The Stars in the Night
“Harry Fletcher is a confident young man, sure that he will marry Nora, no matter what their families say. He will always protect Eddie, the boy his father saved from the gutters of Port Adelaide.
Only the War to End All Wars might get in the way of Harry’s plans…
From the beaches of Semaphore to the shores of Gallipoli, the mud of Flanders to the red dust of inland South Australia, this is a story of love, brotherhood, and resilience.”
Nora stopped by the baker’s. It was cooler under the verandah, though the north wind still swooped under her hat brim and plucked out strands of hair to flutter around her face. Her cousin Jenny was having the same trouble, holding her hat on with both hands.
‘Oh, do let’s go in, just for a minute! I must get out of this wind. Only think how ruinous to the complexion!’
Nora knew a momentary hesitation. Foolish, to think after all this time she’d be shy in the baker’s. She was a lady now, and far beyond any shyness of that sort. The last time she was in Semaphore was eight years ago. She drew herself together and opened the door for Jenny. After all, who knew what might have changed in that time? The sign still read Fletchers Bakery, but that was no guarantee the Fletchers would still be there. It was certainly no guarantee that anyone would remember her from her childhood holidays.
Inside the shop, it was quiet and dark after the sun’s glare. A shade was drawn over the side window, protecting the bread, black rye and brown wheat, light oat bread and glazed rolls, arrayed on the slanted trays of the rack against the wall. A lower counter bearing small iced biscuits, fruit buns and exquisitely decorated cakes stood before a curtained door. A tall glass vase, like—exactly like—a preserving jar, and filled with sprays of eucalypt and a couple of stems of daylily, caught the strong morning light fingering its way past the screen. A scent of fruit and cinnamon overpowered the eucalypt. It was not very much cooler than it had been on the verandah. As they closed the door on the wind behind them, a young man stepped around the curtain.
Nora knew immediately that it was Harry. Harry Fletcher, the baker’s son, the boy she remembered from her last summer at the seaside. He hadn’t seen her; he was smiling at Jenny and wiping his hands on a floury apron. Who wouldn’t smile at Jenny? thought Nora, recognising her cousin’s greater claims to beauty. Small and fair, Jenny had grown from an insipid, whining child into an angelic vision. That, at least, was what one young man had written to her, just before they left England some months previously. Jenny had laughed, but Nora had to admit a kernel of truth in his tormented verse. Jenny’s skin was ‘like peaches’, and her lips were ‘like a dark folded rosebud’. Nora suppressed a sigh.
Harry was surprised by the sight before him. He knew everyone who bought bread from Fletchers. He made up all the deliveries and accounts and did most of the serving. He knew the households, the hotels, the boarding houses, and the cafes. He knew the widower from Bower Road and the housekeeper at the presbytery. He knew the schoolmistress and the kids who clamoured for cream buns on their way home. He knew the young mothers, and the worn ones, the grandmas and the blokes from the wharf. This little girl—this little woman, this pretty birdlike creature dressed all in palest blue, he did not know. It made him smile. The world was maybe still full of wonders, even here. He supposed her to be one of the holiday-makers enjoying a week at the seaside, staying at one of the hotels on Main Street. Not many of them came into Fletchers, though; there were more genteel tea parlours further up the hill.
He put his forearm up and scrubbed his forehead. Then he said, ‘Yes, miss?’ with the laugh that always seemed about to break out behind his everyday speech, as if he were sharing a joke behind the words he said aloud, a joke that you and he knew, that you kept against everyone else. Nora suppressed another sigh. He was exactly as she remembered him; or, no, exactly as she thought he would be after eight years. Still smiling, still with that straight, almost challenging direct gaze. He hadn’t grown very tall, but as a boy he had been small for his age. His voice was surprisingly deep, for all that. He was compact in build, with short brown hair and just the suggestion he could have shaved more carefully that morning. His eyes, a flecked hazel, were large and fixed unwaveringly on Jenny. His brows and lashes were dark, darker than his hair, and he still had that dimple in his chin, though the chin was now squarer. He was as she had thought he might be, imagined idly through the months, the years at school.
He hadn’t even seen her.
Jenny preened in front of him, turning a little so that she brought Nora into the conversation. ‘Oh, we thought we’d step in out of the wind,’ she said sweetly. ‘And perhaps have something for morning tea?’
Harry glanced almost absent-mindedly toward the vision’s companion, but the glance was enough. Nora didn’t know where to look. He was staring at her, actually staring, and the smile had gone. It was a long moment—long enough for the colour to flush up her neck and over her cheeks before the smile returned.
‘Ah!’ said Harry, with a lift of his chin. He folded his arms. ‘Nora—I mean, Miss MacTierney, don’t I? It is, isn’t it? From somewhere up north, near the copper country. I remember you.’
Jenny looked in surprise from one to the other. Secretive Nora! She had never mentioned that she knew, actually knew someone in one of the shops in Semaphore. Imagine! Yet here they were, these two, smiling at one another as if they had known each other for ages. That couldn’t be so; why, Nora had spent the last six years in England. And they had only arrived in this dear little seaside town yesterday. But Nora and this very—well, this very Australian young man—were taking stock of each other like old friends.
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About the author
Clare Rhoden writes historical fiction, sci-fi and fantasy (check her titles at Odyssey Books http://odysseybooks.com.au/). Clare lives in Melbourne Australia with her husband Bill, their super-intelligent poodle-cross Aeryn, a huge and charming parliament of visiting magpies, and a very demanding/addictive garden space.
Clare completed her PhD in Australian WWI literature at the University of Melbourne in 2011, and a Masters of Creative Writing in 2008, in which she investigated the history of her grandparents who emigrated for Europe to Port Adelaide in January 1914. The Stars in the Night is the result of her research.