Fifteen years later
"Are we almost there yet, Dad?" Margaret's voice came from the back seat.
Lucien glanced in the mirror toward the back of the car where his three youngest children sat, all dressed in their best clothes. He couldn't help but smile. The twins, Geneviève and Margaret (named for the grandmothers) occupied the places next to the windows. They looked exactly the way he thought his beloved Jean must have looked at their age. Lucien could scarcely believe they were almost fourteen now, young ladies really.
Well, Geneviève was a young lady, at least. A budding artist like her namesake, she loved pretty things and was beginning to take an interest in boys. On the other hand, Margaret's only interest in boys was how proficient they were in cricket. She was still unhappy that she'd been forced to wear a dress today. The only boy that interested Margaret in the least was Jack's childhood friend, Tony, who had gone on to be a star of the Big V football team.
Between them sat little Henry, their surprise baby, born nearly ten years after the twins, long past the point where he and Jean had thought their family complete. A most welcome surprise, though. Henry was a delight to everyone. He looked just like his father, and his bright, sweet nature made him the apple of his parents' eyes.
Henry pointed to a sign along the side of the road. "Look, it says 'Melbourne 15 miles'. That isn't far, is it, Dad?"
"Not far at all," said Lucien, exchanging smiles with Jean.
Up ahead was a second car, driven by Jack, the newest constable in the Ballarat Police Department. After his initial visit to the police station as a boy, his interest in their work had increased and he'd forged a friendship with Bill Hobart. Lucien and Jean had never thought their impetuous, willful son would have a career in law enforcement, but his close bond with Li had tempered the wild streak in him and shown him it could be channeled into a hunger for justice. Having experienced firsthand in the prison camp what it was like to be on the receiving end of violence from someone much bigger and stronger, he never allowed anyone to rough up a prisoner in his presence, and Chief Superintendent Matthew Lawson had praised him for the calming effect Jack had on Sergeant Hobart.
The closeness between Jack and Li continued to this day, despite her long absences for medical school. She would be the family's third Doctor Blake in just a few years. And she would join into practice with her father, just as he had with his own father when he and Jean returned from their brief honeymoon. (Unfortunately Thomas had suffered a massive stroke and passed away the year before, surrounded by his loving family.) Li's other ambition was to become Police Surgeon eventually, and if Matthew was willing, Lucien would be happy to pass the position over to his daughter's hands.
Also in the car with Jack and Li was Violet Ashby Blake. She and Christopher had married three years before, when she finished nursing school and he graduated from the music conservatory. Now they were looking forward to the birth of their first child. With her due date imminent, she could no longer travel with Christopher, so she was currently living in the Blake home, just as she had so long ago after her father had been injured.
"It will be wonderful to see Christopher again," Lucien said, glancing over at Jean.
"It will," she agreed. "It always makes me feel better knowing he's back in Australia."
"Well, I suppose now that he's an internationally famous musician he has to share his talents with the rest of the world," Lucien pointed out. He smiled. "Do you remember his very first concert? We were more nervous for him than he was."
"He was so young then," said Jean. "As I recall, I wondered if he was really as talented as he seemed to me or if was I just seeing him through a mother's eyes. That night I found out."
"When I was making those pan flutes for the boys all those years ago I never could have imagined that one day he'd be the featured flautist playing on a programme with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra."
"Can I play with them someday?" Henry asked. Lucien had recently begun teaching him to play the piano, as he had previously with the two girls, and their youngest already showed promise.
"If that's what you really want, and you practice every day, you just might," said Lucien.
"I thought you were going to be a doctor, like Li and Dad," said Margaret.
"Oh, yeah," said Henry. He thought for a minute. "Can't I be both?"
Jean turned to smile at her little one. "I think you can do just about anything you set your mind to," she assured him.
"I think so, too," said Henry gravely.
Margaret smirked at him while Geneviève merely nodded knowingly. They all expected big things of Henry some day. He had inherited all the best qualities of both his parents.
They reached West Melbourne and pulled onto Dudley Street, and then into the car park for Festival Hall where Christopher and the Symphony would be performing. A few minutes later they were being escorted to the section of seats reserved for them up front. The usher who led the way looked askance at Henry. Children of his age were rarely in attendance at classical music performances, but Henry was an old hand at this. He'd been to several of Christopher's concerts in the past, and if he got bored he would crawl onto Jean or Lucien's lap and allow the music to lull him to sleep.
When they were all seated, Jean looked over her family with a sense of pride and gratitude. She thought back to the moment they'd finally arrived in Australia after the war, half-starved, broke, in despair. The way forward had seemed so bleak that it had overwhelmed her. Lucien had been in a Singapore hospital at the time, in worse shape than she and the boys, and yet he'd still been watching over them by asking his father to be his proxy.
