Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Forgiving Michael Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Twenty-nine
Forgiveness is the final form of love
Reinhold Niebuhr

Wiseman's Creek, August, 1875
"So, Kathryn, now that Annie's married and gone to live with the Quinns, tis just you and Hamlet, eh? It must be odd to have all your children married now?’
     ‘Not so much odd as a sense of completion, like that part of my work on earth is done. I'm glad that Suzannah and Johnny and the little ones are living with us though. It reminds me there's still plenty for me to do. We have eleven grandchildren now, can you believe it? Tis wonderful for Hamlet. Gives him a good excuse to sit a while instead of working flat out. With a child on his knee he feels very useful.’
     ‘Yes, I do know that feeling. I'm so looking forward now to going back to Forbes to see Rebecca's little ones. It's hard when they're not close by.’
     ‘It sounds like there's likely to be more little ones out there soon.’
     ‘True. Once she and Nels are married in November, I've no doubt there will be more.  Who'd have thought a few years back that Rebecca would be writing to me and telling me she wants me to come and help her prepare for a wedding? I'm very excited and so is Mary. She's insisting on coming with me this time. Bob Atkins said he'll find someone to fill in and her job will be there when we come back. She's a great little worker.’
     ‘Not so little, sure she's not.’ Kathryn frowned. ‘She's twenty-two and should be looking to be married herself. Hasn't there been anyone wanting to court her?’
     ‘Not a sign of one. I think she meets plenty of young men at the Inn, but apparently not the right one. And I'm just as pleased. I don't want her making the mistakes I did…and Rebecca did. I think she's learned from us. At the moment, she's chuffed enough being an aunt.’
     ‘Rebecca is going to be happy, isn't she? She is making a good choice now?’
     ‘I think so.’ Norah nodded. ‘Since she got the news that the children's father is really dead, she's more relaxed. It's awful to say but they're all better off without the fear of him turning up again.’
     ‘Well, she's not alone in that,’ Kathryn said with her usual candour.
     ‘She wants to have a wedding with all the trimmings,’ Norah continued without acknowledging Kathryn's remark. ‘As much to show the people of Forbes that she's going to be respectable as anything else, I'm guessing. She's determined to live down her reputation. Even started going to church with Nels. I do pray that she'll find her peace with God and have the support I've had from our church. That's my hope for her now.’

As the small party spilled out of St John's church they were met with a blast of hot air.  Norah blinked as her eyes adjusted to the glare and her hand went up to stop her bonnet from being blown from her head. Her full skirt clung to her legs as the wind pushed against her. It was a hot, gusty November day, not unusual for summers in Forbes, the locals said. Their greatest fear was that a fire would sweep across the farmlands, wiping them all out, for there was nothing that would stop a blaze in the tinder dry conditions.  There had been no rain to speak of for more months than they cared to count.
     Norah knew that Rebecca's life out here would not be easy, not as a farmer's wife and not as a resident of Forbes. Even now, as she looked across the street, there was a huddle of local women, their interest in the wedding anything but friendly. She could see the disapproval on their faces.
     ‘A woman with five children out of wedlock having the audacity to marry in the church,’ she could imagine them clucking. ‘And her in a long cream dress, no less, with a veil and flowers clutched to her waist, parading like a real bride, making a mockery of the decorum with which decent women conduct their lives.’
     Norah had overheard such comments around the town as she had bought ribbons and lace for Rebecca's dress, and searched for the brush and comb set she had eventually settled on to give her as a wedding gift. She was well aware of what the women of this town thought about her daughter and others like her, who they considered had brought upon themselves misery and no end of criticism by their own choices and actions.
     But that was passed now and Norah prayed that at least some of the people here would give Rebecca a second chance, for surely it was the Christian thing to do. Most of these women, no doubt, paraded into church each Sunday, professing themselves to be godly women. Well, here was a test for them, Norah thought. Could they forgive someone who had offended their sensibilities, who needed Christian charity and was sincerely trying to change to be a better person? Time would tell. She prayed Rebecca would have the courage and confidence to live out the plans she and Nels had made, with or without the approval of these sharp beaked biddies who were still whispering and twittering across the street.
     Nels helped Rebecca climb into their cart. He smiled up at her admiringly as her lustrous curls fluttered around her face. Her cheeks were rosy with health and her eyes glowing with happiness. He proudly ushered her five children in behind her before he climbed up beside his new wife. Norah followed with Mary, William and Theresa in a second cart which had been loaned to them by one of the church families.
     A few of Nels' friends from the church and the local area waved and whistled as the carts headed down the main street, one of the young women catching the bouquet of flowers that Rebecca threw ceremoniously as she passed the small group of onlookers. Then she turned to the pinched-faced huddle on the other side of the street and waved, laughing over the clatter of the string of tin cans that had been tied to the back of their cart. The women pulled back, their mouths pursing, their hands grabbing at their shopping baskets as if they were afraid of being assaulted. Or perhaps afraid they had been caught in the act of unchristian gossip, Norah thought, smiling at the courage of her daughter. Perhaps she would survive here just fine.

