October 1931 (cont.)

     Rousing herself, Emma turned her thoughts to what lay ahead.  What would her new school be like?  One thought sustained her.   At least she’d have someone to tell her troubles to.  Again she looked at the back of her father’s head and felt safe.

     It was late afternoon when at last they entered the little town of Northingham and drove along the dusty, main street.  Emma sat up and tried to recognise the various landmarks pointed out to her by her brothers, who were vying with each other to be first to identify them – the Post Office, the Police Station, War Memorial, hotels, banks and shops, but to Em nothing looked familiar.

     It was with profound relief all round that they said “Goodbye” to their passenger and her packages, and Emma was again able to sit in front with her father.  Her spirits rose as they drove out of the township, her brothers assuring her that there were definitely no more towns ahead, and as they crossed a bridge on the outskirts of the town, they became increasingly more voluble.

     “It won’t be long now kids,” said Walt.  “Only two more miles.  Look Dick, there’s the old showground.”

     “Do they still use it Dad?”

     “No son, not for shows anyway,” was the reply.  “There’s a new ground closer to the town.  This one makes a good shelter for swaggies, and there are plenty of them around at present.”

     As their father was speaking, the car passed the gates, and they saw the old show hall looking forlorn and neglected – and just a trifle sinister with its doors and windows tightly shut against the world.  Tall grass added to its unused appearance.  Only a thin curl of smoke from a chimney at the rear gave some evidence of life.  The boys looked at it thoughtfully, turning their heads to look back at it until a bend in the road hid it from their sight.

     But, barely conscious of the countryside through they were passing, Emmy kept her eyes on the road ahead, flanked by great gums growing along its side, their wide—spread arms offering welcome shade to ‘friends of the road’.

     In the paddocks too, creating a scene of utmost tranquillity, stood more of these stately giants, survivors of a bygone age.  Spared by the settler’s axe, their leafy branches had provided homes for generations of nesting magpies, and in their shade, livestock found shelter from the heat.

     But today was mild.  Cattle grazing at will in the late sunshine completed this idyllic rural scene.  Set on a background of lush green grass, surely a worthy subject for a master’s canvas.

     But Emma’s thoughts were busily sketching a different picture. After three years they’d be home again!  What would it be like?  She had no real recollection of the farmhouse, being barely five years old when they’d left.  Only vague scraps of memory remained of her life before The Home.  She stole a glance at her father’s face, as if to help restore her memory.

     “It won’t be long now,” Walt said again.  Em found herself sitting tense, hands tightly clutching the rug over her knees. A properous-looking homestead came into view.  Set back from the road, behind a garden of fruit trees, its inviting driveway led up to the door under a vine-covered trellis.

     “Is this it?” Emmy asked hopefully.

     Dick’s laugh rang out. “No, that’s Sexton’s, isn’t it Walt?  But it’s not far now.”

     A short distance further on, giant gums provided the backdrop for a red-roofed house, with a beautiful front garden of flowers, shrubs and lawn. Emmy held her breath. “Please let it be this one,” she breathed.

     “And this one belongs to the Misses Carter, two dear old ladies,” said Walt.  “But you won’t have to wait much longer Em.  The next one’s ours.”

     In the distance, but clearly visible now, was a small red-brick dwelling, flanked on either side by paddocks of wheat, with a number of out-buildings at the rear and extending to the extreme right.  The house was set back from the road about the same distance as the others they had passed, but there the resemblance ended.  Missing was the gum-tree setting and the cared-for garden at the front.

     Here a few straggly fruit trees competed for sustenance with tail grasses and weeds which had long since established a claim to the area.  A tired row of almond trees drooped beside the fence that ran at right angles to the road, forming the right boundary of a wide race between the house property and the paddocks on the left.

     The house itself was quite unlike anything Emma had seen before, or could have imagined.  As the car turned into the gateway, she stared in disbelief.  A high brick wall stared back at her.  It had no doors or windows, but what appeared to be chimneys where the windows might have been.    Her brothers laughed at her astonishment.

     “The house isn’t finished yet Em,” Walt explained.  “Two more rooms have to be built on the front, don’t they Dad?”

     Her father nodded.  “One of these days, son.  When our ship comes in.”

     “See Em,” Dick broke in.  “There’s already a fireplace on each side.  They were built into the wail when the rest of the house was built.  We used to play in them, remember?”

     Something stirred in Emmy’s memory, a shadowy glimpse of hide-and-seek, of hiding in the fireplaces. She tried to hold on to the picture, but as always, it slipped away.

     “Who’s going to open the gate?” Her father’s voice broke into her thoughts.  Glad to be out of the car at last, both boys sprang out and raced to slip back the bolt on the large wooden gate, jumping on the bottom rail as it swung open.

     “Young devils,” Em heard her father growl, and watched his expression change from momentary annoyance to tolerant good humour as he drove through the gate and up the long drive to the house, the boys racing, laughing, behind.

     Emma knelt on the seat and watched them through the rear window.  Walt at twelve years, dark-complexioned, strong and husky, was in the lead, but only just.  Dick, his junior by two years, was close behind him.  Em looked at their laughing faces.  How dear they were to her.  Her heart lifted and she felt a tightening of her throat, as a wave of love and gratitude flowed through her at the memory of what they’d meant to her during the past three years.

     Walt, except for rare bursts of laughter, given to seriousness, his dark eyes quietly proclaiming his confidence in his own strength and his ability to endure whatever might befall him, had been her protector.  Brown-haired Dick, freckled sensitive face, full of fun, whose green eyes could glint with devilry and as quickly cloud over with hurt or brim with compassion – her playmate, when opportunity permitted.  How she loved them both!

     They came alongside as the car drew to a halt, and stood looking at a tall gum tree which grew beside the gate leading into the yard.

     “I see the tree’s still standing, Dad,” said Walt, quietly.  “Gee, I was so glad to be coming home, I’d almost forgotten she wouldn’t be here.”  No laughter now on the strong young face.

     “What does he mean, Dad?” Emma whispered.

     “That was your mother’s tree, dear,” he replied, lifting her out of the car and holding her for a moment before setting her down.   “She planted it the year before she died.”  His words seemed to hang in the still air, as the late afternoon sun cast long shadows around them.

     A silence fell on the little group.  Emmy slipped her hand into her father’s, his mention of her mother restoring a picture which had lain locked away from conscious thought and become obscured during the long years of their exile.  She recalled that day – so far off – when holding tightly to her father’s hand, she had walked beside him down the long room between the rows of beds, until they stopped at the foot of one and she heard him say:

     “I’ve brought you a little visitor.”

     It was by now only a faint picture – the face on the pillows had become just a blur, but the feeling was still strong. She felt again the wobbly sensation that was somehow connected with the wobbly feel of the hot-water bottles that seemed to fill the bed.  She remembered the sound of soft voices murmuring above her, while a gentle hand stroked her head – then later, the long walk back towards the door, a pause to wave a last ‘Goodbye’, then into the strange steel cage that seemed to go up and down at the same time, taking her stomach with it, until the door opened and the man and child walked out of the large building into the late afternoon sunshine.  The man was silent as they walked across the lawn, and it seemed to the child that his usually springy footsteps had somehow lost their spring.

