Worries About Children
Ruby stirred the flour and butter mixture with a large wooden spoon.
“Pass me the eggs one at a time, please Tommy,” she said to the young Aboriginal boy at her side.
“Oh Missus, that stinks!” Tommy held his nose as the offending egg landed in the cake.
Too late the bad egg disappeared into the mixture.
“I can’t waste all that flour and butter. This is going to be a huge cake so maybe one bad egg won’t be noticed. Don’t say a word now Tommy. Promise?”
“I promise, Mrs Lane. I just won’t eat any. Phew!”
Ruby poured in the dried fruit and gave Tommy the spoon to continue mixing. She pulled out the letter from Annie and read it again.
“That a letter from your daughter Mrs Lane?”
“Yes, Tommy. She’s at a hostel in Roma but she doesn’t like it very much. Says they are starving her and she’s all skin and bone.”
“Why don’t you bring her here, Missus? She could eat some of this cake.” He looked at it doubtfully and sniffed. “It doesn’t smell so bad now.”
“I’ll put some rum in it. That should fix it up.”
After the cake disappeared into the interior of the large fuel stove Ruby removed her apron and sat on the shady back steps trying in vain to find a cool breeze.
What to do with Annie? Tears had fallen onto the letter leaving smudges on the childish handwriting. This was not the only disturbing letter she had received. The matron at the hostel had written to say Annie was uncooperative and unwilling to make friends with the other boarders. The fees for next term were due and it was going to take much of Ruby’s earnings to pay them.
Should I be making my daughter’s life a misery because of my own poor choices? Ruby sighed and returned to the kitchen to check whether Tommy had finished peeling the mound of potatoes she had left.
Several days later she was drinking tea with Mrs Winters, the wife of the Boss. This was a time to discuss the running of the household and plan the month ahead. Talk drifted to the problem of Annie.
“I think I might have a solution,” Mrs Winters said thoughtfully. I have heard of some girls boarding with families instead of at the hostel. It would be more pleasant for her than where she is.”
“Maybe she could come here more often?” Ruby wondered.
“It’s still a long train trip to Charleville… about six hours. Then it’s another hour to get here. By all means she could come for the school holidays.”