As the family settled back into their chairs and cushions on the floor, their stomachs bulging from the spread that Norah had prepared before the ceremony, Norah glanced around the cottage that Nels had lovingly built for Rebecca. He had lived in little more than a tent when he arrived, using strips of bark and rough planks to protect himself from the worst of the weather and the animals that foraged for food wherever their noses led them. But gradually, he gathered the stones and wood, and bought the other materials needed to build what was a comfortable and cosy cottage for his bride and the five children to whom he would now become father. 
     It was quite an undertaking, Norah acknowledged to herself, one that gave her confidence that Nels would take good care of her daughter and her grandchildren. He was young and strong and obviously totally in love with Rebecca, who sat in one of the two large soft armchairs that Nels had brought home last week, insisting they would be kept for he and his wife to rest in at the end of the day. They would discuss their plans and their problems from these chairs, he had said proudly. They would warm themselves by the large fire in the corner, drink tea and remind each other how fortunate they were and what a fine life they would build.
     He had said all this in the short speech that he made earlier, having carried Rebecca across the threshold of the cottage as Mrs Glander for the first time. The children had all clapped, delighted to see their mother so happy and in awe of the room which would be theirs to sleep in. It was the first time that they had been in a house with a plank floor, having always lived on packed dirt. They kept tapping their boots on the boards, amused by the noise they could make as they walked across the room. Even having boots was a novelty, for they had spent most of their childhood barefooted. They had gradually spread themselves more spaciously around the table as they had eaten dinner, surprised to find that the long benches on either side of the wooden table provided ample room for them all. 
     Norah watched William, as he sat in one corner of the small parlour; Thomas and John on either side of him. Rebecca's two sons had found it hard to take in that this boy, just three years older than Thomas, was their uncle. And he could read! He had shown them in the local newspaper how he could understand the neat print, which to ten-year-old Thomas and nine- year-old John were just strange and uninteresting marks.
     Now William was suggesting that in fact the words in the papers were not uninteresting at all. What's more, he was telling them, there are wonderful story books which tell exciting tales of brave men and of animals and birds and huge fish that live in the ocean. Their eyes almost fell out of their heads as William explained that an ocean was like a river that was bigger than all of Australia and that huge boats could float from one side of the world to the other. Their grandmother had come in one of these, all the way from Ireland, he said, which was a faraway land. They all stared at Norah, admiration spreading on their face. She smiled at them and wrinkled her nose.
     ‘You could read about the explorers who are travelling across Australia, too,’ William was saying, enjoying his raptured audience.
     Even Mabel had settled at her brother's side and was listening intently to the stories.  ‘See here. Just a few weeks ago this explorer, Ernest Giles, arrived in Perth, which is a big town a long way west of here, right at the edge of the ocean. He and eight men crossed the desert on camels, which they call ships of the desert, because they can go for much longer without needing to drink than horses can.’
     William paused to watch the nods of his nephews and niece, making sure they understood, just as his brother, Tom, had always done. ‘It was the third time that this explorer tried to cross the desert for it's a very long way and it's very hot and dry. No one has done it before so he wasn't sure which way to get across.’
     Rebecca's attention was drawn to the little group on the floor. She had just finished feeding baby Arthur and put him down at her feet where Theresa was waiting to play with him. She listened to William for a few moments.
     ‘He's just like Tom, isn't he, Ma?’ She smiled at Norah.   
     ‘Yes, William is much like his older brother and if I'm not mistaken, so is your Thomas.’
     ‘Perhaps,’ Rebecca mused. ‘I always thought Tom was a clever boy. Not that I ever let him know that.’ She grinned sheepishly. ‘But he was very bossy and…I guess I was jealous of him. It's hard for me to see my Thomas like that. He certainly rounds the other children up here and makes them help, but he's not smart like Tom. He can't read or anything.’
     ‘Has he been taught?’
     She shook her head. ‘There are no schools out this way and I'd hardly be able to take him into Forbes. We'd be thrown out, for sure.’
     ‘Then you don't know how smart he is, do you? Tis just a chance he needs, sure it is.  Like the rest of them. They need to be learning, Rebecca.’
     ‘Why?’ Rebecca bristled a little. ‘They'll probably just go onto the land, like most other boys around here. It's more important they learn to ride a horse than read a book.’
     ‘No, tis not,’ Norah insisted. ‘They may not want to be farmers. They may want to travel to the big towns and work there. They might want to be teachers or doctors.’
     ‘Ma.’ Rebecca chortled. ‘You always did have such notions. I'll be happy if they get alongside Nels and help him with this farm. He has plans to grow wheat and get some more cattle. He'll need all the children to help.’
     ‘That's fine for now, but you never know what they might like to do as they get older.  It pays to be prepared.’
     ‘Dishes all done,’ Mary announced coming from the kitchen at the back of the cottage. Nels followed her back into the parlour, having helped her wash up.
     ‘I was just telling Rebecca how important it is for young children to learn to read and write,’ Norah explained, yawning.
     It had been a long day and she was ready for sleep. It had been a wonderful time here helping Rebecca prepare for her marriage, but now she was looking forward to getting back to her own room in Wiseman's Creek. It was time for this little family of her daughter's to get on with their own lives. 
     ‘I agree, Ma,’ Mary said quietly, sitting on the chair beside her mother. ‘That's why I've decided to stay here.’ She smiled innocently, as if it had been something everyone was prepared for.
     ‘What?’ Norah recovered from her drowsy state.
     ‘Nels and I have been discussing it,’ Mary said. ‘I said I'd like to stay and help with the children. Rebecca could do with another pair of hands and I could teach the children to read and write as well.’ It seemed a simple and obvious solution to Mary. ‘What do you think, Rebecca? We never did have much time together as sisters and I think I could help you a lot.’
     ‘Why, it would be wonderful.’ Rebecca sat up, her face breaking into a wide smile.  ‘I'd love it. Yes, I think it's a grand idea.’
     Norah sat back. Her first thought was that she was to lose another daughter. But then she turned to Rebecca and saw the look of gratitude on her face. Rebecca was overwhelmed, clearly not thinking that she deserved such grace from her sister. Yes, it would be good for her, not only to have help with the children but to receive the love and acceptance her sister was showing and to know that she was worthy of it, no matter how much she had held her family at bay these past years. It would be a new chapter in her daughters' lives. A good chapter.
     ‘Well.’ Norah sighed, satisfied. ‘That's decided then.’

