General Fiction posted April 19, 2015


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the conclusion of the fated Gallipoli romance

PART 5: It Helps to Think of You

by mfowler


The days since the Armistice was signed last November have drifted away. It was the one truly bright time of my life in recent years. Bacchus Marsh was decked out like a carnival. Everyone in the district seemed to be in the streets on November 11, 1918. There were car horns tooting and strangers walking up and hugging each other as if they were great friends. The publican even gave away free beer all afternoon. The town had never seen a day like that before.
 
This winter was a wet one and we were often rained in on the farm for days.  August clouds are brighter now and the ewes are showing signs that lambing will be very good this Spring.
 
My parents are keen to see me married off to the Ogilvy lad from near Hamilton. Mother is concerned that I will grow old and wither like autumn leaves if I'm not married before I'm twenty five. But, he's three years my younger, one of the lucky ones who was too young to enlist without being seen as a coward. I keep busy with cooking and sewing, practising piano and singing. I need to. Memories of Reg and the uncertainty of his fate fill my mind like an in-coming tide when I let myself think about him. And, it's so hard.  It's as if his face is a thousand different combinations of imagined images, as if I'm searching for someone I don't know in a Crazy Mirror House at the fair.
 
'Why don't you go to Melbourne, do a little shopping, treat yourself,' says Mother. 'You can't keep moping about your lost Digger forever.' She's right of course. It's been nearly four years since Dave Colbert wrote with the bad news about Reg's terrible wounding.
 
'You know, Mother, you're right. I've seen some excellent dresses in the catalogues, and a spot of shopping may cheer me up.' It's been nearly a year since I visited Sergeant Blake's widow, Molly, and her family. I decide to drop in and see how she's faring. Her last letter said she has taken in a boarder to help make ends meet. I'll take her another parcel of food from the farm.
 
<><><> 
 
Melbourne seems faster than when I was last there. Soldiers, recently returned from Europe, are everywhere in their khakis. It will be a relief to sit and have a chat with Molly. The sight of the uniforms stirs memories I don't wish to contemplate.
 
I take the tram to Fitzroy. The Blake's home is looking brighter, but I can't put my finger on how.
 
'Julia, welcome. It's so good to see you. Come in; I'll make a pot of tea. Tell me, how are you?' Molly's welcome is as warm as ever. The children are all at school now and it's the first time I've been in the house when it hasn't been full of children's chatter and play.
 
'I'm keeping well, Molly. Lots to do around the farm. Mother suggested I come to Melbourne for the day, so I took the opportunity to drop by. I must say Molly, your house is looking lovely.'
 
'Oh, yes. It's my boarder. He's out of work at present. So, I give him jobs to help meet the rent. He's painted the walls and made a whole new garden out the front. Oh, that reminds me, he says he knows of you from your letters during the war.'
 
I splutter as I sip my tea. I feel my shoulders tighten and my heart beats a little faster. 'Knows me?'
 
'Yes, his name is...'
 
Suddenly, the door from the  kitchen opens and a stranger enters the room, 'Sorry Missus, I didn't know you had company. I'll go to me room for a smoke.'
 
'No, Dave, that's OK. I want you to meet Miss Julia Bligh, Reg's friend.' Molly is grinning as if she's made world peace. 'Julia, this is Dave Colbert.'
 
'Oh, my!' I exclaim, 'Dave Colbert from Gallipoli. It can't be.'
 
'It is,' he says with a cheeky grin,' and you are a sight for sore eyes, Miss Bligh. Reg said you were beautiful, but he was a romantic and imagined you without ever seeing your picture. He was a good guesser.'
 
I blush furiously. 'I have to sit down. I'm sorry, Dave, oh, Mr Colbert. This is truly unbelievable. When I received your letter about Reg, I was distraught. You might have been a clerk in the War Office sending a telegram, but you are real and here you are.'
 
'More tea, Lovey,' suggests Molly.
 
'I'm parched, Molly, 'says Dave with larrikin charm, 'any chance of a cuppa this way?' Molly disappears into the kitchen.
 
'Mr Colbert.'
 
'No, Dave,' insists my new friend.
 
'Alright, then, Dave. I want to thank you for your kind letter. You were very sweet to write and I know you lost a friend, one you knew well.'
 
'I had to, Miss Colbert, Julia. Your letters were not just Reg's lifeline to hope, but they kept three other diggers believing in life after hell.'
 
'Thank you, Dave. That is so wonderful. Have you heard what happened to Reg? Where he's buried, I mean. If his body was brought home, I would love to visit the grave and pay my respects.'
 
Dave's grin disappears. He looks at his shoes and rings his hands. It takes him a moment before answering. 'Reg isn't buried anywhere. He survived. He was shipped home two years ago. His injuries stopped him being reassigned.'
 
'Alive!' I exclaim.' He's still alive. Why hasn't he written to me? Why haven't you written to me?'
 
He buries his face in his hands like a shamed child. 'Here we go everybody,' says Molly placing a tray on the table. 'Everything seems very serious.'
 
