It was a mild autumn morning, the leaves still slowly turning into red and gold. The temperature was steadily getting lower each day as winter began to draw in. Preparations had been made for the cold months, and on this particular morning Jim Linton was riding out with his sister and brother-in-law to inspect the run.
“Tommy says that she is unsure how the sheep grow their coats so quickly for winter,” observed Norah, laughing. “Which is rather queer, considering that she has been in Australia for three years. This is their third winter here.”
“I feel as though the Australian winters are milder than those in the northern hemisphere,” Wally said, “but our summers trump theirs any day. I’d like to see them cope with ninety-five degrees on a cooler day!”
Jim joined in the laughter of his friends, feeling a strange contentment wash through him. This month marked the sixth that Wally and Norah had been married, and to watch them so entirely happy in and with each other gave him a sense of fulfilment. “Once I told another fellow in the trenches about our summers, and he could hardly believe his ears.”
“Was that Harrison?” inquired Wally, mischief dancing in his brown eyes. “He quizzed me for some time, demanding to know whether you were pulling his leg.” He looked sideways at Norah. “I told him you were pulling the other one.”
Uproarious mirth followed this comment, and Norah leaned forward in her saddle, resting her forehead on Garryowen’s neck. Her brown hair shone copper, and the silver wedding ring on her left hand gleamed as it caught the sunlight. “Did you have to do that, Wally, you unfeeling human?”
“It was worth it in the moment when he looked at me with horror, before he realised I was joking.”
“Our masters used to look at you the same way,” remarked Jim. “I should guess that they were happy when they washed their hands of you. Remember the lobster?”
“Rather,” said Wally heartily. “There never was such a good meal before or since. The Head was lenient that day, and we feasted in the dorm after dinner.”
Norah set her chin, sending Garryowen at the centre of the next fence. “You’re both idiots,” she called over her shoulder as the big bay lifted his front hooves, and Norah went over with him. She cantered Garryowen on a bit further, before wheeling around to watch the boys.
They went at the jump together, racing side-by-side as they had in the days of yore. Monarch was older than Wally’s young horse, Butterfly, but still full of energy, and equal to the fence looming before him. Up and over, and Jim sat back in his saddle, looking briefly to his sister. Garryowen was standing now, Norah sitting straight, watching them with a smile on her face.
In that moment, Jim saw her glance over to Wally, and her eyes softened. He cut his gaze to his brother-in-law just in time to see Wally mouth, “I love you.” Butterfly was slowing now, as was Monarch, and Jim reined back ever so slightly to give his siblings their privacy.
He rejoined them some moments later, suggesting a detour to the river. This was met with enthusiasm by the other two, and they turned for the river paddock. It would likely be their last such ride for some time, with winter on the other side of May, and both the Lintons and Meadows busy preparing.
The shadows were lengthening across the paddocks when they turned for home after exploring the trail by the river for some time. Jim had memories of riding it in schoolboy days with Norah and Wally, the three of them adventuring on their short breaks from school, and in the longer, hotter summer weeks.
In those days of old, they had been his best friends, and Norah his sister. Now, he reflected, glancing across at Wally, the other man was so much more. By virtue of his marriage to Norah, he was now Jim’s brother-in-law, but the latter regarded him as brother. How could he not, when they had been to school together and later shared the greater game of War?
He parted with the others at the turn-off to Little Billabong, the trio exchanging cheery shouts and waves, and he watched his sister and brother-in-law—no, brother, he reminded himself—canter down the dusty track leading to their home. Their laughter floated back to him on the breeze, and he smiled as he turned for home himself.