“I’m dashed sorry to leave you behind like this, old girl, but it’s better that you’re out of something like this.”
They were sitting on a bench in Hyde Park, Jim having gone to a nearby bakery to buy some bread rolls. It was a chilly winter’s morning, with frost on the ground and people everywhere bundled up in scarves and coats. Wally wore his brown dress uniform with a thick Army-issue coat over it, while Norah was wrapped in a winter frock and coat. The boys were incredibly careful of her being out in the cold, after her three-week illness.
“I know, Wally, but it’s the first time I was ever out of something you and Jim did, since I was twelve.” She turned her head to look at him, her grey eyes steady. “As long as you come home, though, I don’t mind.”
“That we can promise faithfully to do,” Wally said. “The world will never be the same again, Nor. Not after a war of this scale.”
Norah glanced back at the young children running around on the grass, mitten-clad hands reaching out to one another. “I’ve been trying to steel myself for this, ever since it was decided, back in Australia, that you and Jim would go. It’s still very hard, though.” She shook herself. “Oh, well. It won’t make things any easier, getting upset about it.”
Wally dropped an arm across her shoulders and hugged her; she turned her head into his shoulder as she returned his hug tightly. While his shoulder was comforting, the heavy wool of his coat was not: it was a stark reminder of the things that were to come, where that coat’s wearer was going. “I’ll bring Jim home,” he vowed. “Australia will see him again.”
“You’d better bring yourself home as well,” she said. “You know it was never the same without you.” Leaning back, she used a hand to dig around in her pocket. “Oh, where is the darned thing—oh, here it is,” and with great ceremony she drew a big knife, fitted with lots of little, useful items. “This is for you. Somehow, I feel that you can’t go wrong at the Front with a lethal weapon like this.”
“I say, Norah, you oughtn’t have,” exclaimed the boy, possessing himself of the knife and examining it very closely. “This is a beauty!”
Norah smiled, resting her head against the back of the bench and looking up at the clouded sky. “I thought you might see it that way.”
He looked up at her, his brown eyes equal parts grateful and tender, even if he was not aware of the latter emotion. “This’ll do well to serve as a reminder,” he told her. “Whenever I’m feeling blue for old Australia, or Blighty, or you—I’ll take this out and look at it. It’ll be mighty useful, too.”
“And when you come home on leave, we’ll have the place all ready and happy to see you,” she answered, leaning against his shoulder. “So you just look forward to that while you’re smashing the Germans.”
Wally laughed, and presently Norah joined in: his laughter was infectious, especially to one who had known him since they were children, and knew that whatever came, he and Jim would stand between her and Danger. What troubled her, however, was that nothing would be between them and the foe.
“There’s old Jimmy,” Wally said cheerfully. “How many darned rolls does he have, do you think, Nor? We’re not leaving until tomorrow morning, so there isn’t any need to feed a battalion just yet!”
“I think he means to feed yourself and him, the amount of food you two consume,” she said cruelly, sitting up. “Jimmy, over here!”