‘Gwandma, Gwandma.’ Young Catherine ran to the door to welcome her grandmother home from Forbes.
     Norah dropped to her knees to receive the five-year-old's hug. ‘Tis so good to see you, my sweet. My, I think you've grown while I've been away.’
     ‘I drawed you a picture, Gwandma. Come and see.’
     Norah followed the little girl to a chair in the parlour and dropped into it gratefully before carefully examining and marvelling over the drawings her granddaughter produced.
     Within minutes, Elizabeth appeared with a pot of tea on a tray. Marianne was walking slowly behind her mother, her eyes trained on the small plate of biscuits she was carrying. Norah grinned as she watched little Rebecca, now fifteen months old, pull herself up on the arm of the chair and reach for a biscuit the minute her sister had laid them down on the small table.  
     ‘So, do you think this one will look like her namesake, Ma?’ Tom said after hearing how beautiful his sister had looked at her wedding. He drew his youngest daughter onto his knee. 
     ‘She doesn't have your sister's dark curls, does she?’ Norah smiled at the infant's pale brown hair.
     ‘No, Catherine's the one who's going to have her Aunt Rebecca's and her Grandma's curls.’
     ‘Not Gwandma's,’ Catherine piped in authoritatively. ‘Gwandma's hair is grey…isn't it, Gwandma?’ The little girl turned to Norah, looking for agreement.
     ‘It is now, my darling, so it is.’ Norah pushed her fingers through her still thick hair.  ‘But once it was red just like yours.’
     ‘Truly?’ Catherine's eyes widened. ‘But Daddy's hair is black. So why wasn't your hair black?’
     ‘Well, your daddy's hair is more like his…Pa's.’ Norah faltered. She noticed Tom tense. ‘It seems the time is coming when there'll be difficult questions to answer,’ she said quietly across the child's head. 
     ‘Hmm,’ Tom murmured. ‘Now, Catherine, did you show Grandma all those beautiful pictures you drew?’
     ‘Me too,’ Marianne attempted to push her older sister aside and nestle into her grandmother's knee.
     The interruption distracted Catherine from her question and she focussed on competing with her younger sister for their grandmother's attention.
     Elizabeth chucked Rebecca under the chin and smiled warmly at her mother-in-law.  ‘I just hope this little one gives us as much pleasure as her name sake is now giving you.  It must have been a wonderful day for you to see Rebecca happily married.’
     ‘Yes, it was, and not only happily married, but happy with herself. I've waited a while for that blessing.’
     Between biscuits and more cups of tea, Tom and Elizabeth listened to Theresa's and William's stories of their time in Forbes, the gestures of the two older children keeping the little ones amply entertained throughout.
     When the chatter slowed, Tom suggested they go out the back and have a play before dinner, and then he turned to his mother. 
     ‘Have you decided what you're going to do with that jewellery from the box, Ma?’
     ‘Oh, that again. I'd like to take it to the police and hand it in. Tis stolen property, after all. But that would surely spell more trouble for your father. I'm not wanting to do that, even though I know he deserves it. I couldn't possibly benefit from it, though, Tom. All those years I tried to get him to change his ways…perhaps I didn't try hard enough. But now I couldn't bring myself to use things he stole from other people. I still have trouble thinking about the gold we found in his coat being used to fix up this house. It just doesn't seem right.’
     ‘I understand, Ma, but how could I possibly find out who really owned that. I wouldn't know which of the men after Pa were robbers themselves and which had really dug for those nuggets. It's even harder to imagine how the jewellery in that box could ever be returned to the people it belongs to. It would be impossible after all this time for even the police to establish that. And what difference would it make if they went after Pa for it? He could be charged with so many thefts. Sooner or later, something will catch up with him. Or he'll completely lose his mind and have to be locked up anyway.’
     ‘It's a sad end, Tom.’
     ‘But hardly surprising, Ma. In the end you won't be able to prevent him having to face the consequences of his life…in this world, or the next.’
     ‘I know, but I can still be sad about it.’ She sighed deeply. ‘So what do you suggest I do with the jewellery?’
     ‘I think Hamlet's right. Pa's children might well do with getting something from their father's life. Not me, of course. I've all I need. But what about Theresa? Or Mary…now that she's embarking on a new life out there at Forbes? Or Rebecca? She and Nels might like a bit of help. Joseph and Mick can work for what they need. They don't deserve to benefit from his thieving. Not after they aided Pa in some of his later escapades. And William, well I suspect he'd rather earn his own way as well.’
     ‘So the boys can earn their own way, and the girls should benefit from some criminal means of gain. Is that what you think?’
     ‘Oh, Ma, don't put it like that. I just thought perhaps they could do with some help.  But on second thought, I guess their husbands would prefer to support them by other means. Of course we don't know when Mary or Theresa will have husbands, do we?’
