2 January 1934
A man may face many roads, over the course of his lifetime. The smooth, orderly grid of a new world city, fast and bright and designed with efficiency in mind, or the long, winding, ethereal streets of a town that seems older than time itself. He may strike out along a gravel drive or plant his feet in the mud of a cow path, or construct a through-way for himself where there is none, with logs and axe and blood and sweat. The road of his own life, the twists and turns and abrupt dead ends that lead him from his birth to his death may be the hardest road to follow, for there is no way to see what lies ahead, and no way to turn back. A man must follow his road, wherever it may lead, with only his heart for a compass.
On a fine summer night Lucien Blake had brought his car to a stop at the end of a familiar dirt track, on the far outskirts of Ballarat. This was a road he knew well, one he had traversed for less-than-honorable purposes more times than he could count. What he did not know as he lay tangled up in the backseat of his father's car with his arms around the girl who had become the very center of his world was that he had in fact reached a crossroads in the journey of his life, and that the decisions he made this night would change his life, and the lives of the people he loved most, forever.
"I love you," he whispered, panting just a little, with the warmth of Jean's skin beneath his fingertips and the softness of her hair tickling his nose. In response Jean hummed in pleasure, pressing her nose against the crook of his neck, burrowing deeper into his embrace. The heat of the night and the ferocity with which they had attacked one another had left them both sweaty and spent, Jean's knees on either side of his hips, her body draped across his like a blanket. His hands traced patterns over the smooth skin of her back, his fingertips carefully counting the delicate ridges of her spine, feathering from her shoulders down to the rise of her buttocks and back up again. Though she was a bit young, though her handmade clothes had seen better days and there were calluses on her finely-built hands she remained the single loveliest girl he had ever known, clever and kind and endlessly fascinating to him, and these few precious moments they'd carved out for themselves had come to mean everything to him.
"I bet you say that to all the girls," she answered him cheekily, pressing the softness of her lips to the curve of his neck and sending a shiver racing down his spine.
"Only you," he answered truthfully, smiling into the darkness when Jean redoubled her efforts, trailing her kisses along the line of his jaw.
Lucien Blake had never, not once, told another girl that he loved her. Oh, he had been to bed with one or two others, had spun around the dancefloor of many a crowded pub and opened his wallet for more than a few, but he had never found one who made him feel the way that she did. And perhaps that was strange, given that he'd only known her for such a short time, given that they had met under such unusual circumstances, given that their backgrounds were so very different. But the truth remained that Jean Randall was the only girl to ever steal his heart, and he had parted with it gladly for her sake.
He'd returned to Ballarat in July, finally finished with his studies and trying to decide where he wanted to go next. With his university degree and medical training he could now practice anywhere in the empire, but his father had requested that he come home first, that he try to make a go of it in Australia before deciding where to plant his roots. And since the old man had paid for his education and possessed a network of contacts from Melbourne to Adelaide to Sydney, Lucien had - somewhat reluctantly - agreed. None of it had gone to plan, of course; Lucien had spent more of his life outside his father's house than in it, and now that they were forced to share the same space for months on end he had come to the rather disappointing realization that his father was every bit as stern and withdrawn and dreadful as he had always believed him to be. They rowed more often than not, ate their meals in silence and spent their evenings as far away from one another as they could possibly get. Lucien had resolved himself to travel to London as soon as the Christmas festivities drew to an end, to join his friends there and turn his back on the staid, conservative town of his birth. His plans had been delayed, however, by his discovery of the angel who currently rested in his embrace.
They met outside the church one evening in November. Lucien was drunk as a lord and Jean had been practicing with the choir for their Christmas program when he had, quite literally, walked right into her. He had sworn but managed to right the pair of them before they ended up sprawled in the dirt beside the pavement. His hands had caught her hips and they lingered there, suddenly entranced by the fire in her grey eyes and the curve of her cheek, by the grace of her movements as she danced out of his grip, by the cadence of her voice as she berated him for being so foolish. He had stumbled through his apologies and she had stormed off in a huff, but it was too late for Lucien Blake; he was already, quite completely, under her spell.
