In the summer of early 1918, as a great war raged in Europe, and citizens of the Empire struggled with the sacrifices being made for the greater good, life on the shores of Thompson Lake went on, much as it had done for the hundred or so years since it had first begun.
On the lone dirt street that led in and out of the town, a row of merchants still plied their trade. There was a general store, a butcher, two publicans, a pharmacist and a baker all catering to the basic needs of the small population that called Thompsonville home. There were other establishments as well, like the tea house, which looked out over the smooth waters of the lake, the newspaper, which kept the locals informed with both news and gossip, and others also, some of which the good, god-fearing folks of this place dared not acknowledge.
There was also a school, and a church, and a village green, near to the shores of the lake. Life was simple, and life was good . . . for most people at least . . .and yet even though the townsfolk wanted for very little, they had not been left untouched by the events occurring across the globe.
That was because there were husbands and sons and brothers who were still fighting for the cause, trying to ensure the freedom of the citizens of the British Empire and prevent the Kaiser from overrunning all of Europe.
This task had taken its toll, and there were many from these fair shores who would never return, having paid the ultimate sacrifice for King and country, forever to remain entombed in foreign soil, and leaving their families back home forever grieving their loss.
For the younger generation of boys, especially those teenagers nearing that certain age where they were able to go off to fight, they lived in a strange world, a twilight world of mixed emotions. For most, they were filled excitement and were actually looking forward to the challenge, desperately wanting to take their chance and don the uniform, to do their bit. Indeed, there were those who were so keen for adventure that they changed their ages and stepped up to serve anyhow; yet even for these adventurous souls there were still thoughts in the back of their minds which sowed doubts. Would they ever return? Would their sweethearts wait for them? Would the war even last long enough for them to get to see some action?
And then there were those who dreaded the thought of it all. They had heard all the stories about the horrors of war, relayed to them through the local newspaper. The stories about the deaths, the maimings, the sickness, the living hell that the soldiers were made to endure . . . or at least those lucky enough to have survived to be able to tell the tale of how they endured it all . . . they had heard it all. Just as they had heard of places such as Gallipolli and Flanders and The Somme, and what happened there. They knew that war was a killer, and that only pain and heartbreak could come from it, yet even though they may not have liked the thought of it, they knew they would have to go if called upon, for that was what simply had to be done.
And it was especially so for two such sons of Thompsonville.
* * * * *
‘But Jack, you know that it’s expected of us all . . . I don’t really have a choice. You know that,’ one boy said to the other.
‘But that’s just it, Davy . . . you do have a choice!’ his companion replied. ‘We could always go up river somewhere, right away from it all.’
‘You know I couldn’t do that,’ Davy replied. ‘There is a job that needs to be done . . . I will have to go . . . I need to go.’
‘Yes, I know, Davy,’ the other boy sighed. ‘But that doesn’t mean I have to like it,’
They were lazing by a creek which fed into the Thompson River, well upstream from the township and far from prying eyes. It was a place that was special to them both, a place where they could retreat from the world around them, where they could simply be themselves, without fear of discovery or persecution.
Above them the lazy branches of a lush willow cast a cooling shade, sheltering them from the summer sun with its lazy branches drooping down to the water’s edge, creating a hidden den. Beyond the veil of green that protected their secret there was a languid waterhole, deep and clear, where the two young neighbours had swum and played for half of their young lives, and into which they could often be found diving and frolicking, naked and free, while filling the air with the sound of youthful laughter.
It was a place that Davy Thompson, the older of the two, had discovered as a boy, and so it followed that his faithful younger sidekick, Jack Henderson, from the neighbouring dairy farm, would also be introduced to its beauty.
Its location was their secret, and as they grew from the cheeky pre-pubescent boys that they had been when they had first met, into the strapping and handsome lads they were now, it had been the first of many secrets they would share in this world.
But now that world was changing, as Davy’s eighteenth birthday approached. It was a promise he had made to his parents . . . that he wouldn’t enlist until after that day . . . and it was a promise he was going to keep. After that date the tall and handsome, dark haired farm boy would pledge himself to King and country, at least for the duration of this Great War which was being fought. After that date he would pull on a uniform and be sent to far off places, first to be trained to fight, and then to be thrust into battle, not knowing if he would live or die, not knowing if he would ever see the boy he loved again.
‘But aren’t you scared?’ Jack asked his partner, as he gazed up into the handsome face.