* * *

     Now, as she looked up into her father’s face, he pressed her hand gently, then released it, passing his own across his eyes. Emmy drew nearer to her brothers, and on the instant, a light breeze passed over the tree, gently lifting its leaves, and it was as though they themselves were touched by a gentle hand, drawing them more closely together.

     Matthew, his hand resting on the door of the car, stood studying the faces of his children – now partial strangers – seeing in their eyes a reflection of his own still deep sense of loss, noting the expressions of the younger two – defensive, uncertain, yet full of hope.  He felt a pang of regret for the lost years, but what else could he have done?

     Then, with a smile that changed the lines on his face, he reached in and blew the horn long and loud.

     “Welcome home kids,” he said.

     The door of the house flew open, and they were caught up in the hustle and bustle of homecoming.

     The two older girls – to Emma’s eyes now quite grown-up – were the first to greet them, rushing past William, who at nineteen, was eldest in the family.  He stood by looking quietly pleased to have them home again, as Maudie, seventeen, and Ellen, two years younger, hugged them excitedly.  Then overcome with emotion and strangeness, they stood aside while their new step-mother greeted Em and her brothers.  They had met her on a previous occasion and had found her pleasant enough.

     But where was Rosie?

     Emma was feeling tired and a little overcome by the excitement of the reunion, and was glad to hear her father’s voice behind her say, “Well kids, lets go inside.”

     As they headed towards the wide verandah – Emmy leading, the two boys a step or two behind her and the tall figure of Walt bringing up the rear, a small vision in pink and white came through the door and stood smiling shyly at them. Emma’s face lit up, a joyous surge of warmth swept away the lonely ache that had been a part of her for so long.

     “Rosie,” she breathed, taking in every detail of the lovely face, whose image had remained the one indelible memory of her life before The Home.  How possessively she had held the memory to her!  No-one could ever know how much she had missed her little sister, how constantly she had longed for her companionship.  There was a moment’s pause while the two little girls took stock of each other, the two boys watching with indulgent grins, while their father looked on.

     What a contrast these two provided!

     Emma – small for her eight years, thin boyish figure, dark hair cut short, adding to the boyish look, her pale face unremarkable except for its liberal covering of freckles.  A plain child, observers might well describe her, until they chanced to look into the blue eyes and found themselves held by some indefinable quality, wondering whether the shadows that moved within their depths were cast by the fringe of thick, dark lashes or came from the thoughts that stirred behind them.

     And Rose?  Surely angels must have attended her christening, for a halo of fair, shining hair framed her face, and the colour of the soft dimpled cheeks would rival the pinkest rose.  Eyes calm and untroubled, were as unexpectedly brown as Emmie’s were blue.  But it was her mouth, a perfect cupid’s bow, full and softly-pouting, which gave the face its beauty.

     Emma dashed forward and wrapped her arms around the younger girl, holding her as though she would never let her go.

     “Rosie, Rosie, where were you?” she said at last.

     “Hiding behind the door, but you took too long to come in,” she replied, eyes crinkling and lips curving in a mischievous smile.

     “Hey, you two, you’re blocking the gangway,” Walt’s voice complained laughingly, as Rosie wriggled to free herself from Emma’s tight embrace.

     Slipping her hand into Emmy’s and holding it firmly, Rose drew her into the house.  They were home!

(C) Winnifred Knight  2000 – 2007

Transcribed and Edited by Jud House 2007

(C) 13/06/2013

* * * * *


October 1931 (cont.)

     But Emma was not yet ready to speak of these things and thought it better to satisfy Mrs Reiner’s curiosity – or perhaps it was genuine interest – by telling her about the trips which were organized each year: to the beach, when she saw the sea for the first time; or to the zoo, where she managed to get lost.

     Emma was always in a world of her own, but on this occasion she had stayed with the body of children throughout the afternoon as they wandered from cage to cage, looking at the birds and animals.  They spent a long time watching the monkeys whose antics captivated them all, but when they stood in front of the lion enclosure Emma was lost to all around her.

     For a long time she simply stood and stared at the enormous yellow cats as they yawned and stretched – occasionally getting to their feet to prowl around the perimeter of their cage as though seeking a way out.  How, she wondered,  could they bear to be shut in like that?  She expected to hear them roaring in protest and thought to give them some encouragement.  Grasping the protective rail to support herself, she gave a few good, hearty roars.

     The lions ignored her; just kept up their yawning, stretching and prowling – sometimes to and fro in front of her.  Emma was about to give up in disgust, when one of the huge beasts came right up to the bars, opened its great mouth and let out a mighty roar!  It shook the very ground — and Emma too! She fell back from the rail in a helpless heap then shakily picking herself up, turned to run away.

     She expected to see the others at the next enclosure, but there was no sign of anyone.  She hurried, as well as her trembling legs would allow her, to catch up with them.  But they’d completely disappeared.  She wandered around hoping to catch sight of the group or at least a straggler like herself, until the fading light told her that they’d gone back without her.  She hadn’t been missed!

     In despair, she was dragging her weary feet towards the entrance gates with no real idea of what to do, when her troubles were speedily ended. A kindly keeper took her in charge and soon she was sitting on a table in the warm office, being fussed over by more kind men in uniform, and fed on hot cocoa and biscuits.  She felt warm and safe.  It was worth every minute of the trauma of being lost.  Of the drive back to The Home she knew very little.  In the warmth and comfort of the Police car, with nothing to fear, her little body succumbed to fatigue — and she slept.

* * *

     It took an hour on the part of Matt, George Weston and the boys – an hour of heaving, shoving, pushing and hammering – before the car was clear of the creek-bed, the bent track-rod straightened, and they were on their way again, hoping to cover the remaining fifty miles to Northingham before dark.  The boys were in high spirits after their enforced activity, but Em had grown weary with waiting – and answering Mrs Reiner’ s questions.  It was now well into the afternoon and they were still on the road.

     At first it had been fun trying to count the cows and sheep as they passed them by, and now and then they had to slow down while a few runaways crossed the road in front of them.  They’d counted fence-posts, they’d sung songs, told stories and jokes, and played innumerable games of riddle-me-ree, and any other game they could think of to while away the time.  But as mile after mile became a succession of country towns, some large, some small, all separated by interminable stretches of road, Emma’s interest faded, and now the question uppermost in her mind was “How many more towns before we get there?”

     Settling herself back in her seat with the warm sun on her face, she looked at her father’s strong shoulders and the way his dark hair curled on the top of his head, and a lovely sense of security stole over her – reminding her of yet another experience.

     While playing hide-and-seek with one or two girls in the schoolyard, she lay on the ground in the sunshine with her head on her arms and counted to fifty.  When it came time for her to ‘seek’ she stayed where she was pretending to be asleep.  It was lovely lying on the sandy ground with sun shining on her back.  The sound of children at play faded.  The sound of the bell, when it’s summons sent the others scurrying to their lines, failed to rouse her.

     The next thing she knew, she was being lifted by strong arms and a man’s voice was saying, “What have we here?”  It was the voice of the Headmaster, Mr Kemp!  She opened her eyes, blinking in the strong sunlight, but still heavy with sleep, her head drooped onto his shoulder.  The roughness of his coat against her cheek and the faint smell of tobacco brought a vivid reminder of her father.  Like him, Mr Kemp was tall and thin, but his hair Emma noticed, as she roused herself, was not so crinkly.