After that he took every excuse he could to seek her out. The diner where she sat and sipped milkshakes with her friends on Friday evenings, the library she frequented every Saturday morning, even once going so far as to take his father's place on a house call when her mother fell ill and needed tending. With flowers and gentle words and an endless parade of charm he had slowly won her over, and now they spent every moment they could together, ending up like this more often than not. She was warm and responsive and blindingly beautiful, fragile as a bird but with a will strong as steel, and he adored her, with all his heart.
The problem, of course, was that he had no intention of staying in Ballarat. The town was dry and dusty, the people doubly so, and he feared, deep down in his soul, that if he stayed he would end up like his father, bitter and combative and utterly alone. The streets of Europe called to him, promised him a different life, a better life, a dream he wanted almost as much as the girl he held in his arms. Almost. A plan had begun to form in the back of his mind, a plan that would allow him to have everything he wanted, and though he had not spoken of it to anyone - not even Jean - he was devoting more and more time to it.
When he first returned to Ballarat his father had agreed that if after a period of months it seemed that Lucien would be better served living elsewhere they would discuss Thomas paying for his relocation. As Lucien had no funds of his own he knew he was reliant upon his father's good nature to set his feet upon his desired path, and so he had decided to wait until after the holiday before broaching the subject of his departure. The conversation would be all the more delicate for Lucien did not intend to ask only for leave to make his way to London; he wanted, very much, to marry Jean Randall, and take her with him.
And though he had yet to ask her, he rather felt that Jean would be amenable to this request. She complained often and bitterly about the constraints of her family's expectations, about the difficulties of life on the farm, had told him that she loved him and told him of her dreams to travel the world. Though she was only eighteen - nineteen, in three week's time - she knew what she wanted from her life, and Lucien believed that he could give it to her. It wouldn't take much, he'd told himself, to arrange a wedding at Sacred Heart and travel and accommodations for them in London. Hardly more than the cost of sending him off on his own. And once he arrived he could set himself up in one of the local hospitals, could earn more than enough to look after himself and his wife, to take her on the trips she always dreamed of and lavish her with gifts, to present to her everything she had so far been denied in this life. This was what Lucien wanted, more than anything else, and as he lay beneath her he told himself that the time had likely come to go about getting it. He would speak to his father first, if for no other reason than that he would like to present Jean with his mother's ring when he proposed, but just knowing that everything he wanted was within his reach had made him a happy man.
"When do you have to be back?" he asked. Though he was loath to part with her it was easier somehow to take her home, to watch her walking away, when he knew that soon he would never have to spend another moment without her.
Jean sighed and reached for his hand, lifting it up so she could check the time on his watch.
"Ten minutes ago," she grumbled.
Lucien laughed and kissed her temple, smiling at her fondly as they both scrambled around the backseat of the car, trying to pull their clothes back on while knocking elbows and trading gentle kisses. That evening, Lucien was happier than he could recall ever having been before.
It was late, when Lucien came waltzing into his father's house, a smile on his lips he could not shake. He would talk to his father the very next day, he had decided, and once that was settled he would take his mother's ring and drive out to the Randall farm, would find Jean somewhere in the fields and drop to his knee and offer her everything he had to give. It was an enchanting thought.
An enchanting thought that was banished at once by his father calling out his name from the sitting room. Thomas's voice dripped with displeasure, and as he was not ordinarily awake this late in the evening, the sound of it filled Lucien's heart with dread. He was determined to be courteous to his father, however, knowing how great a boon he intended to ask in the morning, and so he counseled himself to prudence as he made his way across the house.
"Dad," he said as he entered the room.
"And just where have you been?" Thomas grumbled at him from his favorite armchair.
"The Pig and Whistle," Lucien lied at once. His father never set foot inside that pub, and neither did any of his friends, and Lucien hoped that his excuse would be enough to brush aside his father's suspicions.
It was not.
"Like hell you were," Thomas answered, rising ponderously to his feet, all flashing eyes and bristling moustache. "You were with the Randall girl, weren't you?"