They were in their shady nook, both naked after having enjoyed a morning swim to wash away the sweat and dirt of their earlier farm work. Davy leaned back against the trunk of a tree, while cradling the head of Jack in his lap, looking down upon the muscular figure, hard from his years of growing up and working on the farm, and gently running his hand through the other boy’s light brown hair.
‘I’m scared like I have never been before, my love. But it is something that must still be done.’
‘They say the war shall be over soon anyhow, so perhaps you won’t have to fight after all? Perhaps it will be over even before your birthday . . . and then it won’t even matter.’
‘Or perhaps it will go on for another four years . . .’ Davy sighed.
‘Please don’t say that . . . I couldn’t bear to not see you for . . .’ Jack began to say.
‘Sshhhh . . .’ Davy said, trying to reassure the other. ‘I’ll wager that it’ll be over before the year is out. You just wait and see.’
‘And then you’ll come home to me?’
‘I promise, my love,’ Davy replied, before leaning down and placing his lips upon those of Jack, just as he had been doing, whenever they were alone, for almost four years now.
It had all started innocently enough. At that time the two boys had been friends for more than five years, having lived on neighbouring farms. A friendship had been quick to form, and as the two boys grew older, that bond only grew stronger.
One day, however, while they were skinny dipping at their favourite place, on the creek that ran between the two farms, something happened to change things. Something that hadn’t happened before.
As Davy emerged from the water, his friend noticed that Davy was hard. His lithe body, tanned and firm from their daily work, had shone in the morning sun as they swam andhad been wrestling in the water and Jack had thought he had felt something firm brush against him, but hadn’t been sure. Now he knew what that was, and that thought began to excite him in a way that he hadn’t been excited before. He too was hard. He could feel it without even having the need to look down at himself, or to touch himself, which was what he most often did at night when alone in his bed and images of his friend would constantly dance in his head.
Emboldened by the thought that he wasn’t the only one, he followed his friend from the water and into the shade of their tree. The thirteen and fourteen year old boys looked each other up and down, then smiled.
Nothing was said. Nothing needed to be said.
As they came closer together, it was as if each seemed to know just what the other was thinking.
* * * * *
The town of Thompsonville was built upon the availability of the precious natural resources that were in abundance around it.
There was the timber that came from the upper reaches of the Thompson River, which was floated downstream to the mill that had been established by old Cecil Thompson, Davy’s great-uncle, on the northern edge of the lake.
There were the handful of small dairy farms on the lush rolling hills to the north of the town, which supplied milk not only to Thompsonville, but also to the nearby township of Macquarie Harbour, which was itself rapidly expanding, even in these troubled times.
And there was also a small fleet of fishing boats, which used the beautiful and sheltered waters of the natural harbor as their base.
It was the family of Davy Thompson who had first settled the area. His great-grandfather, to be precise, settling upon the lake when there was nothing but scrub land and natives, and so it wasn’t surprising that the area became so named.
Soon afterwards more family members arrived, once news of Cecil’s good fortune began to spread, and so it wasn’t long before land was cleared, buildings went up, and a settlement began to emerge.
As the years passed the small town continued to grow. Others came and went, but the Thompsons remained. Or at least most of them did.
That was when the timber mill and the dairy farms came into existence, which required workers to manage them. Pretty soon the hovels that had been built by the original Thompson settlers were replaced by neat and tidy cottages and shops, and the beginnings of a real town on the shores of Thompson Lake began to take shape.
Of course it wasn’t always smooth sailing for the struggling township, with fire and flood making themselves known from time to time, just to ensure that the locals stayed wary of mother nature, but by and large things were good, and the town was continuing to grow.
By 1918 the town was a quaint little settlement, but one that was thriving, at least when compared to those early years. The needs of the townsfolk were well catered for, despite the war going on in Europe, and apart from the fact that there was a shortage of younger men, as most of these were off fighting, there was little evidence of that event having any major effect on the lives of the residents. Everybody was doing the best they could, and life went on.
* * * * *
It was in March of that year when Davy Thompson came of age, celebrating his eighteenth birthday, and thus becoming old enough to be able to fight – and die if need be – for his country. While others of his age may have changed their dates of birth to be able to go earlier, Davy had resisted any pressures applied to do so, and he had good reason to.
Firstly there was the fact that he was in love, although nobody but his lover knew of this for sure (even if some may have had their suspicions); then there was also the fact that he was an only child, and with aging parents he knew that they would struggle with the farm on their own, so his desire was to stay and help for as long as he possibly could. He had even asked Jack to look in on them and help them out if the need arose, to which Jack willingly agreed, but secretly hoped he wouldn’t have to, as he was sure that sooner or later he would let slip something of his true feelings for their son.