     ‘Mary could meet someone any time now, but it's a long way off for Theresa, seeing as she’s only ten. She actually found the jewellery just before we went to Forbes and was parading around in one of the necklaces as if she was a queen with the crown jewels. She's not had too many pretty things. But I still don't want her wearing something her father stole from some poor woman.’
     ‘It's up to you, Ma. But it won't do to leave it around the house too long. As you see, Theresa found it. We can't hide it forever. What did you tell her about it?’
     ‘The truth. I couldn't lie to her. She seemed hardly affected at all. Tis the only kind of thing she's heard about her father all her life, sadly enough.’
     ‘Well, I hope she doesn't say anything to Joseph. I didn't tell him what was in the box besides the brooch and I don't think he needs to know. He does seem to have settled down but I'd not want to tempt him too much. And I certainly don't want Mick finding out about it.  Goodness knows what he'd do.’
     ‘We have no idea when we might see Mick again, do we?’ Norah’s heart still ached for her wayward son.’
     ‘No,’ Tom murmured, his face darkening.
     ‘Do you think you'll be able to put the past behind you now, Tom?’
     ‘What do you mean?’
     ‘I mean will you be able to let go of your anger with your father and your brother?’
     ‘You mean, can I forgive them?’
     ‘Tis a hard thing, I know, but if we can't let go of all that, then it will haunt us into the future.’
     ‘I'm trying to put it behind me, Ma. But forgive is a pretty strong word. I don't believe my father deserves forgiveness.’
     ‘Perhaps, but then, who of us really does? We all do wrong one way or another.’
     ‘Most of our wrongs hardly compare to Pa's.’ Tom shook his head. ‘He's followed every wrong path he could find since he was a young boy, don't you think? And Mick may not be much different, I'm afraid.’
     ‘Now, Tom, please don't have Mick judged so harshly before he's even a man. We don't know that he won't turn his life around, as Joseph has done. We must hold out hope for him.’ Her voice wavered as she thought about Mick. ‘But even as far as your father's concerned, ultimately tis not up to us to judge him. That's a job for God alone.  Ours' is to forgive…for our own sakes, if not for his.’
     ‘I don't know how you can think like that, Ma…after all he put you through.’
     Norah could hear the hardness in her son's voice. ‘He put all of us through a great deal, Tom. And I'd never say it wasn't wrong of him. He's caused a lot of heartache and provided little of what I'd hoped for from a husband and father. But to harbour resentment would only bring us further heartache and trouble. We must let it go if we're to have a happy future. Heaven knows, he needs our prayers more than anyone. He's a scoundrel but he was spoiled early. Only God can help him.’
     ‘We can't be sure we won't have more trouble from Pa yet to come…and perhaps from Mick. It's a bit soon to be forgiving, isn't it?’
     ‘We can't always wait for a person to change before we forgive, Tom.’ Norah sighed deeply, feeling the years of pain. ‘I'm sorry for the past. But I want us to be free to enjoy the future.’
     Tom pushed his hair from his forehead and took a deep breath. ‘Well, let's just concentrate on the wonderful things ahead, then, eh? Lizzie and I have some news.  We're pretty sure, aren't we, sweetheart?’
     He turned and smiled warmly at Elizabeth. ‘Looks like we'll be having another child next year. This time I'm praying for a son… for Lizzie's sake.’ He squeezed her hand and her face lit up. ‘Do you think God might grant her that?’
     ‘I wouldn't be surprised, Tom. He's very gracious.’
     ‘Oh, oh, they're back.’ Elizabeth laughed as Rebecca bounced gleefully at the sight of her sisters coming back into the room.
     ‘Catherine's done another drawing, Ma,’ Theresa said. ‘She's very good at it.’
     Catherine came directly to Norah and proudly placed a drawing on her lap.
 ‘It's Mummy,’ she announced.
     ‘So it is.’ Norah nodded. ‘She's looking very beautiful.’
     ‘Yes, she has brown hair. And a green skirt and a white shirt.’
     ‘She does, and what's this on her shirt?’ Norah pointed to a small circle on the drawing.
     ‘That's her brooch,’ Catherine exclaimed, as if it should be perfectly obvious. ‘With her picture on it. See?’ She moved close enough to her mother to point at the brooch which was pinned to the top of her blouse.
     ‘Well, I do see that now…but it's not your Mummy's picture on there, my sweet.  That's your great grandmother's picture.’
     ‘No, it's Mummy,’ Catherine insisted forcefully.
     ‘It looks a lot like her, doesn't it? But it's your Grandfather Pollard's mother.’
     ‘Truly?’ Catherine's face screwed into a doubtful expression.
     ‘I have told her that before,’ Elizabeth said, ‘but she finds it hard to understand.’
     ‘Of course it's hard to understand, my sweet.’ Norah drew the little girl back into her arms and kissed her lightly on the cheek. ‘It's hard to imagine people from such a long time ago, isn't it? But one day I'll tell you all about your great grandmother Pollard. She was a very special lady and that brooch is a precious treasure. One day you'll understand, I promise.’  