     With infinite kindness, he carried her into the building, right past her classroom door and into his own classroom, where he stood her on the step beside his desk, saying as he did so, “Look what I found.  A little Sleeping Beauty.”

     Emmy looked shyly around the room and saw her brothers sitting among the other students.  All were smiling in such a nice way.  She felt very special – an uncommon occurrence in her restricted world.

     In a world dominated by women she had ceased to look for love or affection and had come to accept that the attitude of those on whose ‘charity’ she depended was at best impersonal.  No doubt some felt a kindly enough regard for their charges, or they would not have been placed in such positions of trust.  This certainly applied to Matron and one or two senior ‘nurses’, but as Emmy knew only too well, there were weak links in the chain of authority, and the callous, seemingly sadistic treatment she had at times encountered had eroded her trust in them all and her confidence in herself.  Each experience increased her distrust and widened the gulf between herself and other members of the ‘gentler’ sex.  Without emotional support, she was thrown on her own resources, and the foundations were being laid for a personality that was becoming defensive in the extreme.

     But here, at the Headmaster’s side, facing a large group of senior students, Emmy felt unusually confident.  She saw in their smiling faces no rejection, only a sympathetic interest which warmed and exhilarated her.  With sharpened senses, she thought of the picture in the church at which she gazed every Sunday — a small group of children gathered about the feet of the Divine Teacher, whose love encircled them.  They looked so happy and secure.

     It seemed to her that she had stepped through the glass, as she had so often longed to do, into the centre of that intimate group, held safe within the circle of those loving arms.  The mystical moment was caught and held, then everything slipped into focus once more and she was aware of the classroom, the children’s smiling faces and the warm current circulating around the room, having as its source the simple kindliness of a compassionate teacher.

     A rare experience indeed! For it was only on her father’s infrequent visits that Emma got to feel that total sense of security that a man’s presence can give to a child – a feeling that was almost erased by an encounter with the regular Headmaster of the school.  For Mr Kemp was only relieving for a short period while Mr Morrison was on leave.

* * *

     It has already been recorded that in the Third Grade Emma was often apt to lose her things.  It may be that since she had no sense of ownership, she had no sense of responsibility.  Be that as it may, in this class Emmy herself always felt lost – except in language lessons.  She was a champion speller and was recognised as such.  But sums were still a nightmare and it seemed to her that her teacher considered Arithmetic more important than anything else.

   Miss Hobbs was a big woman – not fat but athletic-looking.  From the first, Emmy feared her.  Her very stature was intimidating.  The coldness of the teacher’s manner chilled and bewildered her.  She looked in vain for a smile or  kind word, but received only a cool stare which seemed to be reserved for Emmy alone.  Abjectly, she wondered why her teacher seemed to dislike her.  Apprehensively, she faced the beginning of each school day, thankful when it ended.  And no-one to confide in!

     One day, to relieve her feelings, Em wrote on a small scrap of paper the words “I hate Miss Hobbs”, and hid it in her sum book between the book and the paper cover.  It gave her a sense of relief.  She’d actually put her feelings into words.  They were no longer bottled up inside her.  It felt good – until she lost her book!

     It was an exercise book, in which she wrote her sums.  She had taken one or two pages from the middle of the book to use as scrap paper – as most of the children did at some time or other, but it was otherwise intact.

     She hunted everywhere for it – even at The Home, on shelves, ledges, in impossible places where she knew it could not have been, because it should have been in her desk at school.  Two days went by, and without her book she could not do her work.  The backlog of sums was mounting.  On the third morning as she entered the classroom for the first lesson, Miss Hobbs said, “Emma Haywood, you are to report to Mr Morrison at once.”

     Emma had never been in the Headmaster’s office.  She had seen others go in from time to time and come out crying, and wondered what happened to them. She was soon to learn!

     This morning, all unsuspecting – merely curious, she knocked on the door.  It opened and she entered, her eyes following Mr Morrison as he walked back towards his desk.

     “Shut the door,” he said. She did so and turned to face him. Thickset but by no means tall, he surprised her as he moved quickly towards her.  Towering over her, his eyes hard and his naturally swarthy face made darker by anger, he raised his hand and slapped her about the head and face with an exercise book which he was holding.  Back and forth several times he slapped her until she was gasping and crying.

     “Look at this book,” he thundered.  “Or what’s left of it.  How dare you treat your things in this manner!”  He opened it and Emma saw through her tears that half the pages had been removed from the middle of the book.  What was the use of trying to explain that only one or two of them had been removed by her.  He wouldn’t believe her and it would probably make him even angrier.  As it happened he gave her no opportunity to explain.  She withdrew into herself and listened to his voice ranting about the cost of things supplied to her and other Home children and that they should be grateful and look after them, and she’d better not be sent to him again or “Look out!”

     Then handing her the book he said, “Now you can report to Miss Hobhs who found the book – and this!”  And in his hand he held the scrap of paper on which Em had scribbled the fateful words.  She’d completely forgotten.

     Returning to her classroom she was treated to an icy glare from Miss Hobbs, who issued an imposition of two extra sets of sums to be done when she’d completed the work she’d missed.

     Was it any wonder that she was delighted when occasionally banished to the Grade 2 classroom as punishment for any misdemeanour?  To Emma this was no disgrace.  It was Heaven!  She could join in confidently with all the work there.  Everything was so easy.  How she loved it there and hated to go back!

     But again came a reprieve.  Another relieving teacher came for a few weeks. Her name – incredibly – was Miss Haywood, the same as Emmy’s.  During her stay Emmy blossomed.  It seemed that all relieving teachers were the ones whom Emma liked best.  For a time she knew what it was like to look forward to school each day.  She gained a little in self-confidence so that when the time came for Miss Haywood to leave, she was able to face the change with a degree of composure.

(C) Winnifred Knight  2000 – 2007

Transcribed and Edited by Jud House 2007

(C) 13/06/2013

* * * * *


 October 1931 (cont.)   

     Emma suddenly became aware that Mrs Reiner had stopped talking.  She looked up in confusion.  Mrs Reiner had apparently asked her a question, which she now repeated.

     “You’re much too thin Emmy.  Didn’t they feed you properly at The Home? What were your meals like? “

     Emmy would have preferred not to remember, but memories came crowding back.

     “Pray Lord, bless this food to o.. ..u.. .. r use and give us grateful hearts A…-men.”   The children’s voices intoned in monotonous rhythm, as they stood behind the long stools – heads bowed, hands folded – before taking their places at the table.

     As for the meals, though plain, they were wholesome enough – porridge for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and a program of evening meals that to an adult would have been monotonous in its predictability.

     But Emma was used to plain food.  She loved porridge, even when it was lumpy – which it invariably was – but for which Norma, who sat next to her at table, felt nothing but repugnance.

     Emma’s pet aversion was root vegetables – of the turnip, parsnip variety.  Try as she might, she could not overcome her revulsion for these – obviously considered as the basic ingredient for stews – so liberally were they added to the pot.  She could, when pressed, deceive her tastebuds by secreting a piece of swede or parsnip under a piece of carrot or potato – both of which she loved, but without this subterfuge any attempt to eat these vegetables would result in overwhelming nausea.