As the weeks to Davy’s birthday were counted down the pressure being applied to him to enlist and be a man began to mount, even though there had never been any doubt in his own mind that he would be going. Conscription had been on the mind of the entire country in recent years, with two separate referendums on the topic being held, and with the Australian people twice voting against its introduction.
This didn’t stop some people from pushing that barrow, however, and one such person to constantly remind the local lads that they should be doing their duty was the postmaster, old man Simpkins. He personally saw to it, as he would deliver the mail to outlying areas in the old fashioned way, using his pinto pony and buggy, despite the fact that those newfangled motor cars were now a common sight around Thomsponville. He saw to it that leaflets promoting enlistment were handed to every eligible young man in the district, especially those he knew to be approaching the age ofsaw it as his duty to tell all of the young men of Thompsonville that they should be heading off to war, and neither Davy nor Jack could escape his haranguing of them, even though he knew that it would be almost a full year before Jack came of age.
‘They can have you when you’re eighteen, and not a day sooner,’ Davy’s father gravely swore, while Davy’s mother could only nod in agreement.
For Davy that meant he had just a few weeks grace, a few more weeks that he could spend in the company of Jack, and he had full intentions of making the most of that opportunity.
When his father complained of the amount of time he had spent with his friend he gently reminded him that they may never see each other again.
‘And what of your parents? Might you also never seen them again?’ his father had asked.
‘But father, I see you and mother first thing every morning. I work beside you every day, while mother prepares lunch for us each day. And I see you every night. Is it so terrible a request, before I must leave and head off to face whatever it is that my fate is, to spend some time with the one other person in this world about whom I care almost equally?’
His father looked down his long nose at his son, studying him carefully. For a long time neither Thompson man spoke
‘No, I guess not, lad, if that’s how you feel,’ the elder man eventually said, while wistfully recalling his own youth. It seemed the Thompson blood was strong in this boy, he thought.
* * * * *
When the date of Davy’s birthday finally arrived, March twelfth, there was little to celebrate, and these three Thompsons all knew it.
As they did every morning they rose and went about their daily business, pausing only briefly to wish their son a happy day and present him with his gift, a new safety razor with an ivory handle, to mark his becoming a man, before all three carried on with their morning chores.
It wasn’t until they had gathered for breakfast, some while later, that Davy took down the dreaded leaflet from the mantelpiece above the stove, where it had been sat not long after it had arrived.
Davy read it again, even though he knew every word upon it by heart.
‘Are you sure you want to do this, Davy?’ his mother asked him.
He looked up at his parents, who both expressions of worry. Slowly he nodded.
‘I have to,’ he said to them. ‘We must all do our bit.’
‘And what of your friend, Jack? Will he do his bit?’ his father asked.
‘He has almost a year before he needs to decide that. I know he hates war, but if he has to go he will. In the meantime he’ll still be doing his bit here . . . I’ve asked him to help you, if you need it, and he has agreed.’
‘That’s very sweet of him, Davy. With any luck the war will be over by the time he needs to consider going,’ his mother added.
‘That’s what I’ve been telling him,’ Davy remarked, before looking down at the leaflet once more.
As the emotion welled up inside him he thought he was in control of himself, that he was able to disguise the genuine fear that he was now beginning to feel, but his parents both saw the trembling hands with which he held the leaflet. They said nothing, though, for they knew his mind was made.
‘Mr Simpkins said I am to report to the barracks in Macquarie Harbor, just as soon as I am able following my birthday,’ he said to his concerned parents.
‘Well, boy, we knew this day would come,’ his father said. ‘We may not like it, but we know you’ll do us all proud, son.’
‘Yes, papa,’ Davy replied. ‘I will.’
‘It is quite a trip from here. We will leave in the morning,’ his father stated. ‘I suppose you must visit your friend to let him know.’
‘Yes, I should,’ Davy responded, as he tried to think of just how he would be able to break the news to Jack, the boy who was more than just his friend . . . he was also his brother . . . his lover . . . his everything, and he knew it was going to break both their hearts to be apart.
After breakfast, Davy set out across the paddocks on horseback in the direction of the Henderson farm. He didn’t think that Jack would be down by the creek, so he rode for their home instead, wading through the creek at the shallow crossing well downstream from their swimming hole and then cantering along the well-worn track toward where the small timber cottage was situated on a lush green hill, and surrounded by Jacaranda trees, with their beautiful purple flowers, and silky oaks.
