Annie’s Secret-13

Chapter 13

The service was held at St Margaret’s Church of England in 11th Street, Mildura.  It occurred to Annie  that it was the same street in which Haydie was conceived.  They arrived late and sat discretely in the last row.  The organ played and they stood up mouthing a hymn they didn’t know as there were no hymn books left.  William Brown, Jack’s business partner, walked to the front of the church to speak about his lifelong friend.

It is with a heavy heart that I farewell our friend Jack Hamilton.  I don’t want to dwell on sadness but would rather recall the great joy he gave to all around him.  

 I refer to Wordsworth’s poem, ‘The Character of a Happy Warrior’, as I feel it captures, far better than I am able to do, the essence of the man who was our mentor and friend.  

This is the happy Warrior; this is he 

Whom every Man in arms should wish to be

My first memories of Jack date back to France in World War One.  I can still see him now, playing his violin in a little smoky café, leading the singing of ‘Mademoiselle from Armentieres’.  Sometime later it was maybe with that same violin that he led the singing of ‘The Tattooed Lady’ in the blockie’s camps after a day of clearing the mallee in 100 degree heat.  Then Jack married and he and his charming wife moved into their home on the block.  Jack would welcome each guest with a tune on his violin as they arrived.  Every Wednesday night became a singing night with local musicians.  I’m sure a number of you remember those evenings with ‘Lily Marlene’ and ‘Danny Boy’.

William continued. All of you who knew him would agree that he had a most outstanding personality, with a great sense of humour. He had that characteristic we call charisma.  He radiated vitality and charm.

He was a man who helped fellow human beings whatever their rank in the community.  He was always ready to lend a hand to those in need.

Hayden was thinking hard.  He was worried.  Jack had been his mentor.  It was Jack’s idea to start up the irrigation business and his advice and contacts had been invaluable.  He felt as if he had been set adrift.  Now that supplies were drying up he would have to move on, back to Sydney, and somehow start again.

Jack was a generous spirit.  Many people, from all walks of life, loved him for his sense of fairness and dedication to what was right.   As well as a being a dedicated family man he was an astute businessman but in saying that he was always aware of his own moral being.  

Annie was confused.  She didn’t know what to feel. He had given her the greatest gift anyone could ask for but for a while she had hoped that they could talk again, alone, and recreate the magic of that evening together. Now he had gone, and she would never see his face or hear his voice again.  She alone carried the burden of guilt and deceit but knew she must try to make her marriage with Hayden work. At least she was safe in the knowledge that no-one could possibly ever find out.

William Brown was finishing his eulogy.  Jack was a man who hated violence.  He hated war with a passion and yet he felt it his duty to become involved in two world wars as the alternative was unthinkable.  He was a man torn between his moral duty and his own sense of morality.

We bid a sad farewell to a man whose life ended prematurely, a man who was unable to enjoy the pleasure of old age and a man who will be greatly missed by his loving family and many friends. I ask you all to bow your heads and remember Jack Hamilton …. the Happy Warrior.

Hayden and Annie left as soon as the service was over.  Neither could face the weeping, bowed figure of Enid or the solemn faces of her children.  Annie bought a sympathy card, deliberating for hours on the words she needed.  In the end she wrote, 

“Our deepest sympathy to Enid and your children.  Jack will be sorely missed.  We will be eternally grateful for the helping hand he extended to us before and after our arrival in Mildura.”

They had one last picnic by the river.  Hayden pointed the Brownie Box towards Annie as she held Haydee on her hip.  The child, in her short skirt and striped jumper, sucked her thumb as the camera clicked.  Now Annie was sitting in the grass, her green and white leaf print skirt spread over her legs, while behind, the mallee poked out of the brown, flooded river. Hayden’s black shadow filled the foreground.  

Annie packed the picnic things, the thermos, the anodised cups, the empty brown paper bags and the blanket. Hayden put them in the boot while Annie climbed into the front seat with Haydie.

”We’ll be off tomorrow before dawn!” he said to Haydie as he climbed into the driver’s seat. “I think we’ll just put you on the parcel shelf and let you sleep until breakfast time.”

“You sound cheerful.” said Annie. She sighed. Another fresh start. Would it be any better than all those other fresh starts? She wondered what the future held, especially as they had a child to think about. Still Hayden seemed convinced he was doing the right thing so maybe she should have more faith in him.

Yes, Hayden was optimistic.  He felt he had learned a lot in Mildura.  Irrigation was a good field to be in.  People needed water everywhere, not just in the Mallee.  He would move to Sydney and supply the farmers of NSW with not only pumps and hoses but also with tank stands, fence posts and gates made from steel and piping. They just needed to collect all the money owing to them and they would be able to start afresh.  Maybe they could buy some land on the outskirts of Sydney, build a little house for the three of them and never move again. Annie would be happy and he could watch Haydie grow and teach her all he knew.

He started the truck, put it into gear and headed for home.


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