You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and you feel the power to wish them well.  Lewis B.  Smedes


Carol Preston

Forgiving Michael Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-eight

Wiseman's Creek, October, 1873

Norah arrived home three weeks later, her face pale with fatigue, her greying hair dry and dusty. ‘I can't wait to get clean,’ she said wearily.
     ‘Before you even tell us all the news?’ Tom said.
     ‘First things first. I've never felt so grimy in my life. Tis a desert out there, so it is,’ she said as she headed for the outhouse.
     Tom heard her ask William to get the kerosene boiler going so she could have some hot water. 
     Later, with a steaming cup of tea in her hands, her face gleaming from the scrubbing that she had given it, her fresh clothes neat and tidy, she sat at the kitchen table.
     ‘I'm sorry to keep you all in suspense. You know if it had been bad news, I'd not have kept you waiting.’ She laughed and Tom could see that his mother was happier than she'd been in years. ‘Rebecca’s doing well. At least she will be. I think we'll be hearing that she's getting married before too long.’
     ‘I thought she had children already.’ Elizabeth looked surprised.
     ‘She does. Five of them.’ Norah paused while Elizabeth gasped and then told them about Rebecca's years at Wowingong. ‘It's been awful for her but I think she's really learned from it. She's different, softer. I didn't think so when I first arrived but she was hurt because she thought I'd let her down. Once we sorted that out, we got along really well. God really answered my prayers.’
     Norah smiled and her face lit up, the tiredness seeming to drop away. ‘I had to go back to the old man in the post office and tell him what a lovely reunion we'd had for he was worried he'd sent me on a very sad mission.’
     ‘I don't know how you did it, Ma.’ Tom shook his head. He was full of admiration for his mother.
     ‘The best part is I met Nels,’ she continued. ‘He came to the house – shack actually –it made our old place here look like a palace. No front door so the mosquitoes came out of the salt bush at night and swarmed into the place and there were fleas in the mattresses, a plague I'd say. The older children were healthy enough because they'd been eating raw vegetables out of the garden but the little ones were on the verge of scurvy, and Rebecca as well. Hopefully, we sorted out what she needs to do about all that and I think the children will keep her to it. They've a lot of spunk. She called the eldest Thomas and my word, he's a lot like you, son.’
     She paused and patted Tom’s hand fondly. ‘And her daughter, Mabel, well she's the spitting image of her mother, in looks and attitude, so Rebecca will get a good taste of what that's like. But I believe they'll make it now. It was the good Lord's providence that I found her. It meant a lot to her that I went.’
     ‘And this Nels?’ Tom asked.
     ‘He came to visit the day after I got there. He's a very caring young man and I believe just what Rebecca needs. He's quite determined to marry her. She's a little wary but I think she'll come around. She knows she needs someone solid and reliable in her life.  She ought to have learned that from her experience with her father but tis sad how often we repeat history.’
     ‘She's not coming back then?’ Elizabeth said.
     ‘I doubt it. She says she's made a mess out there and she needs to work it out there.  She'll have a lot of criticism to face if she starts going into Forbes. She'll probably never get in good with some of the locals but Nels doesn't care. He's had to face that himself just because he's a foreigner in their eyes… although heaven knows we're all foreigners, aren't we?’
     ‘Sounds to me like she's done some growing up,’ Tom nodded. He was glad for his sister, and really happy for his mother. 
     ‘We have some news too, Ma,’ he grinned wryly.
     ‘Good, I hope. I only want good news this year.’
     ‘Very good,’ he began. 
     ‘But you have to wait ’til tomorrow,’ Elizabeth said quickly. ‘Ma wants to be here when we tell you.’
     ‘You're having another baby?’ Norah guessed.
     ‘Perhaps, but we're not quite sure about that yet.’ Tom's eyes lit up.
     ‘Harriet then? Or one of your brothers, Elizabeth? Someone must be having a baby.’ Norah persisted.
     ‘We've not heard if any of them are having another baby yet.’ Elizabeth laughed.
     ‘Well, it must be Annie then. Is she getting married to one of those Quinn boys?  She's always over there from what Kathryn says, and she's convinced it's not only to play aunt to Isabel's little ones.’
     ‘Ma, stop. We haven't heard that news either, although it's quite likely on the cards.’
      Norah thought for a moment. Her eyes lit up. ‘It's Joseph, isn't it? He's going to work with you, isn't he?’ Then she stopped and thought again. ‘But why would Kathryn need to be here to hear that?’
     Tom and Elizabeth both shook their heads and laughed loudly. ‘You'll just have to wait and see. It's only one night. You've had to wait a lot longer for most of your good news over the years. Now, who's for another cup of tea?’ Elizabeth clapped her hands together gleefully.