In his own mind he had rehearsed over and over what it was he was going to say, but when he found Jack waiting for him at the gate into the yard around the house, there were no words that came to mind.
The two boys looked at each other glumly. There was nothing that could be said. They both knew that this was it.
‘You’ve made up your mind, then?’ Jack eventually managed to ask, as Davy climbed down from the back of his mare, nodding, though not wanting to say anything lest he lose his self-control.
Jack had known what was coming. They had discussed it often, and even though they had disagreed, he had still expected this news. He had even discussed it with his own parents and they all agreed that Davy must make up his own mind. All that considered, it didn’t make the likely news any easier to swallow.
‘W-w-where are your parents?’ Davy cautiously asked.
‘Gone into the town,’ answered Jack. ‘They will be there for much of the day. What are your plans?’
‘I am to report to the barracks in Macquarie Harbour, just as soon after my birthday as practicable,’ Davy gloomily replied. ‘We shall be leaving in the morning.’
‘Just like that?’
‘It seems so. I’ll come back to see you again before I have to leave, I promise.’
‘You had better . . . or I shall never talk to you again,’ Jack declared, pouting slightly.
‘I promise,’ Davy said gravely, before taking Jack in his arms and burying his face against the younger boy’s neck.
The two boys spent much of that day together, not knowing if it might be the last time they are able to do so. Neither said anything about the immediate future, they were living in the here and now, and as they slowly undressed each other that afternoon, in the small nook off the back verandah that Jack called his room, drinking in the sight of each other’s nakedness, their only thoughts were on loving the other in a way they hadn’t done so before; perhaps for the first and last time.
* * * * *
As they lay together afterwards, Davy said, ‘At least you’ll still be here, all safe and sound,’
‘That may be true, but that will only be until the end of the year . . . until my own . . .’
‘Sshhh . . . It’ll all be over by then. I’m sure.’
‘How can you say that?’ Jack despaired. ‘You don’t know that . . . the war could go on for years yet. And if I don’t go, then I shall be shunned by everyone. I’ve heard of men even being beaten up for not going.’
‘We have to have some faith, my love. We have to trust that sooner or later it will all end . . . and when it does, we shall be together again . . . I promise you. I make this vow to you that I will return and we shall meet at that favourite place of ours, where our love will once again be able to flourish.’
Jack wished he could have the confidence that Davy had, but he knew there was no use in pointing out the obvious . . . that there was no way that Davy could make such promises as those he had made today. He knew that Davy would be clinging to the hope offered by those promises just as much as he would himself, so in return he promised himself that he wouldn’t say anything.
A short time later, as Davy rode away, heading for his home after sharing one last kiss across the back gate, Jack could only watch, his heart breaking, tears making their way down his face, as he wondered if this would be the final time he would ever see his love.
For Davy too, the tears were flowing, but he dared not look back. The sight of Jack that he wanted to carry with him into the months ahead was not that of a tearful boy, but that of a beautiful young man, firm and strong and loving. What he wanted to remember was the sight and scent of his youthful body, the feel of his lover as Jack entered him for that first time, and the expression on his face as he reached that climactic moment. It was a wonderful experience . . . however anyone could say something that beautiful was a sin he had no idea . . . and he felt certain that it would be the memory of this afternoon that would be what would sustain him over the dangerous months to come.
When he reached his own home, after taking some time at the creek crossing to recover himself and wash the tears from his face, Davy was ready to face his own future, whatever that may be. His mother watched him from the verandah of their home, leaning against a post with her arms crossed in front of her and looking concerned, as he unsaddled his horse and then let her out into the small paddock where she was kept.
He wasn’t sure where his father was, but he fully expected to receive some sort of a tongue lashing for having been away for the best part of the day and neglecting his duties. When his father emerged from the shed moments later he was rather surprised that nothing was said, other than his asking after Jack.
‘Do they know of our love?’ he fearfully wondered.
‘How did he take the news?’ Davy’s father enquired.
‘We all knew it was coming,’ Davy replied. ‘I am sure that Jack will survive without me,’ he added, with just a hint of a smile on his face and in his voice.
‘Ahhh, yes, but will you survive without him?’ his father asked, while slapping his son on the back, before heading toward the house, and leaving Davy staring at his back.
* * * * *
Several weeks after Davy had gone, leaving Jack heartbroken after he hadn’t even returned to say goodbye, Jack received a letter. He knew the hand of the writer, perhaps better than that of anyone else in the world, and when his mother handed it to him that night, after he had come in from doing his chores, his heart skipped a beat, while at the same time he felt the blood drain from his face.
