for deserting him and he was a friend in a world of strangers. She felt her spirits rise at the thought of a future with him around and happily poured his tea into a large cup, accompanied by a generous slice of fruit cake.
END OF PART ONE
If you would like to learn more of the future adventures of Ruby and Annie you can check out “Annie’s Story” every Monday on argonautsite.wordpress.com