Norah sat, stunned, while Kathryn told her about the stealing of the brooch.
     ‘Dear God, have mercy,’ Norah gasped when Kathryn had finished. ‘I'm so ashamed.  I'm so sorry. Tom, I thought you said it was good news.’
     ‘It is, Ma,’ he said, and proceeded to tell her how he got the brooch back. 
     She sat for a long moment after he had finished, trying to take it all in.
     ‘I'm shocked,’ she said at last. ‘I'm so sad to think what your father stole from Hamlet. Poor man. No wonder it's been so hard for him all these years. And you, Kathryn, why did you not tell me? How could you bear to have me in your life…after what my husband did?’
     ‘You were my dearest friend, Norah. I knew you had no knowledge of what Michael had done and I wasn't going to let it come between us. And I knew if I told you, it would be that much harder for you to deal with Michael. Hamlet and I agreed it was best not to say anything. We had no hope of getting the brooch back…until Tom found out about it.  He's been wonderful. We're so grateful.’
     ‘Well, I'm thrilled about you getting it back. And it's so beautiful,’ Norah added, her eyes going to the brooch which Elizabeth had produced and put on as Tom had told his story.
     ‘So God has answered quite a few prayers in this last few weeks, hasn't He, Norah?’ Kathryn reached for her hand. 
     ‘He certainly has.’ Norah shook her head. ‘I can hardly believe it all.’
     ‘There is one more thing, Ma,’ Tom said, grinning.
     ‘Please, I'm not sure I can take any more.’
     ‘You'll be able to take this. Joseph is going to work with me at the railway. He starts next week, and he might even move back in here with us.’
     Norah was speechless. Tears rolled down her cheeks and she fell into Kathryn's embrace.

The following day, Joseph came home. Norah hardly recognised him. He had obviously bathed and chopped at his hair, which was now a shock of coffee coloured waves, pushed back from his forehead. He had a youthful beard, which was also trimmed. His clothes had been washed, of sorts, Norah noticed, although they were still raggy. And most of the mud had been scraped from his battered boots. 
     ‘You've grown up, just as I prayed you would.’   
     ‘I've been taller than you for a long time, Ma.’ He grinned cheekily.
     ‘Yes, taller, Joseph, but not grown up. Not until now. I'm so glad you're here. So very glad.’
     She hugged him for the second time since he’d walked in the door. When he stood back, looking slightly uncomfortable, she said. ‘But tell me, how is your brother? How is Mick? It must have been a hard experience for him in Sydney. Do you think he's learned his lesson?’ Norah was hopeful, buoyed by all that had happened recently.
     ‘I'm not sure about that, Ma.’ He looked at Tom for a moment and after registering the nod from his brother, he repeated what had been reported to him by Mick about his time in the city.
     ‘When he and Pa woke up in the alley in Sydney, they knew they'd been robbed, of course. Pa apparently went berserk. Mick said he could hardly hold him down. He ran down the street cursin' and screamin', thrashin' about like a madman. Which is what the two policemen who finally held him down said he was. He'd knocked over three people and badly hurt one woman who was carryin' a baby at the time. Then he ran like crazy across the street and caused a horse to rear up. The rider got thrown to the ground. He wasn't hurt too bad but he was so angry with Pa that the two of 'em ended up in a fist fight. The other man was much younger an' pretty easily overpowered Pa. That's when the police caught him and took him away. Mick said he kicked and punched at 'em all the way to the police station, an' then made such a scene in the lock up that the magistrate ordered him taken to George Street Asylum.’
     Joseph paused when he saw Norah’s face blanche. When she nodded for him to continue, he went on.
     ‘They were goin' to assess him there when he calmed down. Mick was put in the lock up overnight while the police tried to make sense of what was goin' on. He was so afraid of being locked away himself that he cooperated with the police and said he didn't know what had set Pa off, that the old man had shown signs of losin' his mind for quite a while. They let Mick go and he spent a couple of days of sleepin' in alleys and eatin' out of garbage bins before he went back to the asylum. He said Pa was sittin' in a chair, just starin' into space. A nurse told Mick it was the drugs he'd been given, that they'd take him off it soon and see how sane he was. Mick was really scared. When he went back the next day, they let Pa out and the two of 'em hightailed it back here as fast as they could. Then they took off for up north.’
     ‘Mick went with Michael again?’ Norah asked, disappointed.
     ‘I told 'em I was goin' to stay here and get work on the railways. They both called me a few nasty names, but then they said I could suit myself…and they left. I worry about Mick but he's fifteen now. I can't be lookin' after him any longer.’
     ‘No, Joseph, that's not your job. It was mine…and your father's. You must let him go now.’ Norah's eyes welled up. She knew she was talking to herself as much as her son.
     ‘He's really crazy, you know…Pa is. He'll end up in trouble again sooner or later.’
     ‘Yes I know that, Joseph.’
     ‘But Mick will have to learn the hard way now.’
     ‘He's been doing that already, I think.’ Norah sighed. ‘I just hope and pray he learns some good things along the way, for he's surely learning a lot of bad things. But I can do no more at the moment than pray for him. Right now, I'm just giving thanks for you, and for Rebecca. You did hear about your sister, didn't you?’
     Joseph nodded, a slight grin softening his rugged face.
     ‘I've you to thank for that, Joseph. If you hadn't come to tell me where she was I'd be none the wiser. So thank you so much.’ She reached across the table and took his hands, squeezing them warmly.
     He made no attempt to remove his hands from hers, and even under the tanned, whiskered face she could see him blushing. Her son was home. Reticent and weary, but home.     