‘If you like, take it to your room to read,’ his mother had said, and for the first time he knew that someone else had some idea of his feelings for Davy. He looked at her inquisitively, as if trying to read her thoughts. ‘It’s all right, dear. I understand,’ she added, while briefly holding her son’s hands in hers, before then shooing him away with her hands.
Suddenly free of the fear he had secretly harboured for years, Jack kissed her on the cheek, then took off for his room, eagerly ripping the envelope open and finding not only a letter, but also a sepia toned photograph of a handsome young soldier in uniform, complete with his slouch hat and Enfield rifle.
Those two items would be what would sustain Jack for many months to come.
I hope this finds you well, and that you have forgiven me my abrupt departure, without having said a proper goodbye? You will talk to me again, won’t you?
Things moved so fast after seeing the enlistment people in Macquarie Harbour and I’m afraid that I was unable to even return home. I hope that mother and father had let you know of that?
Unfortunately I cannot say where I am right now, apparently regulations forbid it, but rest assured I am still in our own country, for the time being at least. It is hot and dry where we are, and our regiment is training very hard. They are a companionable bunch, all from around Macquarie Harbour and towns such as ours, and so that makes it a little easier when I start to miss all my family and friends from home, as I know that they are feeling much the same.
When I feel particularly down in the mouth I only have to think about that place on the creek and all the fun that we had there whilst growing up. Such thoughts of home, of what we did and what we shall do again, shall be what I will carry with me throughout this journey, and into whatever battles I may face, and that is what will sustain me in the months, or even years, ahead.
The officers say we can expect to be going to Europe, but just where in Europe, or when, we do not know. It is all something of a guessing game, and some of the lads have started a book. My money, what little of it I have, is wagered on France, but we will just have to wait and see.
I must go now. Please be sure to give my fondest regards to your parents and our friends. I am counting the days until I can see the smiling faces of all those I love so much, the shores of our lake and our small town once again.
Jack read it, and read it again.
To him, the letter seemed somewhat formal and even a little impersonal, not what you would expect to see written between two people in love, and at first he was a little disappointed. But then, as he thought it over, he realised that it was foolish of him to have expected anything different. Davy had said that he couldn’t say where they currently were, which to Jack at least, meant that the mail was likely being watched by the army, and if that was the case, then how could Davy say anything about loving him, or about what they were both wanting, or about what their future might hold.
When he re-read through it he focused on the paragraph which mentioned the fun they had had, and the fun they would have again. Then he read the final sentence once more . . . I am counting the days until I can see the smiling faces of all those I love so much.
That gave him hope, and for now at least, that was enough.
* * * * *
In the months that followed, thoughts of Davy were constantly on Jack’s mind. There had only been one more letter after that first one, within which Davy told Jack that they were about to be shipped out, but he still knew nothing of to where.
After that, there was nothing more.
With each passing week Jack was becoming more and more anxious, and being starved of any news or information regarding Davy, Jack took to visiting his lover’s parents, pestering them for any news they may have had, but they too had scarcely heard from their son.
He had promised Davy that he would look in on them anyhow, and help out wherever may be needed, and was only too pleased to honour that promise, especially if there was the hope of hearing some news . . . any news, of his love. He toiled in the paddocks beside Davy’s father, often ate meals with them, and got to know them in a way that he had never expected.
From the time Davy had left them all, which had been many months ago now, summer had given way to autumn, which had in turn given way to winter; a particularly wild winter which saw the coastal areas being lashed by storms. By the time spring had arrived, for which they were all extremely grateful, so too had news of losses on the battle front, and in particular those suffered by the regiments that had originated from Macquarie Harbour and surrounds.
The Thompson and Henderson families were by now both growing anxious for news of Davy. There had been a tacit acceptance that the friendship between the boys was in fact more than that, even if nothing had ever been said, nor could it be, so all four parents were equally concerned, not only for the fate of Davy, but also for the well being of Jack.
Feverishly they would search through each issue of the newspapers from both Thompsonville and Macquarie Harbour, checking the lists of killed and wounded. If anyone from the town returned from the war they would ask them for news, but none was ever forthcoming.
They also saw the effect that the war had had on these men, who returned as mere shells of themselves. Some were missing limbs. Some were suffering the effects of that evil mustard gas that had been used by the Kaiser’s men, leaving them coughing and gasping for air as their burning lungs struggled to provide their bodies with the oxygen theythat was just the lucky ones who had survived.
September too, came and went, with still no word on Davy’s fate.
As did October.