Lucien felt as if his heart had dropped straight onto the floor. He kept his mouth resolutely closed, wondering what sort of storm was brewing.
"For God's sake, Lucien, she's a child!" Thomas growled.
"She's nineteen," Lucien protested feebly. It was the wrong thing to say, and he knew it, and Thomas seized upon it at once.
"And you're twenty-four. I expect better from you than this, Lucien. Mucking about with some farmgirl-"
Lucien couldn't bear the distaste in his father's voice as he spat the word farmgirl, and he opened his mouth at once to protest, but Thomas bowled over him, warming to the subject.
"She's no good for you, Lucien, and I won't have you ruining your reputation or mine by continuing this ridiculous infatuation a moment longer. You will not see her again."
There was something terribly final about Thomas's tone, but Lucien refused to be so easily cowed. He was a man grown, and he knew what he wanted.
"And if I do?" he asked cooly.
"Then you will be entirely cut off," Thomas fired back. "I will not give you another penny, and you will not be welcome in this house. I will write you out of my will, and you will be entirely on your own. Forever."
Lucien spun away, his mind racing, his heart pounding, fear and anger swirling round and round inside him. How had it come to this? How had this night, which had started so beautifully, so full of hope, turned into such horror? He could hardly stand, so great was his distress. He had imagined that his father's old-school sense of class and propriety might present a stumbling block to his plans but he had never considered, even for a moment, that it might come to this. He had twenty pounds in his pocket and the clothes upon his back, and he did not know what would become of him, should he be so utterly abandoned by his father. He could feel his dreams being ripped away from him, and if he weren't so bloody angry he would have wept.
He took a single step away, and his father's voice drew him up short. "If you walk out that door, Lucien," his father said in a terrible voice, "you are no son of mine. And know this. The Randalls are poor, and deeply devout. They will not approve this match. If you try to pursue her they will stop you, and you will have nothing left."
If you walk out that door, you are no son of mine.
Lucien squared his shoulders, and walked out into the night, the sound of his father's shouts echoing loud in his ears.
Lucien had precious few friends in Ballarat, and he did not want to bother any of them, to turn up on their doorstep in the dead of night and beg for help. It was a warm evening, and so he made his way to the bus station, and sat himself down upon a bench. The gentle summer breeze helped to calm his racing heart, and the silence all around him gave him the chance to gather his thoughts.
Though he dearly wished it were not so, he knew that his father's estimation of the character of Jean's family was correct. He and Jean had been forced to hide their connection from everyone, fearful of her father's wrath. Jean made a little money on the side working as a seamstress, but as her mother had fallen ill most of what she earned had gone right back into her father's farm. Without help from their families they could hardly start a new life on their own, especially now that his father had disowned him. Lucien knew he would not be able to find work in Ballarat, that he would have to turn his eyes elsewhere. And he would have to do it soon; what little money he had would not be enough to keep him afloat for more than a few days, and he could hardly impose upon the kindness of his friends or Jean's family.
He had enough for a ticket to Melbourne, though. The army was always in search of trained doctors, and it might be the quickest and easiest way for him to begin to earn some much needed funds. Perhaps, he told himself as the night slowly slipped away, as the sun began to rise, this was the best choice for them. A few years in the army was not so great a sacrifice, if in return he was able to build a life for himself, a life in which he could claim Jean for his own. He resolved himself to buy a ticket as soon as the station opened, and to write to Jean as soon as he reached Melbourne. It would not do to linger in Ballarat, and he couldn't risk being caught out at her parents' farm, didn't dare risk bringing their displeasure down upon her. He would explain everything to her then, and he was certain that she would wait for him. Though his heart grieved for the loss of his father's regard, for the knowledge that he could not yet give Jean the life he'd dreamed of, he resolved himself to this, to waiting, to hoping. It was all that he could do, and so would have to be enough.
It was three weeks before his letter reached his beloved. It was a letter she would never see, for her father intercepted it, and seeing that it had been sent by that rake Lucien Blake, he tossed it into the fire, and never spoke of it to anyone.