     Emma and Norma had a good working arrangement that enabled them to face their morning and evening meals with reasonable fortitude. At breakfast, Norma would surreptitiously transfer the lumps in her porridge to Em’s plate – in just a matter of seconds.  In the evening, using the reverse procedure, Em disposed of her unwanted vegetables.  But here the plan was not entirely foolproof.  A platter of stew was far more complex than a bowl of porridge.  To identify and dispose of the inedible chunks of vegetables took longer than a few seconds, and Emma feared that one night she would not complete the transfer in time.

     It was bound to happen – and it did – with dire consequences. One never-to-be-forgotten night, as she happily prepared her palate to enjoy the last piece of vegetable, Emma discovered to her horror, that what had passed for potato was in fact, a large piece of parsnip in disguise! There it lay, on the middle of her otherwise empty plate, hovering malevolently, with nowhere to go.  Emma turned it over in disbelief.  Parsnip!  She stuck her fork into it and prepared to pass it to her neighbour.

     “Norma,” she whispered urgently. “Take this – it’s parsnip.”

     “I can’t.  I’ve finished,” was the reply.

     “Please Norma.  I can’t eat it.  I’ll be sick,” pleaded Emma.

     “I can’t.  Nurse is looking.  She knows I’ve finished.  Look out!  She’s coming this way.”  And Norma laid down her knife and fork.

     Emma sat looking desperately at her plate.  What could she do?  Just thinking of biting into the loathsome lump made her stomach quiver.   The nurse took Norma’s plate and Emma felt, rather than saw her standing at her elbow waiting for her too, to finish.  She looked at the parsnip on her fork.  Forbidden to leave anything on her plate, she lifted it gingerly to her mouth and prayed!  Her empty plate was whisked away and replaced with a plate of dessert – boiled rice with currants – one of her favourites.  How good it looked!  It would take away the awful taste of stew.  But she still had a mouthful of parsnip.  By now, the others had begun to leave the table, having finished their meal.

     There was no way out!  She’d have to eat it.  Bracing herself, she chewed quickly and swallowed, only to have it rise up in her throat again.  Once more she tried.  This time her whole being revolted, and not only the last mouthful, but the whole of her meal was disgorged into her plate of dessert. In disgust, the nurse who was hovering nearby, snatched away her plate and sent her, still retching from the table – the last to leave.

     Equally distasteful was potato pie – served without fail every Friday night.  How Emmy dreaded Friday nights!  Nor was it Norma’s favourite meal, and Emmy couldn’t count on her help in disposing of it.  She simply had to eat all her own serve.

     She loved mashed potato, but on Friday nights, it was spread on top of the meat, baked in the oven and called potato pie.  That too, would have been acceptable, even enjoyable, but before the potato was added to the meat, chopped onion was mixed into it.  Emma had conditioned herself to eat it without nausea, but it took her so long to get through it.  Each mouthful went round and round for long minutes before she could bring herself to swallow it.  Every Friday night, she was still sitting at the table long after the last girl had gone upstairs.

     On this unhappy night, the supervising nurse, waiting to go off duty, finally lost all patience, and snatching up a large teaspoon, scooped up a spoonful of food and pushed it into Emmy’s mouth.  Emma tried to swallow it as quickly as she could.  But not quickly enough!  The exasperated nurse grabbed a handful of her hair, pulled her head back, and thrusting a second spoonful into her mouth, forced the spoon right down her throat!

     Emma felt the spoon scrape against the walls of her throat; felt a moments terror as she feared she would choke.  Then the spoon was removed, and Emmy stumbled from the room, hand clutching her smarting throat, tears of pain in her eyes, anguish in her heart.  Grateful?  Yes, but only that Friday night was another week away.

     Friday night was also bath-night. One experience was to eclipse all others.

     Two or three children always shared the bath, and there seemed to be no restriction on water and on this occasion – no supervision.

     The Home being built on a slope, the bathroom itself was situated on ground level, along with the bedrooms, dining-rooms, kitchen, cellars and laundry downstairs.  This meant that while water was being drawn downstairs, it ceased to flow in the bathroom above.  Unhappily, the finer points of hydro-dynamics meant nothing to children five to eight years old, who used all kinds of tricks to induce the flow of water from taps suddenly run dry.

     The taps were the old-fashioned kind with removable keys, and one trick employed was to remove the key and strike the tap sharply several times rather in the manner of Moses striking the rock.  On this, for Emma, disastrous night, her efforts were crowned with success and lo, water flowed once more.  Flushed with her success, she replaced the key and proceeded to turn off the tap. All her life she was to recall the horror that gripped her.

     Nothing happened! The tap refused to budge and the water, piping hot, flowed on.  Emma looked wildly around her.  Her ‘companions of the bath’ each tried in turn, as did several ‘maids in waiting’ – all to no avail.

     Then the cry went up “Fetch Hilda.”

     Now Hilda, an older girl, and built like an Amazon, delighted in demonstrating her prowess – both physical and authoritarian – over the younger inmates.  Emmy regarded her with awe.  When the cry went up, Em’s heart leapt, then sank.  If anyone could turn the tap, Hilda could, but at what price?  All this time, the water was rising and getting hotter.  None of the girls had the presence of mind to pull out the plug – or get out of the bath.  By now Emmy was immobilized with terror.  She gazed at the rising water and gave herself up for lost.

     Then in marched Hilda.  One vigorous turn of the wrist and the flow of water ceased.  Relief surged through Emma as she turned a grateful face towards her saviour.  But her gratitude was short-lived.

     “Who’s the culprit?” thundered her rescuer.

     All eyes turned towards Em.  Fear, mingled with fascination held her as she shrank down in the water, and watched a muscled arm reach out towards her.  Grasping Emma by the hair, the older girl thrust her head beneath the surface, held it there, then pulled her up, gasping and spluttering.  A second and a third time she repeated her action.  Then turning on her heel, she left as quickly as she’d come. Her parting words were:

     “Let that be a lesson to all of you!”

     It was! Emmy never learnt to swim.

(C) Winnifred Knight  2000 – 2007

Transcribed and Edited by Jud House 2007

(C) 13/06/2013

* * * * * 


October 1931 (cont.)

     As the travellers emerged into open countryside, Emma looked around with interest.  In contrast to the hills they’d left, the country was gently undulating, with vast open paddocks – some high with yellowing wheat, and in the distance an occasional farmhouse set among trees like an oasis in the desert.  In others cows and sheep grazed contentedly or stared with quiet unconcern at the car and its occupants heading northwards.

     Their way lay through many creeks and natural water-courses, but the road had been formed and culverts installed where creek-beds had become impassable.  These early roads were very narrow and high in the centre, and their father had kept, for the most part, to the old dirt track that wound along beside it, often at a lower level.  In dry weather, this was more comfortable for the passengers, and kinder to the tyres than the coarse metal surface of the newer road, in which there was always the danger of hitting an unexpected pothole, spelling disaster to springs and axles alike.

