“Do you mean to say you are two years my senior, sir, and yet you wish to marry my daughter?”
Walter faced the hostile Reuben Clark with trepidation. “I only thought we might go walking together with a view to getting to know each other a little better … and if…” his courage was spiralling out of control down some unseen plughole.
“And if?” exploded Reuben. “My daughter is the most eligible young woman in Stawell. She has had unsuitable suitors before and you sir are just another one. And now I wish you good day.”
He rose and opened the parlour door indicating to Walter their talk was over.
Walter took his leave, glad to rejoin the world of trees and sky and oblivious birds. As he picked his way over the stony lane he became aware of a light footfall behind him. It was Ruby.
“Walter, I’m sorry about my father.” She looked at him with a woebegone face. “Look, I’m going to leave this place. Can you help me get a job in Melbourne? I’ll do anything, sew, cook, clean…”
“I’ll see what I can do Maybe an aunt…?”
“Good!” Ruby leaned across and kissed him on the cheek. “I’ll be waiting to hear from you.”
With that she ran back towards Clark House and left Walter in a state of agitation. He thought of his aunts and wondered if any of them used or needed domestic help. What was Ruby planning to do? Was she merely using him to escape or did she intend they should be together one day?
Back in his room he took out his writing paper and penned a letter to his favourite aunt. Unlike other members of his family, she might be less inclined to condemn the hasty and ill-considered actions he was undertaking.
Dear Aunt Lil,
I have met a young woman of whom I am very fond. She wishes to leave her parental home and work as a domestic servant or companion in Melbourne. She is a qualified seamstress and very striking in appearance, being tall and stylishly dressed.
I have hopes that at some time in the future she will consent to be my wife. Five years of loneliness since the sad departure of my dear Hannah has left a void that I hope Ruby Clark can partially fill. How I long to have laughter and happiness once again in my small house in Williamstown.
For your co-operation in this matter I would forever be in your debt.
Your loving nephew,
Sealing the envelope, Walter half-ran to the Post Office lest he change his mind. He rubbed the red kangaroo on the penny stamp for luck and stuck it on the envelope. Mrs Hawkins behind the counter looked enquiringly at the address and Walter muttered, “My aunt, ” although he wondered afterwards why he felt compelled to say anything.
Now all he could do was wait. Wait for a reply from Aunt Lil and wait for a further intoxicating encounter with Ruby Clark.