Then it was around this time that word began to filter through that the allies had been victorious is several battles, with names such as Amiens and The Hindenberg Line becoming known, and that the Hun were on the run. This gave rise to a growing confidence amongst the people of Thompsonville that the end of the war was within sight, and their husbands, sons, brothers and lovers,would soon return.
Perhaps then they would also be able to find out more about the fate of Davy Thompson?
* * * * *
When November rolled around there was an excitement in the air amongst the people of the town which hadn’t been felt in years, as rumours of victories and an impending ceasefire began trickling through. By the middle of that month those rumours and that excitement became quite real, as confirmation came through that at eleven a.m.on November 11th, 1918 an armistice had been declared.
The war was finally over. The sons of this land would soon be returning home, and there would be no more sent off to fight, or so the notices in the newspaper stated.
Jack and his parents, along with Davy’s parents also, breathed a massive sigh of relief, as with his own eighteenth birthday now only a matter of weeks away, they too had been preparing for him to be sent off to do battle.
At least Davy had been right. The war had indeed ended before the end of the year. Jack could only hope and pray now that Davy had been able to see the end of it and was, right at this moment, on his way home to them, a proud and victorious soldier.
After the announcement of the armistice Jack began counting the days, yet as the days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months, the excitement he had been feeling at the prospect of seeing his love once again began to dim.
Jack’s birthday came around and still there was no sign of Davy. Without news of his beloved, it was just another day for Jack, no matter how hard his parents tried to cheer him.
Later, a few more of the Thompsonville men came limping home from the front, mere shadows of their former selves, and Davy’s loved ones once again began to fear the worst. It had been more than six months now since there had been any contact from Davy, when that last letter had arrived just prior to his shipping out and the enquiries they had repeatedly made through the enlistment office in Macquarie Harbor were continually met with no results.
And each day Jack would also watch for the postmaster and his horse and buggy, hopeful that one day there would be news, or better still, they would have a passenger, a returning soldier who would be dropped off at their home, wherever they happened to have come from,as did happen on some occasions. All too often, however, there was nothing that would offer hope to Jack or his family as yet another week would go by without the answers they sought to the mystery of Davy’s whereabouts.
For Jack it was as if his heart and soul had been ripped from his very being, as he pined for the one he loved, all the while sinking deeper and deeper into a pit of despair from which he could see no way out.
Christmas came, and then it went, with still no word. Davy’s presents remained unopened, waiting for his return. Then 1918 became 1919 and another summer was well upon them. Perhaps a change of season would bring them all the answers they sought?
From time to time word would also come to the farm that more soldiers had returned. Often Jack would ride into town upon hearing such news, hopeful that Davy would be amongst them. But having been constantly disappointed, time after time returning home with a feeling of emptiness inside him, he had long since given up hope of such trips to town bringing him joy.
There were many times when he would retreat into his own little world, to that special place beside a languid stream, shaded by willows, where the two of them had been so happy. Here was where Jack could re-live every moment that they had spent together, venturing back along the dusty paths of his own memories, always taking with him that sepia photograph of the young soldier, yet seeing in his own mind a vivid image, in living colour, of the boy he loved.
* * * * *
And so it was that on a hot day in late February, as the sun beat down on the bushland, and upon drying summer pastures that were turning gold, Jack found himself retreating into his own little world once more.
On this day he didn’t see old man Simpkins and his buggy trotting along the road, nor did he hear the chatter between the two people sitting upon it. The postmaster was always excited when one of the local boys returned from the front, and for the chance to pepper them with questions about their adventures, and so he would often insist on providing them with a lift home.
For Davy it felt good to be back on familiar ground and to smell the familiar scents of the town, and the lake, and the bush he had grown up in. It had been almost a year since he had left . . . a long time to be away from home, and especially from the ones you love. He couldn’t wait to see his home come into view, or to climb the hill, to where his parents and his lover would be waiting.
As best he could he answered the old man’s questions, even if he had grown tired of them not long after they had passed the edge of town, and while he tried not to appear to be rude, or ungrateful, he couldn’t help but wish that there had been another way home. Walking had been out of the question, as while his shattered leg had healed the discomfort of the limp he had been left with made walking any great distance a real problem for him.
As they trotted along, listening to the whirring sounds of the wheels of the buggy, the clip-clop of the horse’s hooves on the sun baked track, the birds in the tress around them, Davy sat back and closed his eyes. The sounds and the scents of the bush all took him back to the places and times of his younger days, when life was so much simpler and he had been yet to witness the brutalities and horror of the western front. For a long while he just let the present wash over him as he thought of what lay ahead . . . the winding road, emerging into open grasslands, the timber gateway and the track which led up the rise to the cottage that was his family’s home.