     Of course, the side-track was not without its hazards either.  There was more likelihood of punctures – from old horse-shoes, nails, half-buried roots and pieces of wire.  Motorists were careful to carry plenty of spares, sometimes on the mudguard, sometimes strapped – as in this instance – on the back of the car.  Since the tools were carried under the back seat, however, changing a tyre on this trip could be a very awkward exercise!

     As it happened, it was neither a pothole nor a puncture that was the cause of their second mishap and subsequent delay.

     A hundred miles had been covered and all was going well. Having left the small town of Drayford behind them, they were approaching a wide creek-bed where once again necessity dictated that they abandon the old road and cross by way of the culvert, when they noticed that a large vehicle appeared to have stopped up ahead.  This proved to be the case.  A truck had come to a halt in the middle of the road – right in the middle of the culvert! They too would have to stop.

     The children were ecstatic!  A chance to stretch their legs.   Since they had a good supply of sandwiches, fruit and biscuits on board and could eat as they traveled, stops alonq the way had been restricted to toilet needs only.  So it was with a certain degree of alacrity that they leapt out of the car and followed close on their father’s heels as he went to speak to the truck’s driver.  The man stood looking despondently at his vehicle. Matt introduced himself.

     “In trouble mate’?” he asked. “Can I do anything to help?”

     “Only if you can fix a broken axle” was the gloomy reply.  “Been hoping somebody’d come along before it got dark.  Name’s George Weston.”  They shook hands.

     “What I need,” he went on, “is in Marney’s Creek.  But getting there’s the problem.  I’m blocking the way, and I can’t see anyone getting through down there, can you?”  Together they looked dubiously at the rough rock-strewn gully that barred the way.

     Matt shook his head, “‘Fraid you’re right,” he said.  “But I’ll have to give it a go.  If I get through I can send help back to you from Marney’s Creek.”

     There was no alternative.  To wait any longer was to run the risk of darkness overtaking them, and they were still nearly fifty miles from home.   He walked down and closely examined the floor of the creek-bed, deciding how he would negotiate the mass of stones and boulders, then advising Mrs Reiner and Emma to cross by way of the road, he called to the boys who jumped enthusiastically into the back of the car.

     The others watched as the car moved forward and entered the creek-bed, slowly at first, then gathering speed, clawed and bounced its way over the rocky surface.  They were almost across when the back wheels spun suddenly, and in a shower of stones and pebbles, the car jerked to a halt.  Now it was Matt’s turn to look worried.

     “What’s holding her?” asked George Weston, as he joined Matt on his knees beside the car.

     “A ruddy great rock,” replied Walt, “wedged between the front axle and the track rod.”

      Mrs Reiner turned to Emmy.  “We might as well take a little walk dear,” she said.  “There’s nothing we can do, and it will be some time before we can get into the car again.”  For a time they walked in silence, then Mrs Reiner looked down at Emma and said, “What a little thing you are, Emmy.  You haven’t grown much have you?”

     Emma was used to being told that she was small for her years. Once or twice at The Home, when it was necessary to balance the numbers in each section, she was moved into the Babies’ Wing with the ‘under fives’. She loved it there.  Nothing was expected of her and even the addition of the Monday morning Epsom’s Salts to her porridge, as was customary in the Babies’ Wing, didn’t detract from her happiness in that environment.  The older children too, partook of the Monday morning draught, but they were considered mature enough to drink it straight down from a cup, without fuss.

     One day, while there, she was home from school suffering from a cold – not sick enough to be in bed, but there was a rule that the Babies Wing received a little more attention than the residents of the others.  Suddenly, looking up from her drawing, she saw through the open doorway a tall man walking towards her.  She thought that he looked like her father, when he suddenly turned and began walking away.  Leaving her chair Emmy quickly followed him as he went back to the car.  Fortunately, before climbing into his car he glanced up and saw her.

     “Emma!  It’s a week-day.  So I thought you’d all be at school” he exclaimed as he hugged her.

     If she hadn’t have seen him, how disappointing would it have been to find out later.  It would have been one more of many.

     Emma would quite happily have remained with the babies for the duration of her stay at The Home.  At school it was the same story.

Her year in the First Grade was her happiest year at school, and she wished never to leave it.  The small group of Beginners, drawn from a handful of five to six-year-olds from The Home and others from the surrounding district, enjoyed a warm, secure environment.  As in any ideal infant class, their days were a succession of pleasurable activities.  Not all beginners – even half a century on – are fortunate enough to have a teacher whose sole concern is the happiness of her little charges.

Their teacher, Miss Johnson, was just such a person.  Emma had never given any thought to whether people were pretty or plain. Had she been told to describe her teacher she might have said that she had fair smooth hair, blue eyes and was good to look at.  Emmy only knew that she was kindness itself, and her lonely heart opened to her teacher like a flower to the sun.  With her quiet voice and the smile that reached her eyes, she held the children in the palm of her hand.  Like all the others, Emma loved her, and she loved her lessons.

She never remembered beinq taught to read.  She seemed always to have been able to do so and her appetite for books was never satisfied.  From the very beginning she astonished grown-ups by her ability to read the words in the hymn books in Church and at the mid-week prayer meetings.  Poetry too, she loved.

But her favourite lesson was singing.  All her life, with no-one to remind her, she was able to recall the words of some of the songs she learnt in this first year of school.

She had no special friend, and was to regret a lost opportunity to gain one.  One morning, just after they’d begun lessons, Miss Johnson was sitting at her desk talking quietly to a new girl who was being enrolled, while the class was working on its own.

Suddenly Miss Johnson said ‘Emma, put up your hand.”

Emma, who was sitting in the back row, looked up in surprise.  She didn’t understand.  Children put up their hands when they wanted to speak to the teacher.  Now here was Miss Johnson telling her to put up her hand.

Again the teacher spoke. “Emma put up your hand.”

Still Emmy continued to look surprised, wondering what it was all about . Had she done something wrong? By now all the children had turned to look at her.  Feeling very self-conscious, Emma slowly began to raise her hand.

“Never mind Emma” said Miss Johnson. “Mary put up your hand” Mary did so.  “Mary,” said Miss Johnson. “This is Polly.  Please make room for her to sit beside you, and look after her on her first days with us.”

Emma watched sadly, as Polly took her place next to Mary.  Why hadn’t she understood what was required of her?  Polly would have been sitting next to her, and might have become her special friend.  In this, she was probably right, for Polly was the soul of loyalty and attached herself to Mary devotedly.

Polly was to become a legend in the school, because of her unpredictable behaviour.  Completely self-willed, she did exactly as she liked, and let everyone know if she didn’t.  Under the gentle ministrations of Miss Johnson she was fairly tractable, but once the Infants Class was left behind her and expectations in the Second Grade became greater, many a battle royal ensued between Polly and her teachers.  If sent from the room for misbehaviour, she would open the door, walk through, then on the point of closing it, would put her head through the half-open doorway, open her mouth and scream loudly!

To Em this was high drama indeed.  How she admired Polly’s audacity! Mary, as Polly’s special friend, basked in her reflected glory.  Alas!  All this could have been Emma’s.

Although the second grade was more demanding, the atmosphere was still fairly comfortable.  Emma thrived on all the work associated with language of any kind. Spelling and Dictation were child’s play, while as before, Reading, Poetry and Singing were a sheer joy.