Although she'd hoped at the time for a future that might include Lucien, she never could have predicted that one day they'd be the proud parents of six beautiful children. She looked over at him just as he glanced at her. When their eyes met, she felt her heart flip over, just as it had been doing all these years. She still found him to be the most exciting man she'd ever known, and the kindest.
The concert began, and she marveled once again at how Christopher transformed when he stepped on a stage. He was so serious and reserved most of the time, but when he was in front of an audience he became outgoing and gregarious, immediately connecting with those who had come to see and hear him. After he had played the first few pieces, he addressed the crowd.
"Good evening, everyone. Thank you very much for coming tonight. It's always good to be back home, especially when it means my family is in attendance."
He gestured toward where they were sitting.
"My beautiful wife, Violet, who will be having our first child in the very near future," he continued, holding out a hand toward her.
When the polite applause for Violet had subsided, Christopher again continued. "Some of you may know that as a child I spent several years in a Japanese internment camp during the war. It was as difficult a time as any of you can imagine, but it would have been so much worse if I hadn't had the company of my brother Jack and the incredibly strong woman who I'm proud to say is my mother." He paused to point them out.
"And it was also there that I began the musical journey that led me to this place." He reached into his pocket and pulled out the pan flute that Jack had given him, the twin of his own.
"A very kind and brave Australian soldier made two of these, one for me and one for Jack. He showed us how to use them, and it was the first time I realized I could make music. After the war ended and we came back to Australia, he also bought me my first real flute. And now he is my stepfather, I'm proud to say, and as a result, I also have three sisters and another brother. I can tell you without a single doubt, that this man and my mother are the reason I stand before you today. Stand up and take a bow, please, Mum and Lucien."
Twenty more years later
"That's the last of the luggage, Dad," said Jack as he slid the final case into the car boot.
"Thank you, son, and thank you to all of you for seeing us off," said Lucien.
"It's not every day we can wish bon voyage as our parents set off on a trip around the world," said Li.
"Well, with your father finally retired, we'll have much more time to travel," Jean said, winking at Lucien.
"Now that Li has Henry to assist her in the practice, I'm excess to requirements," said Lucien. He clapped his youngest son on the shoulder. "And what about you, Madame Mayor? When do you plan to retire so we'll have our lives to ourselves?"
Jean laughed. "I'm just waiting for one of our children to show an interest in politics so they can take over for me. What about you, Jack?"
"Not a chance," said Jack, also laughing. "My dear wife, on the other hand, has politics in her blood. Fancy a run for public office, love?"
Mattie O'Brien Beazley-Blake shook her head. "No, thank you. The hospital keeps me busy enough."
"Don't look at me," said Margaret, her arm around the waist of her husband Tony. "Now that I finally got this bloke to the altar, I'm perfectly content to take care of our home. And our little one." She patted her newly noticeable baby bump.
"Then it looks like it's up to Li or Henry," said Jean.
"Oh, no," said Li. "Giving that speech in front of the whole school when I was seven years old was the last public speaking I've ever done, or wanted to do. Besides, Alice Lawson would never agree to break in a new Police Surgeon to replace me."
"You have a point there," said Lucien.
All eyes turned to young Henry, who had returned from medical school a few months before with his newly minted degree. "I suppose I could consider it, after I settle in with the practice," he said slowly.
Jean hugged him. "I think your plate is quite full enough as it is, or do you plan to give up playing with the band?"
His original dream of playing with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra had given way to a place as guitarist and lead vocalist with an up and coming rock and roll band who had recently signed a big record deal.
"I couldn't do that to my mates," said Henry.
"Well, then, I think maybe you should leave politics to someone else," said Lucien. Henry had always been an overachiever, but even he couldn't handle three full-time careers.
"Mum, Dad, you'd better get going or you'll miss the plane," Li pointed out. "Christopher and Violet will never forgive you."
They were driving to Melbourne to get a flight to Los Angeles as the first leg of their trip. Chris was the musical director of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. He, Violet and their two sons were living there for the foreseeable future, and their parents could hardly wait to see them all again. A later leg would see them visit Geneviève and her partner André in Paris, where their art studio was thriving.
"We can't have that," said Lucien. He and Jean bade their goodbyes, and set off.
When they were safely on the highway, Jean rested her hand on Lucien's knee. "Last night I dreamed we were back in the camp," she said.
"A nightmare?" asked Lucien. He hadn't noticed her in any distress during the night.
"No, not really," she assured him. "We were out in the jungle at night, just the two of us, talking about meeting up in Ballarat one day. Back then could you ever have imagined that we'd have all we have now?"
Lucien turned his head to smile at her. "My dear, we've been very fortunate. So many points along the way we could have lost each other. I suppose fate owed us a thing or two after all we endured there, but we've been given such a wealth of riches in the form of our family, and even our health. And now, we've been given the gift of growing old together."
"Happily ever after?" asked Jean, arching an eyebrow.
"Indeed. Very, very happily," Lucien confirmed.
And together, they looked out the windscreen, facing their very bright future.