It was close now. So close. And the nightmare of the past year would soon be little more than a bad memory.
When they eventually emerged from the bushland, with the hot afternoon sun streaming down on his face, Davy finally opened his eyes. Simpkins had long ago fallen quiet, after finally noticing that his passenger was sitting back and appeared to be sleeping, but now that Davy had woken he tried to resume his conversation.
‘Almost there now, lad,’ the older man said.
‘Yeah,’ Davy replied, as he tried stretching his gammy leg.
‘Gives you a bit of trouble, does it?’ Simpkins asked, while nodding toward the leg. ‘What happened?’
‘Cannon,’ Davy curtly replied, while wincing at the painful memories that it brought up . . . remembering the sight of the mangled bodies of the men who had been his mates . . . the stench of the trenches . . . the sounds of explosions, of gunfire, of men screaming, pleading for help . . . or for death to come to them quickly.
Once more Davy wanted to close his eyes, but the sight before him prevented it, as they had just crested a low hill and were now looking out across the valley that was once his home, and would be again. Davy sat up and leaned forward, drinking in the sight that was before him.
Simpkins reined in his pony and brought the buggy to a stop.
‘Quite a sight, eh lad? I never grow tired of seeing it,’ the old man said.
‘It sure is a sight for sore eyes, let me tell you,’ Davy replied.
On the far side of the valley he could see his home, a small cottage half way up the slope, which caught the morning sun at the start of eachthe hill closest to them he could see the home where Jack had grown up and still lived. And between them ran the willow lined creek where they had explored and played and fallen in love.
Davy gazed longingly at his home, wondering how his parents were and if they would be there now, then he looked up at the Henderson home and wondered what Jack was doing at this moment.
‘Your mate sure got lucky,’ Simpkins offered. ‘They war finished just in time for him.’
‘He doesn’t know just how lucky he was,’ Davy replied. ‘No one should ever have to live through that . . .’
The postmaster looked at Davy for a long time. He could see the hurt that was in the young man’s face. He thought he could see something else as well, as Davy stared up at his friend’s home, but couldn’t quite make out what that was.
‘Perhaps that is best left alone,’ he thought to himself, before flicking the reins at his pony and continuing on their journey.
There was a small bridge where the road passed over the creek, and not far beyond that there was a gateway at the side of the road, beyond which was a driveway which led up the rise to the Thompson home.
‘I’ll take you up to your house,’ Simpkins said to his passenger, knowing full well that the lad would struggle with his leg as it was.
‘That’s very kind of you. Thank you,’ Davy replied.
‘T’is the least I could do, lad,’ he said, as he pulled his pony to a halt once more, then climbed down to open the gate.
Davy was gazing longingly at the house upon the hill when Simpkins climbed back in for the trip up to the house.
‘Are they expecting you?’ he asked, as he flicked the reins at his pony once more.
‘A surprise then?’
‘You could put it that way.’
‘They’ll be glad to have you back.’
‘Even like this?’ Davy asked, his voice close to breaking as he tried to pull his leg upwards.
‘They’ll take you any way they can have you, Davy. You’ve done your family and your country proud, son.’
Davy wasn’t so sure of that. He would never be the man, now, that he had always promised to become. Would they still love half a man?
It wasn’t long before they reached the top of the rise, which was a short distance from the gate into the house yard.
‘Can you stop here please, Mr Simpkins?’ Davy asked. ‘I can make it that far. I’d kind of like to do it under my own steam, if I may.’
‘Of course, Davy,’ he replied, as he reined his pony in once more.
Rather clumsily, Davy climbed down from the buggy, refusing offers of help from Simpkins, and eventually he was standing tall and proud in his uniform, even if he was leaning on one crutch which supported his weight.
On the ground beside him was a duffle bag, containing his few belonging.
‘Are you sure you’re going to be able to manage?’ the postmaster fretted.
‘Quite sure, thank you,’ Davy replied, before thrusting his hand out toward the older man. ‘Thank you for your kindness.’
‘It has been my pleasure, lad,’ Simpkins replied, as he shook the soldiers hand. ‘It’s good to have you back.’
‘It’s good to be back.’
* * * * *
Davy stood and watched as the buggy headed off down the hill, chuckling to himself as he listened to Simpkins singing, before then picking up his bag and beginning an unsteady walk toward the house.
The sound must have caught the attention of those inside the house, as he soon heard the familiar sound of the squeaking hinge on the front screen door. Some things hadn’t changed.