     But sums were another matter.  The principles of Mathematics were a closed book to Em.  Arithmetic lessons were torture.  Addition was impossible – numbers refused to line up straight and be counted. Subtraction never came out right and while Em could memorise whole songs – words and music – on first hearing, multiplication tables played hide-and-seek with her memory cells and always eluded capture.

In this class also, she was for a short time blessed with a teacher who was on the same sympathetic plane as Miss Johnson.  She got on well enough with the regular teacher, but kept her protective cloak closely-drawn to compensate for the lack of real warmth.  For a time Miss Bell was on leave, and her replacement, Miss Jones, brought the sunshine back into the days.  One small act of kindness was to imprint itself on Emma’s memory forever.

It was Anzac Day.  Emma knew that this was regarded as an important day by her family.  Her father had been a soldier and had been wounded in the Great War, so she took the ceremonies very seriously.

A few days earlier, Miss Jones had said, “I have a supply of small flags – Union Jacks – which you may order for one penny each and collect on Anzac Day.”

Emmy’s heart yearned for one of these bright flags.

On Anzac Day, when the morning class ended, and they were ready to be dismissed for their half-holiday, Miss Jones said, “Now those children who have flags to collect can do so on the way out.”

Some of the children who lived in the district moved out to the teacher’s desk, while the rest, together with all The Home children filed out of the room – that is, all except Emma.  Impelled by some power she could not resist, she found herself on the end of the line of children at Miss Jones’ desk.  As each child’s turn came, Miss Jones asked “How many?” and handed over the requested number.  The flags had been paid for in advance so that no money was changing hands.  At last it was Emmy’s turn.

“How many for you, Emma?” asked Miss Jones, without batting an eyelid.  They both knew that Emma had not paid for any flags.  How could she?  She had no money.  But Miss Jones hadn’t referred to flags being paid for.  She’d said “Those with flags to collect.”

Greatly daring, Emma raised her eyes to her teacher’s face and whispered, “Two please.”  Of course she’d love to have asked for three – one for each of the boys – but if she could just have one for Dick, as well as herself, how thrilled she would  be.  In exactly the same tone of voice and with the same kindly smile that she had given the other children, Miss Jones placed the two flags in Emma’s hands.

“Here you are Emma, have a happy half-holiday,” she said.

Emma was her slave for life!

(C) Winnifred Knight  2000 – 2007

Transcribed and Edited by Jud House 2007

(C) 13/06/2013

* * * * *


October 1931 (cont.)

     In the early stages, as they drove through the inner suburbs, Emma gazed in awe at the row upon row of houses which looked as if they were stacked on top of each other, their square, orange roofs making a checker-board pattern against the sky.  How could so many people live so close together?

     Continuing to gaze out the window, Emma left her brothers to answer as best they could the many questions put to them by Mrs Reiner concerning their life at the The Home.  Their replies were brief, for most of the details were locked away in their memories, far too painful to speak of.

     Memories like the morning parade of bed-wetters, among whom her big, strong brother was a regular.  This measure was under-taken in the mistaken belief that the offenders would be cured of their weakness.  As the white-robed figures entered the hall, the wet sheets draped over their heads with the wettest part over their faces, Emmy’s eyes would quickly identify the tall erect figure of Walt.  She felt his pain and humiliation as they were paraded in front of the assembled children.  Her heart ached, her insides hurt so much that she could have doubled up.

     At such times, her cloak was not sufficient to protect her, and she was utterly exposed to the thrusting stabs of pain that pierced her.  How could they hurt him like this? He was so kind, so manly.

     At school, Walt was always the teachers’ right-hand man, so capable and dependable.  Emmy was to treasure the memory of a particular day when his dependability was to get her out of trouble.  In the Third Grade, she seemed unable to keep track of her possessions.  Books, pens pencils – all had a will of their own and successfully kept out of her sight.. On this particular morning, as writing lesson rolled around once more, Emma scrabbled in vain among her things trying to find her pen.  Her teacher’s patience exhausted, Emmy was banished in disgrace to the porch outside the classroom, where she sat in utter dejection.

     Suddenly, the door of the next classroom opened and Walt came into the porch.  “Hello Em, what’s up’?” he asked.

     Instantly cheered at the sight of her big brother, Emmy told him her  troubles.

     “Well, aren’t you lucky?” he said, grinning at her.  “I’ve just come out to get my spare pen for one of my team.  Each team gets points for having all their gear.  We’re winning at the moment.  But, here y’are Em.  You take it and go back to your writing lesson.”

     Emma took the pen, her heart in her eyes, too choked to speak her thanks.  Despite his hearty manner, she knew what it cost him to part with it.

     At The Home, he was just a bed-wetter, but in the school community his qualities were quickly perceived and extended.  This was his place – he thrived on the trust placed in him by his teachers.  As captain of his team he took his responsibilities seriously and was proud of being in the lead, but his responsibility for Emma came first.

     Bed-wetter he may be – he was Emmy’s Hero.. Some ten years later he would rank high among the heroes of Tobruk, as he fell leading his men into battle.

     It was from his classroom that Emma first heard the strains of the beautiful Londonderry Air and the words of “Danny Boy”.  There was something about the words and music that filled her with ecstasy.  As she listened to its haunting opening: “The pipes, the pipes are calling”, the words caught at her very soul, calling to something within her – so exquisite, yet painful.

    “From glen to glen and down the mountainside” held for her a mystical quality.  The little girl would sit at her desk enraptured, listening, transported from the mundane world of multiplication and subtraction, out into the hillsides beyond the schoolroom, until she too, was part of the mists swirling over rocky glens, rising, falling, at one with the haunting melody.

    “tis you must go and I must bide …“ it ran, moving with infinite sadness to its conclusion: “And I shall sleep in peace . . . . .‘ “  The song was always linked in her mind with Walt – prophetically as it happened.

     But memories like these were certainly not to be shared with strangers.

     There was the terrible night, when she was summoned from her bed, confused and half-asleep, and taken to the cover-way which separated the boys’ dormitories from the main building.  On the way, she was vaguely conscious of others – a few girls dressed in their night-gowns standing in a group on the balcony, talking in low voices.

     Arrived at the cover-way, Emma saw a van drawn up, ready for departure. Standing near were a number of staff members, but since it was dark Emmy was unsure who they were.

     In utter bewilderment she then saw Dick with another boy about his own age, on the point of being ‘loaded’ into the van.

     “Here’s your little sister come to say ‘Goodbye’ to you,” she heard someone say.  Then speaking to Emmy, the voice continued, “They’re going to the Reformatory for being naughty boys.  They were in bed together.”

     Reformatory!  Emma had no idea what it was like, but the word was one she’d heard in association with crime and punishment of the extremest kind.  She looked at her brother’ s white face and shared his fear.  Fear of the unknown terror that lay in store for him; fear that if he was sent away she’d never see him again. What would become of him?

     Emmy tried to speak and found that she had been crying for some time. “Please, please don’t send him away” she sobbed.

     “There now, see how upset your sister is,” said the Voice.  “We’ll let you off this time for her sake, but there’ll be no more chances.”

