First Days as a Wife
Ruby decided she should be happy. She had her own home and her unruly family was a distant memory. Her stint as a domestic servant with Aunt Lil had not endeared her to the lifestyle, especially as the aunt made continual pointed remarks about when she was going to marry “poor Walter”.
Walter showed her his cottage in Williamstown. She imagined replacing the worn curtains and making cushions to brighten the rooms.
She envisaged a vegetable garden out the back and flowers behind the picket fence. She would put pot plants on the front verandah, a new rug in the hall and polish the furniture until it shone.
They were married as soon as possible, putting up her age to 23 so Reuben’s permission wasn’t needed. Walter even carried Ruby over the threshold of their little cottage before asking jokingly what was for tea. She primly replied it was to be called “dinner” from now on.
Ruby’s knowledge of marital duties was confined to her mother’s rapid explanation when she turned 16. She knew it led to childbirth and childbirth was dangerous, even fatal for the mother. She was somewhat relieved when she found that Walter, after their painful and embarrassing wedding night, was not particularly interested in physical relations and so performed it as a sort of duty once a month.
Even so, after throwing up her Christmas dinner and most subsequent meals after that, she realised that she was either dying of a strange disease or expecting a baby. A visit to the doctor confirmed what she already suspected.
Walter’s reaction was not as enthusiastic as she had hoped. He talked a lot about finances, or lack thereof. Her attempts to brighten up the house had led to many arguments over “wasting money”. Now he bemoaned the extra expense a child would bring to the household.
“He’s just a complaining old man”, Ruby thought. “He is so set in his ways he has lost the joy of life”.
It was true that Walter liked nothing more than to arrive home from work, read his paper by the fire with a glass of beer and then move to the kitchen table to consume his stew, shepherd’s pie or chops, potatoes and peas. He did not want to hear about Ruby’s day, but told her stories of the men at the Workshop or the horse that came second.
Most weekends he was absent, either at Flemington Race Course or playing the mysterious “two-up” at some unknown location. He would arrive home worse the wear from too much drink and fall asleep on their bed so that she moved to the other room to avoid his beery breath and sudden, loud snores.
Apart from her guilt over leaving Theo, the one person Ruby missed from her estranged family was her mother. Her only communication with Christina had been a letter to say that she was getting married (and not to tell father). Her mother had replied wishing her every happiness and the hope that her marriage would be more successful than Christina’s own. Ruby now wrote another letter informing her of the impending birth. A reply came two weeks later with the following news.
My dearest daughter,
Such wonderful news from you about the coming child. I am so happy that all is going well for you. How I wish I could see you again.
Since I last wrote we have had a disaster. We have lost the house. I smelt something burning in the kitchen and gave the alarm but there was no water available to put out the flames. Then the fire brigade arrived but they broke the lug on the hydrant and so no water came out. At first the fire was only in the kitchen but it spread across the passageway to the main house and much is lost.
We were able to get some of the furniture from the house but the family Bible has gone. At least Reuben had the house insured so we will not be completely destitute. He is talking about moving to Terang.
I still have that pain I was telling you about. The pills do not seem to be helping. I think maybe I should see a doctor.
Your loving mother,
Ruby felt this was a perfect opportunity to ask her to come and stay for a while. She and her mother could share the double bed and put Walter in the single bed in the other room.
Walter was not impressed. “You want me to leave my comfortable bed so you and your mother can natter all night. Your mother will not approve of me and will compare me to that wonderful father of yours who can do no wrong.”
Christina visited for one week. Despite Ruby’s protestations she did not attend the doctor but every night religiously took her Carter’s Little Liver Pills which she assured her daughter had now almost cured her.
They discussed her sister Maud’s impetuous marriage to Basil and the subsequent arrival of baby Charlie shortly after. More scandalous was the fact that Basil had left his new young family and was reported to be living in New Zealand with another woman.
She also complained that Reuben was a difficult man to live with.
“You are so lucky, Ruby, to have a husband with a steady job, a dear little house and a baby on the way. “
Ruby told her about her own problems but Christina thought they were insignificant.
“Every marriage has its difficulties,”she cautioned, “but you have so much to be thankful for. Don’t throw away what you have.”