Tom realised that Joseph had kept one part of the story from their mother and thought it was right to do so. A shiver of dread crept up his spine as he recalled Joseph's fear about Mick’s final words to Joseph.
     ‘This is not over,’ he’d said. ‘If my brother still thinks I'm stupid, he has another thing coming.’
     Tom was determined to put it to the back of his mind, at least for now. It was time for celebrating and enjoying the good things that had come into their lives, especially his mother's life, for she deserved every moment of joy possible.

The following year was a parade of new babies. Both Kathryn's daughters-in-law as well as Harriet gave birth again before the middle of the year and in August Elizabeth had her third daughter. It had been another difficult birth and a slow recovery for Elizabeth, although Norah guessed that part of her daughter-in-law's lethargy following the baby's arrival was her disappointment that she hadn't given birth to a son as both Isabel and Harriet had. 
     ‘I'm so pleased they've called this one Rebecca.’ Norah and Kathryn were exchanging baby news. ‘Tis a sign that Tom has been able to forgive his sister. He was very angry with her for all those years after she ran off. He knew how much it was hurting me. But he wasn't really surprised that she had to find her own way in the world. She was far too headstrong to grow up gracefully…or compliantly.’  
     Norah chuckled softly, rocking baby Rebecca in her arms. ‘Let's hope this one is a little more like her mother or father in nature.’
     ‘She'll be beautiful. Already is,’ Kathryn cooed. ‘This grandparenting is such a lovely time in our lives, isn't it? I intend to enjoy every minute of it.’
     'Yes, you should, Kathryn. I'm very contented right now, too. All is not perfect, but I feel very blessed. I've just a couple more requests of the good Lord that I hope He'll grant me this side of heaven.'

To be continued... 

Carol Preston

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Forgiving Michael Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-seven

When you give up vengeance, you don’t have togive up on justice.
 Vengeance is our own pleasure of seeing someone who hurt us getting it
back and then some. Justice is secure when someone pays a fair penalty
 for wrongdoing another, even if the injured person takes no
pleasure in the transaction. Vengeance is personal satisfaction.
Justice is moral accounting. Human forgiveness does not go
away with human justice. B. Smedes.

Bowenfels, just near Lithgow, August, 1873
The two figures entering the train were oblivious to the stares that their scruffy appearance was attracting. Three passengers moved to the back of the carriage after a few minutes of sitting behind them, their noses pinched, their eyes rolling. One small boy remarked loudly to his mother that the men surely needed a bath. She referred to the pungent odour they were all enduring as an example of what would happen to him if he should resist the soaping she insisted he have every other day. The ticket officer checked the tickets twice, baffled as to how the pair had afforded the fare. 
     Mick was busy looking out the window, enjoying the passing bushland. He had contemplated this trip for months now and the thought of retrieving the haul that he was sure his Pa had stashed away, left a greedy smirk on his face. Joseph had refused to come with them so, to Mick's mind that meant the rewards would be cut two ways.  Joseph had gone soft lately, he reckoned. Probably letting their mother get to him, the way Tom had, and it made Mick determined that he would never let any woman take over his life. He couldn't imagine ever getting married and he had no intention of getting back under his mother's thumb.
     It would be just him and his Pa now…at least for a while. He felt sure that his Pa wouldn't go back with his mother again. And he didn't seem to have any inclination to hitch up with any other woman. Not that he could imagine his Pa attracting a woman any more. In fact, it was pretty clear to him that his Pa was on the way out, for the old man constantly dribbled and rambled into his beard, even when there was not a person in sight. He would go into rages at the drop of a hat, ranting about someone after him, which was entirely possible, given the number of times they had tricked stupid miners out of their gold or stolen money from them right under their noses.
     Once a man was drunk, he was an easy roll and usually didn't know anything was missing till long after Mick and his father were on their way. A real chip off the old block, his Pa kept saying he was. Just as good as he was himself at fifteen, he'd often said of Mick. Still, over time there were more people who were suspicious and tried to prove the involvement of the Kearns boys in various robberies. So far, they had escaped, but Mick figured, sooner or later, their luck had to run out, no matter how good they were. He wanted something easier and he was sure that's what was waiting for him in Sydney. He was also sure that time was running out to get it. The old man's mind was going, nothing surer. Anything hidden behind those sunken eyes and bushy brows would have to be found out soon or lost forever. And Mick Kearns didn't intend to lose it… whatever it was.  
     He tore his eyes from the blur of trees through which he was sure he could see the ocean in the distance, and turned to his father. Michael's head lolled about with the rhythm of the train's movement across the tracks. His eyes were closed, a thin stream of dribble pooling on the greying collar of his shirt. He snorted in his sleep and Mick decided to leave him be. The old man needed his rest if they were to carry out their plan quickly. They had no spare cash to be hanging about the city, except, of course, for whatever cash might be waiting for them in a box somewhere that the key fitted.
     Mick licked his lips and thought about what a wad of cash would buy him. He wasn't so good at thieving that he would prefer it to buying with cash. Not like his father, who would steal food even when they had cash in their pockets, just for the thrill of it.  Joseph had started talking about the good money being made working on the rail line and in the mines that were springing up everywhere around the Lithgow valley, but that was not easy money, not by a long shot. There had been stories of explosions going wrong when rock had to moved out of the way for the rail line. There were earthfalls and explosions in the mines as well, men losing arms and legs, their eyesight. Accidents every day, it seemed. Just as bad as the gold fields. Mick had no aspirations for that kind of work. He closed his eyes and listened to the clacking of the wheels across the track.  The train was a mighty machine, no doubt about that, he mused as he drifted off to sleep.

