“Here,” Norah smiled as she put another clean plate on the pile rapidly growing near the creek, beside Wally. He took a break from scrubbing his own to look at her, radiant in the gathering dusk. The sun was going down, casting long shadows as it dropped below the ranges to the west.
“You’re a good kitchen-hand,” he told her. “Therefore, I will not have you shot at dawn; besides, I’m too fond of you. Just so long as you get me tea tomorrow at precisely eight. And toast.”
She laughed, and he could not help but grin. He liked it when she laughed, liked to hear the sound wash over him like a cool, refreshing breeze. Somehow, after twelve months, he could scarce believe she was his wife. “Would you like to go for a walk after this?” she asked him, turning away and seizing another plate.
Ten minutes later, the pile of plates now stored in one of the three wurleys, he and Norah took a snake-stick each and bade the rest of the group farewell. Bill, tired out from the long day, had long since gone to bed and the others were sitting lazily around the campfire.
They struck out towards the creek, finding the path easily. There was much for them to talk about, from the journey which had brought them out here to the possibilities of what lay in the ranges around them. Eventually Norah called a halt at a large boulder which sat beside the creek, and she leaned against it while he stood very close to her, poking idly at the ground with his snake-stick.
“Wally,” she said, and the sudden change in her tone made him look up. No longer was she confident, sure of herself, but her voice shook with nerves. “I have something I must tell you.”
He frowned, restraining himself from reaching out a hand to take hers. “Norah, you can tell me anything. Are you all right?” Sudden fear gripped at his heart: what if she were harbouring some injury from today’s journey; what if her recent sickness was a prelude to something more, something worse?
Norah bit her lip, glancing away towards the rushing waters of the creek, and when he looked down, he saw that her hands were shaking. It was not cold; he was certain of that. The air around them was humid, and he estimated the temperature had not dropped more than two degrees since the sun went down.
She looked back at him, and in her grey eyes he detected mingled fear and hope. “Some time in the early autumn, next March,” she said, appearing to control her voice with an effort, “I hope to be putting our son or daughter into your arms.”
It was as though his whole world stood still, as he stared at her, his brain processing the information. “Come again?”
“I’m pregnant.” She exhaled, and he realised that she had been holding her breath, watching for his reaction. “Due in the early autumn.”
“Norah—“ he searched for words to adequately frame the love and joy that now suffused him from head to toe: love for the woman before him, love for the child growing within her. “I love you,” he said, one hand coming out to rest on her shoulder, then moving up to cup her cheek. “I thought I was the happiest man on earth on our wedding day, but you have just made me happier yet.”
Suddenly she smiled, and her grey eyes were now twinkling silver. Resting her snake-stick against the boulder, she tugged him towards her, wrapping her arms around his neck and burying her face in his shoulder. His own snake-stick went down beside hers, and then his arms were coming swiftly around her waist and lower back, and he turned his head to press his lips to her temple.
They stood together in silence for some moments, before Wally drew away. “Let me see,” he murmured, dropping to a squat before her and helping her untuck her white shirt from her belt. She held it up just far enough for him to see her stomach, and he spread a hand across the smooth skin, awed. “How far are we?”
“About seven weeks,” she told him. “I found out only two days ago, but we were busy packing for this trip, and I did not think it was the right time. This—“ she gestured to her stomach, “—is the reason that I have been somewhat sick, the last fortnight.”
He smiled, and their eyes met. Gently, slowly, he leaned forward to kiss her stomach lightly, before standing up and pulling her shirt back down, tucking it back into her belt. “Are you sure you should be out here in the ranges?”
“If you send me home, everyone will know,” she laughed. “Do not worry, Wally. I will be fine.”
Wally nodded, trusting her judgement. “If you throw up, don’t do it in the creek,” he joked, resting his hands on her waist, tracing her hipbones. “I’m not sure that’s very hygienic, especially when it is used for a bathing and washing-up spot.”
Norah wrapped her arms around his waist, and he felt one hand slip under his shirt, resting against the skin at the small of his back. A surge of protectiveness crashed over him as he looked down at his wife in his arms. Normally so strong and independent, her energies were now feeding another being, and it was up to him to protect them both.
“Hey.” He nudged her, and she moved back slightly so they were face-to-face. He withdrew his hands from her waist, cupping her cheeks, and kissed her ever so lightly, tenderly. “Look after yourself.”
“I promise I will,” she murmured, kissing him in return. “But you must also, Wally, when you are out scouring the ranges with Jim. I have a desire to see you come home to me at night—to me and our child.”
“You know I will,’ he told her. “Speaking of home, the others will be worrying. We should get back to camp.”
With another smile, they retrieved their snake-sticks and started back down the creek trail, hand in hand, fingers entwined. Norah craned her neck to look up at the sky above them. “Look,” she said, swinging her snake-stick up to point at the constellations. “The Southern Cross.”
“Some of the boys in the trenches couldn’t believe that we had a constellation the rest of the world cannot see,” he answered. “Even when we sketched it for them, when they saw the Australian flag, it was just not something they thought existed.”
She snorted. “I’d like to see them in Science classes with your old master from Grammar. That would be a sight to behold.”
They were close to camp now, and Wally stopped, tugging on her hand, turning her to look at him. “When do we tell everyone?”
“Not for another few weeks,” she said. “I’d like to wait until the twelve-week mark, if that is all right, Wally. Until then, just you and me.”
“Suits me,” he agreed. “It would be rather nice to know something that no one else in the world knows. You will have to see Dr Anderson, of course, but he will understand the need for secrecy and we can tell the others your visit to him is for something else.”
Norah kissed him once more, sliding a hand up around the back of his neck. “Let’s do this,” she murmured.
Walking back into the camp, they were greeted by the others, still sitting around the campfire. Norah went forward quickly, sitting on a log to listen to a story about France which Tommy was telling. Wally observed her for a moment, then cut his eyes to the rest of the group, all watching Tommy with rapt attention. Somehow, he wished that he could tell them that his wife had just made him happier than ever before, but on the other hand it felt rather nice to have such a secret with Norah.
He joined them, dropping to the grass beside Norah and leaning back against her knee, fingers idly circling her other ankle. He laughed at Tommy’s punch line, feeling Norah’s light caress as she carded her fingers through his hair.
Right here, right now, Wally Meadows wanted for nothing.