     Emmy was sent back to her bed, where she lay emotions in turmoil – wondering why two little boys should not share each other’s beds.  Some twenty years passed before she posed the question to her brother.

     “Why were you in bed with that other boy?”

     “I forget now” said Dick “We were probably cold or lonely and thought that two would be warmer and more comfortable than one.”

     “But why should you be sent to the Reformatory for that’?” Emma persisted.

     Dick smiled grimly.  “Come off it Em.  Two boys in bed together.  What else are adults to think but the worst?”

     Did they really intend to send them away? Or had they only intended to frighten them? Either way, it was surely an act of the coldest cruelty.

(C) Winnifred Knight  2000 – 2007

Transcribed and Edited by Jud House 2007

(C) 13/06/2013

* * * * *


October 1931

“You’re going home tomorrow.”

     Emma stared in disbelief at the girl who’d whispered to her as they passed in the corridor on their way to bed.  Going home – dared she believe the magic words she’d waited to hear for the past three years.  Too good to be true!

     But here they were with only another fifty miles to go!  Emma thought the journey would never end.

     It had been early morning when they left The Home and wound their way down through the hills – one of those soft, cool mornings that holds promise of a beautiful day to come.

     “We have to pick up a passenger on our way through the city,” their father had said.  “But if we don’t have any other delays or unexpected mishaps, we should be home by mid-afternoon.  Seeing it’s such a nice day we’ll leave the curtains off and enjoy the fresh air.  So hop in and let’s get started,” he added.

     In a hurry to be off, the boys had opened the front door of the car for Emma, then fairly bursting with excitement, scrambled into the back, urging her to get a move on if she didn’t want to be left behind.  Emma needed no second bidding and climbed quickly in, shutting the door behind her.  For a while at least, she was to sit beside her father – this handsome, half-real, half-imaginary being, who for the past three years had existed chiefly in her dream-world.

     How many times had she looked up from her work or play and seen his tall, lean figure materialise before her eyes, walking towards her with his firm, springy step, so that as time passed, she became uncertain which of his visits had been real and which merely fancy.  Even here, at this moment, she couldn’t be sure.  Was she still dreaming?

     She watched him as he walked around the car, checking the tyres and doors, ensuring that everything was tied on securely before slipping into his place behind the wheel.

     “All set, lads?” he asked, glancing back at the boys.  Their hearty response set Em shivering with excitement, so that thinking she might be cold her father reached over, placed a rug across her knees, and with great tenderness, tucked it around her.

     “Comfy, little girl?” he asked, his grave deeply-lined face softening into a smile as he leant towards her, his face close to hers.

     Emmy nodded shyly, too overcome for words, her cup was filling too quickly.  As the engine started, she gave herself up to the joy of the moment.  The dream had come true.  They were going home!

 * * *

At the start of any journey, the traveller’s thoughts tend to linger for a time with the people and places he has just left behind, perhaps pondering unresolved problems or unfinished business, or merely reluctant to let go of familiar scenes – or they of him.

So it was with Emma.  The events of the past three years were not quite ready to release their hold on her and for a time accompanied her along the way.

As the car drew away from the building and moved slowly along the avenue of pines and past the orchard, she recalled the many hours she had spent there, looking for ‘monkey’ nuts – which was permissible – and in the orchard picking fruit – which was not.  How precious those hours had been and how fleeting!

Looking back, she exchanged a glance with Dick, and realised that he was having the same thoughts.  But from now on they’d be together all day and every day.

At The Home, contact between the three children had been very restricted.  The girls’ section was separated from the boys’ and strict supervision was exercised to ensure that the occupants too, remained separate – even at meal-times.  Though they ate in the same building, their dining-rooms were separate, and at school of course, the three were in separate class-rooms.

There were fleeting moments during the week when brief contact between them was possible – in the mornings when they waited to take their places in the ‘crocodile’ for the walk to school, and in the evenings in the Common-room when assembled for prayers.

Seating on the floor was somewhat haphazard, and it was sometimes possible for Emma to sit near one or other of her brothers and exchange a few words.  Just knowing that they were near, in the same room, brought a measure of comfort and companionship.

Saturdays provided the best opportunities for being together.  Every alternate Saturday was Visiting Day.  It was the highlight in the dull routine and must have made life considerably sweeter for those fortunate enough to have family or friends within easy reach of The Home.

At first, Emma would watch wistfully as one by one the other children were caught up in the centre of a group of familiar faces, friendly, loving.  Her eyes would examine each group closely as they arrived, hoping to espy a familiar form among them.  While she watched, a small hollow would begin to form in the pit of her stomach, slowly enlarging until the feeling of emptiness was too great to bear, and she would turn away.  These were the lucky ones who at the close of a pleasant day within a small circle, returned to the larger community refreshed – both physically and emotionally – hands filled with gifts, most often in the form of food treats, which broke the monotony of plain dining-room fare.

But as Visiting Days came and went uneventfully, Emma learnt to remove herself early from the visiting area, so that she would not have to witness the reunions, and together with one or two other lonely ones, or sometimes with Dick and a couple of his friends they roamed the large grounds, in which there were several delightful areas where, freed from Authority’s watchful eye, it was possible to lose themselves for an afternoon.

An occasional foray into the orchard in the right season could yield a succulent ‘King David’ apple with ruby skin, so juicy that the creamy flesh inside had turned in places to jelly; at other times an orange, which could be peeled and eaten, the pieces of skin then secreted on their persons and hidden under the pillow to be nibbled on in the dark after ‘lights out’.

Their favourite haunt was the driveway leading up to The Home.  Here in this quiet place, they were sustained by the bill of fare supplied by kindly Mother Nature.  The towering pines provided a canopy above them and spread layers of brown needles to form a soft carpet beneath their feet, and in Autumn the cones which littered the ground were fat with nuts, their hard, brown shells streaked with black.

Responding to the pressure of eager fingers, they spilled out and were carefully cracked between stones to release the luscious kernels.  Slipped from their silky bronze coating, the milk-white kernels were put to one side until the heap was large enough to make a tasty mouthful.  And how tasty they were!  Nothing could compare with the unique milky taste of these ‘Monkey’ nuts, and to children fed on a plain, unchanging diet they were exotic fare indeed!

* * *

As the car reached the end of the long drive, the children’s excitement mounted.  Always on the rare outings with their father, a sense of freedom overtook them as the gates came into view, and today there was no thought or their return to dim the excitement.  Emmy’s stomach seemed to turn over as they passed through the gates for the last time.  This time there’d be no going back.  She turned for a last look.

In the grass beside the gate, as though reluctant to see them go, a lone clump of snowdrops that somehow still persisted hung their heads.

“They look so sad,” thought Emmy who loved the tiny white flowers with their ever-drooping heads and the ever-present teardrop on their faces.

“Look at the wild-flowers Em,” said Dick pointing towards the hillside as they drove out on to the road.  Then with a wicked grin, “But I can’t see any orchids.”

Again sharing his thoughts, Emmy grinned back then turned to look out of the front window.  Yes, it was wild-flower time again.  She thought of the bush-track around the hillside along which they walked to school each day, and the flowery slopes that always invited them to stop and play – as on one memorable day they did!

