There was a time when he only thought of home; now his thoughts were far away.
Another week had come and gone.
Sunday service was, as it had always been, more social occasion than worship.
Dressed in his best he had shed his coat and walked quietly down to the creek. He needed time to think, and this was the most peaceful place he knew.
Walter was tall and handsome, with dark hair and an athletic build. He was strong and resourceful, and he had flourished in his hometown.
It was a warm spring day and the season was as new as his country. Amazingly, the leaders of this young land had managed to get together and agree on Federation, something that would rarely happen again from that day till this. There was an air of excitement and pride among its citizens, and that pride would, in a few short years, draw them into a deadly combat, and radical change would follow.
As Walter approached the creek, he felt the solitude wash over him.
It was only a few metres from the little wooden church, but it was well hidden. His parents and sisters were probably deep in conversation; the ladies in their finest and the men strutting like peacocks.
Walter had hung his coat on a twig before walking the final few steps to the water’s edge. He squatted on the bank because he wanted to be as close to the water as possible. He hoped that the sound of it rushing by might help him to decide.
He loved his family, and he loved his life in this town. His business was growing, and while living with his parents, he had saved enough money to build his own home. He had the land picked out, not far from the house he grew up in, but far enough away to be sure of some privacy. A big block on a hill on the outskirts of town. An excellent view and a small creek, which led into the one behind the church. The little creek ran dry during drought years, but most of the time it gurgled along quite happily.
Walter was unmarried and old enough for people to talk.
“He’s getting on a bit. When do you think he will settle down? His cousins are all married with children at their feet.”
His father fielded the question calmly. “Plenty of time for all that. He is working hard to build his business. He doesn’t want a family to slow him down. He’ll get around to it; in his own time.” These words were delivered with confidence, but his father’s confidence was only skin deep. Privately he worried that his son might have missed his chance with the cream of the local girls, most of whom had been married off and ‘with child’ at a tender age.
Many of the local girls hoped that Walter would turn his eye towards them.
People were attracted to Walter.
Women wanted him, and men wanted to be him.
For his part, Walter was oblivious to all this attention.
On that sunny Sunday afternoon, Walter’s heart was many miles away.
From time to time, his business took him to Melbourne, a journey of several hours by train. Melbourne was another world; a big city. Not as big as the cities in Europe, but big enough to make a man from the country feel small.
Walter reached into his waistcoat pocket and pulled out a tiny photograph of a pretty young woman. She was older than Walter by only a couple of years, and her ‘advanced’ age had caused her family to despair.
“She’ll never find a man at this rate. She’s too finicky. She thinks way too much of herself. She’s been ‘proposed to’ dozens of times, and she always turns them down. What is she waiting for, Prince Charming? She reads way too many books; way too many grand ideas. You mark my words, nothing good will come of this.”
The photograph that Walter held was tiny, and as he held it, he felt close to her. He knew the smell of her hair and the touch of her hand. He loved the way she walked and the swish of her hair as she would turn to him and speak.
She frightened him a little.
She was well read and interested in everything. She was his equal in every way possible. She was ‘the one’. He knew it, but as life so often is, it wasn’t as simple as that.
This peaceful place and the sound of the water would help Walter decide; stay here where it was safe, where family reside, where business is good, and a piece of land cries out for a home, or leave forever and follow his heart.
Walter’s brief time by the banks of the creek took him to the one he loved.
They had only one son, and Walter died young, but they had time together.
Their son grew to be a prominent citizen in Melbourne. Not one of those shallow people who shine only on the outside, but a whole person who made his world a better place.
Walter’s beloved Mary lived long enough to see her son become a success before joining Walter in the next life.
His decision kept Walter away from his hometown, but in death, he sits by that creek with Mary at his side and watches the water flow by.