Looking up he saw two figures step out onto the verandah, with curious expressions on their faces.Almost at once he saw his mother’s hands went up to her mouth, then in the next motion she jumped down from the verandah and started running toward him, with his father hot on her heels.
‘Oh, my god! It’s Davy! It’s Davy!’ he heard her squeal, then moments later he was swept up in the embrace of both his parents, as they rushed to him. Tears were soon flowing freely from all three of them and for a long while they just held each other and cried, before eventually his parents stepped back and took stock of their son.
He looked dashing in his uniform, but they were dismayed at the sight of the crutch that was still under his arm and the bow that seemed to now be in his right leg, and when he shuffled back a step after almost overbalancing his mother cried at the sight.
‘What happened, son?’ his father asked.
‘Cannon fire. The Huns scored a direct hit on our gun placement.’
‘And the others with you?’
‘All dead, papa!’
His father nodded glumly, grateful that by some miracle he had survived.
‘Come inside,’ his mother said. ‘You must be starving.’
‘I am, mother. But there is something else that I must first do,’ Davy responded.
‘But you have to eat!’
‘There’ll be plenty of time for that, dear. He knows what he needs to do,’ his father said. The two Thompson men nodded to each other.
‘Thank you, father.’
‘Try down by the creek. I thought I saw him down along there this morning. Will you be able to manage?’
‘I think so,’ Davy replied.
‘And when you return, you must tell us everything,’ his mother commanded.
‘I will, mother. I promise. But first things first,’ he said, before setting off down the track toward the creek.
As his ageing parents watched him hobble off in that direction, while leaning heavily on the crutch, they thanked God that their son had been returned to them.
* * * * *
Davy noted that the track which ran between the Thompson and Henderson homes seemed to be in much better condition than when he last traversed its length. Obviously Jack had been using it, keeping his promise to help out Davy’s parents, which brought a smile to his face.
When he reached the creek crossing he turned off the main track and followed another path which ran parallel to the creek. He found the going to be easier than he had expected and soon settled into a steady, if somewhat ungainly, pace.
Beside him the crystal clear waters of the creek bubbled over the rocks, while above him he could hear a breeze whistling through the willows and silky oaks. And beyond that the distinctive, malevolent call of a crow could be heard on the wind.
For a few minutes he stops and rests beneath the shade of a willow, catching his breath and letting the pain in his leg subside. But he knows that he needs to keep going, he needs to keep moving, and so he doesn’t linger.
Before long he spots the familiar clump of trees that marked their special place, and as he makes his way closer he hopes and prays that Jack will be there.
As quietly as he could, Davy approached the trees, brushing aside the thick fringe of willow branches and stepping into the sheltered nook. It was then he spotted a lone figure sitting by the water’s edge, skimming stones across the still pond.
For a moment he just watches, drinking in the sight of the boy he loves so, until he sees him toss another stone. It hits the water and jumps, before hitting it again, and again, and again, before eventually sinking into the abyss.
‘Why, Davy?’ he hears Jack ask. ‘Why did you have to go? And why can’t you come back to us? I loved you . . . you knew that didn’t you?’
‘But don’t you still love me?’ Davy asks, unable to remain silent any longer.
For a moment nothing happens. Jack remains perfectly still, but then Davy hears a single sob.
‘God! Now I’m even hearing his voice in my head! What is happening to me?’ he cried.
‘Jack?’ Davy softly says. ‘It’s not in your head.’
Suddenly Jack’s head snaps around and he jumps to his feet.
Before him is a vision . . . a young soldier, silhouetted against the sunlight behind him, standing tall and proud. The wind momentarily parts the branches of the trees, allowing a shaft of sunlight to light up the figure standing there.
Jack rubbed at his eyes. Is he seeing things, or is it really him? Is it really Davy? Slowly he walks closer, still not quite believing what he is seeing.
‘Davy . . . is that really you?’ he whispers.
‘It is, Jack. It’s me. I’m home.’
Tears are streaming down the faces of the two lovers as Jack steps in closer. He reaches up and gently brushes them from Davy’s face, before examining his finger.
‘It really is you,’ Jack whispered, just as Davy cups his face in his own hands, then draws Jack closer to him.
In that moment the months that divided them are swept aside. This is the moment they had been waiting for, their love had endured, and everything else, the questions and answers, the plans for the future, all that can wait for later.
Right now they are together again, at last.
‘It really is me, Jack,’ Davy whispers, just before their lips finally meet.
~ The End ~