The little house at Stoney Creek, usually quiet to the point of boredom, was bulging with people. It was Rebecca's eighteenth birthday. She had gotten used to her own company, for there was never any conversation now with her father. In fact sometimes she forgot he was there as she hurried through all her jobs and slipped gratefully into the chair behind the large desk she had found secondhand in town. Her books and notepaper were spread around in neat piles and she would take up wherever she'd left off; reading, writing her thoughts, planning her future. Today her desk was cleared of her precious belongings, for there were too many little hands around and they'd needed every surface possible for the goodies that her sister and aunt had cooked up for her birthday celebrations.
As the afternoon sun faded, little ones folded themselves onto palliasses around the corners and fell into peaceful, full-stomached sleeps. Bill stood on the back porch, gazing out at the land around the cottage. They had been in drought conditions now all year and there seemed to be no rain in sight. It was a harsh land, never predictable, never easy to live with. There'd been terrible dust storms just last month, when trees had been uprooted and roofs torn from houses all around. He glanced up at the corner of the roof, which he'd not long mended, and shuddered as he remembered how he'd found Rebecca huddled with her father in the parlour that morning, both of them wrapped in blankets, listening to the wind howling around the cottage and swirling through the cracks that it had opened up on the roof. It was like a herd of wild animals banging on the windows and doors, Rebecca had said. She'd been too afraid to keep the fire alight in case the wind whipped it up and swept them away, cottage and all. The place was really getting to be too much for Rebecca to care for and it was wearing Bill down as well, trying to keep on top of both places. The ground around Stoney Creek certainly was living up to its name at the moment. Everywhere was rock hard, every blade of grass and plant still living, was brittle dry. If they were to go through to summer without a wet season there would be terrible bushfires again. He sometimes wondered why they loved the land so much.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Mary's voice as she and Mary Anne wandered onto the porch.
'She's been telling me that she wants to be a teacher. I thought at first she was joking. Surely it's just a young girl's foolish dream. Whoever heard of such a thing? That's for old maids who've not found themselves a man, surely. Whatever has put such ideas in her head? Too much learning, if you ask me. Or mayby those nuns. She tells me she's been spending time with them at the convent.'
'Well, I'll have to be taking the blame for that, Mary, for didn't I introduce her to the nuns and the Catholic Church. But then I am Irish Catholic, aren't I? So was your Mama, I might add, though she was never one to take a stance one way or the other concerning which church. She had a very strong faith, so she did, and I think Rebecca's going to follow in her footsteps. In fact I've wondered at times if she might not enter the convent...as a nun,' she added, noticing Mary's confused expression.
'No, you can't mean it. A nun! That's absurd. Nuns are old...and, well, it's just rediculous, that's all I can say.'
'Nuns aren't all old and the ones at Burrowa are very dear women, with good hearts and the best of intentions. They run a school and many of the children who go would never be able to afford to attend a public school. I know nuns can have a bad reputation, but wouldn't Rebecca make one of the good ones, now?'
Mary smiled begrudgingly. She wasn't about to argue with her aunt for she knew it would be pointless. She just hoped to God that some young man would come along soon, one Rebecca couldn't resist, and by God he'd have to have a strong mind as well. Mary found it incomprehensible that a girl would choose to spend her life tucked away in a convent with a group of women, teaching other people's children when she could be married and having babies of her own. She shook her head and moved back into the house, her face softening as she looked at her husband who was sitting chatting with William. John was a fine-featured, fair-haired Englishman. For a farmer he looked a little spindly, she noted, and decided she'd need to fatten him up a bit. He seemed enthusiastic about whatever William was saying, which would be about farming, for it was all she'd heard her brother speak of. He was slightly built too, his arms sinewy and tanned from working outdoors with the sheep. He ran his fingers through a thick wave that flopped across his forehead as he spoke, clearly excited about some new sheep-shearing machine that had recently been patented. William was certain it would change the sheep industry forever. Such ideas her brother and sister had! It hurt her head to think about them.
Rebecca looked around at the end of the day. William had gone back to Currawang where he was working. Bill and Mary had taken their little family and headed for home and Mary and John were getting ready to do the same. As it should be. And she would be left again to care for this little house, to do for her father, and to wait...and to dream...and hope that it would not be too much longer. She was an adult now. Surely it would be her turn soon.