On this particular morning – Emma was afterwards unsure just how it had come about – she and Dick became separated from the ‘Crocodile’ and, wholly oblivious of the passing time, spent a wonderful hour wandering through the scrub.

How peaceful it was – so quiet and still – like being in church.  The call of birds was the only sound that broke the silence and the two fell under its soothing spell.  It was early Spring and the wild-flowers were in bloom.

Unmindful of scratches to legs and hands, they picked their way past banks of blackberry bushes that grew thickly beside the track.  Mingled scents of boronia and wood-violets reached them as they tramped among the clumps of fern and heath in search of the elusive ‘spider’ orchid.

It was an hour stolen from Time, and they lavishly spent each moment, heedless of the reckoning.

Mercifully, no repayment was exacted when, flushed with guilty pleasure, they presented themselves – two hours late – at the schoolroom door – precious orchids drooping in hot, grubby hands.  Surely that day, the windows of Heaven were open wide, the golden hour shared and blessed, for with rare forbearance, Authority smiled faintly and held its hand.

(C) Winnifred Knight  2000 – 2007

Transcribed and Edited by Jud House 2007

(C) 13/06/2013

* * * * *


 Emma’s memories of life with her mother were vague.  She had recollections of a lady, dressed in a long black dress, whom she was ‘helping’ to wash the clothes outdoors.  They had a house at this time but no laundry, so the copper, and the washtubs on a stand, all stood in the open.  One of the tubs was used to wash the clothes which didn’t need to be boiled, but most of them needed much rubbing on the scrubbing board – a vital piece of equipment on washdays!  The other was used for rinsing.

     Bed-linen and towels were washed at another time, when Emma was fascinated as she watched her mother wring the water out of the heavy sheets and towels, looping the ends over her arm as she did so, both before and after they went into the rinse water, and then hang them on the lines, which were strung between posts and trees.  A forked branch acted as a prop to hold the loaded lines up.  A far cry from modern washdays!

     There were dim memories of sliding off the rump of a horse, and the trembly feeling in her legs when she tried to stand, and later burying her face in her mother’s skirts, as she was comforted.  (The horse could only have been Brownie, as Kit would not have stood still long enough to allow three children to clamber on her back at the same time.)

     Another incident which stood out in her memory, was having had mustard put on her tongue – presumably for using a forbidden word.  Unable to stay outside, and anxious for her mother’s forgiveness, she peeped around the kitchen door, pressing herself close to the wall as she did so.  (She must have been four years old at the time.)  Her mother was seated on a chair facing the doorway, feeding the baby.  When she caught sight of her errant daughter, obviously seeking ‘absolution’ she smiled her humorous Mona Lisa smile.  Emma remembered that smile and treasured it.

     The last event she would rather not remember – the day the ‘phone rang in the kitchen, answered by her eldest sister, Maud.  When she’d replaced the receiver, she stood quite still for a moment or two, then turned, her face flushes red, as though to prevent herself from crying.  Then it drained of all colour as she spoke just two words – words which were to bring with them pain, heartache and above all, change to the life of each member of the family left behind – “Mum’s dead”.

     From that time onward there was a blank, except for those memorable nights when, as she and her father watched for the evening star, and she would say, “Is that where Mum has gone Dad?”  and he would reply, “Yes dear, that’s her star”.  All her life, Emma was to think of it as her star.

     Then one chill morning, she was wakened while it was still dark, bathed and dressed by Maud, and after having an early breakfast with her father and the two boys, they set off in the truck for The Home.

 * * *

  October 1928

     “This way kids, follow me.”  The voice of a small girl rang out as she set off confidently in the lead across the lawn, the two older boys trailing.

     “Wait up, Em, we’re coming.”  Dick, the younger of the two ran to catch up with her.  Walt followed more slowly.

     The suggestion of a smile showed briefly on the deeply-lined face of the man who watched them.  They crossed the drive-way to the front entrance of the elegant building which was to be their home for the next three years.

     “Plucky little Emmy,” he thought.  “Thank God she seems almost to be enjoying herself.  She’ll be good for the boys, and they’ll watch out for her.  Walt’s very responsible.”  He sighed deeply.  “Perhaps everything will work out for the best.  At least they’ll be well-cared for.  But I hate to leave them.”

     Matthew Haywood looked around at the beautiful grounds and gardens that provided the setting for the Queen Victoria Home for Children.  Sloping lawns, surrounded by shrubberies, spread across the entire front, and beyond – out of sight – were orchards and vegetable gardens which he’d seen on his initial visit.

     At the front stately columns supported the verandah, and within the entrance, passageways led directly to dining-rooms, kitchens and laundries.  Immediately on the right, a graceful staircase led up to the large common-room, bedrooms, bathrooms and administration office, where Matt had earlier had his final discussion with the matron in charge.

     Now he followed his three children into the hall and saw them into the hands of the waiting nurse.  A quiet goodbye, and they moved off up the stairs, seeming eager to inspect their new surroundings.

     Matt stood looking after them for a long moment.   “It’s the best I can do for now, kids,” he murmured.  “God bless you.”

     Turning, he went out to the waiting car, and began the long journey home, alone.

* * *

The Years Between

There were good times and there were bad.  There must have been laughter, but it couldn’t have been very deep, for she couldn’t remember it.

     There were brief moments of joy, injustice and bewilderment.   The latter predominated during the years between.  Her earliest memories were, naturally enough, dream-like – at times nightmarish.  It was like living in a fog – everything became blurred around the edges.  Nothing seemed real – reality, like reassurance, seemed always just out of reach.

     Time didn’t exist – just this sense of waiting and filling in time until someone should say, “You’re going home.”

     She learnt not to feel too much or too deeply, but to accept things as they came – the good and the bad.  Even the good times she leant to regard as somewhat common-place, because if you enjoyed them too much, you missed them too much when you didn’t have them.  The bad she learnt to endure.

     She learnt to contain herself – like a caterpillar which wraps itself in a protective covering to await the day when it is time to emerge.  What it amounted to was survival.  How strong within us is this instinct, when a five-year-old child feels the necessity to wrap itself in a protective cloak from within which it resists those things that appear to offer too great a joy or pain.

     Thus Emma existed day by day, her cloak proof against much that would assail her from without, while within its folds she wove a lining of resilience that allowed her to survive the worst times – when forced to witness the unpitying hand of Authority turned against her brothers.

     Her father’s visits – so rare and so doubly precious – whatever form they might take (a day at the beach, the zoo or the gardens), must be kept in their right perspective; the heady draught must be merely sipped, because at the end of the day they would go back to The Home and Dad would drive away – back to the farm.  In order not to taste the bitter dregs, she must not drink too deeply.

     Her one excess, because she held the cup in her own hands, was her joy in singing.  No-one could take it from her; she could call on it at will.  It was always there – constant.  Possessed of a voice that was regarded as both wonderful and unique, she was known as ‘the little girl who sings’.  It was this that gave her inner strength, that made it possible, when trouble pressed too close, to draw her cloak around her and wait, in the knowledge that no matter how bad it might be, when it was over, this part of her would emerge unharmed, unaltered.

     Yes, there were good times and there were bad.  Some of them she would never forget.

(C) Winnifred Knight  2000 – 2007

Transcribed and Edited by Jud House 2007

(C) 13/06/2013

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