'Reg is alive, Molly. Why didn't you tell me?'
 
'He's what?' she replies. 'First I've heard of it. Dave, you never said Reg was alive. How could that be?'
 
 
'I'm sorry, Molly,' says Dave,' when I came to see you about the Sarge,  and you took me in, I didn't want to upset things, so I stayed quiet. You see, the truth is, Reg wrote to me and told me he made it. That was eighteen months ago. When he found out about our arrangement, he wrote back and told me to say nothing about him. I'm sorry Miss Julia, he wants nothing to do with you.'
 
<><><> 
 
The shock of Reg's survival and rejection are devastating at first. By Springtime, I've worked up the courage to look for Reg and find out why he doesn't want to know me.
 
Dave gave me an address for Euroa in central Victoria. He's working there in a grocery store. 'You're mad,' says my mother as I ready for the journey to Euroa. 'You can only get your heart broken over again.'
 
'Mother, I want to find out once and for all what this whole saga has been about. Surely, the good Lord would not put me through so much without some kind of purpose.'
 
I think she understands my feelings and waves me goodbye as the taxi pulls away from the farm.
 
<><><> 
 
'Jackson's Emporium?' I inquire of a young lad waiting outside Euroa's Post Office.
 
'Over there.' He points at a rather shabby store on the far side of the main street.
 
'Do you know Reg Hobbs?'
 
'Yeah, Reg. He works in the Emporium. My Mum says he's the best grocer in Euroa. I think she likes him.' I smile, but my stomach turns. I've never experienced jealousy in my life, but this innocent comment has unearthed an emotion of which I never knew I was capable.
 
I peer through the doorway nervously. The Emporium seems to sell every kind of product man has invented, but no-one seems to be about. I enter and walk to the counter. A bald, wizened man with squinty eyes suddenly appears. 'Help you, Miss?' he asks politely.
 
'Reg. Are you Reg Hobbs?' I ask, disbelieving that this middle aged man was my mystery soldier.
 
He cackles. 'Reg, oh no. He's a returned soldier. I'm old enough to be his father. I'm his employer, Jasper Cooling.... Reg, Reg, get out here. Someone to see yer.'
 
A lanky, young man with a smile that could charm birds from the trees walks in from the back room. I'm flushed once again. 'Yes, miss, how can I help ya?' he says.
 
I pluck as much courage as one can hope for. 'I'm Julia, Reg. Julia Bligh.'
 
Time takes a vacation for a minute and he responds. 'My Julia. My dearest Julia. Strike me lucky. How did you find me? I mean, hello. Lovely to meet you at last.' He reaches out to shake hands. In that moment, I realise it is his left hand and that the right arm is nothing but part of a loose shirt.
 
<><><> 
 
Mr Cooling is quick to see that we need time alone and sends us to the park for Reg's lunch break.
 
'You must think I'm a stinker, Julia. No word from me. Dave Colbert told me about his letter. I thought it better you believe I was dead.'
 
'More than a stinker, Mr Dobbs, I have waited to hear of your fate for four years. And here you are living a day's journey from me. Why would you treat me like that? I thought I might mean something to you?'
 
He can barely look at me and fiddles with his sandwich. 'When I woke up in the hospital in Egypt, I found they'd cut off my arm. I was a very sick man. They patched me up real good, but the arm was gone. I realised I wasn't any good to a lady like you. I couldn't bear you seeing me and rejecting me. So, like a coward, I hid away. Mr Cooling is my mother's brother. He offered me this position.'
 
 
'Reg, I loved you, and you broke my heart, or at least I thought God had taken you for some reason I didn't understand. Right now, I'm angry. And yes, you have been a coward, but I also know you're a hero and a good man to boot.'
 
'I'm sorry, Julia. Maybe, we just weren't meant.'
 
I take his hand. 'You silly man. Do you think I've travelled all this way to give up on us? You are still the same man inside, and that man won my affection from ten thousand miles away. You, Reg Hobbs have some time to make up.'
 
He looks at me forlornly. I can feel the Spring sun warming my hair. 'You mean, you aren't put off by my injury?'
 
'Your missing arm, you mean. My goodness, no. You gave that in the service of your country. It's your salute to courage. Reg, I want to know the man I loved in those letters so long ago. Do you think we could try?'
 
His smile competes with the sunshine. 'If you're willing to take me on, Julia, I'm willing to give it a go.'
 
We stroll, good arm in arm, past the war memorial at the centre of the park.


Story of the Month contest entry

Recognized


For those of you who have read the letters from Julia Bligh to Reg Hobbs while he was fighting in the Gallipoli campaign, in 1915, I have written a story that brings the long running saga to conclusion.

For those of you joining in for the first time: Julia writes and sends letters to Reg who is pinned down in an eight month battle in Turkey. They develop a dear friendship which is rudely interrupted when Reg is injured and disappears to a hospital ship. His fate is uncertain, but death seems the only possibility to Julia since she never hears from him again.
The story picks up from there.

Parts 1-4 are in my portfolio. Part 2-4 are still paying.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.


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