They arrived in Sydney late in the evening, darkness slowly enveloping the city, except for the occasional circle of lamp light along George Street. The carriages and carts and horses were thinning as they wandered down the wide street. Michael stared in amazement at the buildings, as if he had never seen any of it before.
     ‘But I thought you lived 'ere for years,’ Mick questioned when his father mumbled about being lost. 
     ‘I did, yer daft beggar. But it were over twenty years ago. Tis changed, so it 'as. I can't tell what's what in this light. In the mornin' it'll be clear. You'll see. I'll know what I'm lookin' for.’
     ‘And what exactly is it that we're lookin' for?’ Mick demanded. He was tired of his father's games and secrets.
     ‘Ah, you'll be waiting to see what's what, sure you will. Don't be touchy about it, or you'll never know.’ Michael let out a loud, half crazed laugh. 
     The few people that were still on the street glared at him suspiciously and Mick hurried him along. It was a warm night, the city air sticky and strong with the scent of horses' droppings.
     ‘I need a drink,’ Michael hissed. His eyes scanned the street searching for a familiar sight. A few moments later, he stopped in front of a small pub. He rifled about in the pocket of his pants, dragging out the last of the coins he had stuffed into it after buying the train ticket. He held them up to the fading light and ascertained that there would be enough to buy a bottle of rum, then disappeared into the pub for a few minutes and came out with a bottle protectively under his arm. 
     ‘For later,’ Mick heard him mumble as he patted the bottle and nodded for his son to keep going. 
     George Street seemed unending to Mick as they trudged on, his father's face vague.  He was beginning to worry that this might be a wild goose chase when his father spoke again. 
     ‘Ah.’ Michael let out a knowing sigh as they came to a cross street. 
     ‘What is it?’ Mick looked about, then back to his father.
     ‘There it be,’ Michael said, nodding at the building across the street. 
     He pointed to a large brick frontage with imposing doors, now closed, but suggesting wealth and power, over which Mick could see something written in broad letters. He could not read it. It hardly looked like a place his father would use to hide something.  He wondered if the old man had really lost his mind altogether. 
     ‘There it be,’ Michael called loudly. His laugh was more of a screech, his enjoyment of the moment seeming demented. Mick pushed him across the road and past the building, the two of them narrowly avoiding ploughing into a man and woman walking down the street arm in arm. They both stood aside quickly, their faces registering contempt as they hurried on. 
     ‘Watch this,’ Michael hissed, his face suddenly trained on a man coming towards them dressed in a tailored coat and top hat. 
     The man swung a cane by his leg jauntily, looking as if he had had a very good day.  That was about to be spoiled, Mick had time to think before his father threw himself sideways into the man, almost knocking him to the ground. The two jostled for a few moments while Michael righted himself, grabbing at the other man who was trying to straighten himself up. He brushed down his clothes, obviously appalled at the smell and grubbiness of the drunken fool who had run into him.
     ‘For God's sake, watch your step, old man. You're disgusting. Get out of my way.’ The man grimaced as he spoke, backing away as soon as he had his balance, barely able to contain himself long enough to reprimand the vagrant. ‘You both should be ashamed.’ He turned his glare onto Mick as he put distance between himself and the two of them, rounding the corner before he had finished his sentence.
     Michael roared again with laughter and held out his hand to Mick, a gold watch glinting in the fading light.
     ‘Pa, you devil. You'll 'ave the police on us. Let's get out of 'ere, quick.’
     Mick dragged his father along the street until they came to an alley. They both ducked off the main road and collapsed onto the dirt, pulling their feet back from the stream of what was likely effluent running along the edge of the building.
     Michael was puffing but still laughing. ‘Tis good, Mick. Tis good to be back. Old Michael's still got it, eh? I've missed these old alleys, so I have. Tis 'ere a man can do what 'e's best at, eh?’
     ‘Never mind that, Pa. You get some rest. We've got things to be about come mornin'.  An' then we'll be out of 'ere, back to where we belong.’
     ‘Ah, but tis 'ere I belong, Mick. Tis 'ere I belong.’ Michael slumped down against the stone wall and drew up his feet, folding his arms over his chest, patting the small bulge of the watch in his fob pocket. 
     There was very little sound now, just the occasional cursing of another homeless, lurching man looking for a place to curl up in the back streets to sleep off the belly full of drink that he had consumed. Mick huddled close to his father, his arm across the pocket of the old man's vest lest someone attack them and steal their means of getting their prize. 
     Michael turned his attention to the bottle of rum under his arm. He sniffed the uncorked rum and sighed loudly.
     ‘Can I 'ave some, too?’ Mick said wearily. His father occasionally gave him a nip these days. A boy had to learn to hold his liquor, he was fond of saying. ‘You'll not be drinkin' all of that by yourself, now will yer?’ Mick held out his hand. 
     Michael passed the bottle to his son, watched as he gulped at it, then pulled it back to his own mouth. Between them they emptied the bottle within minutes and settled down into a slack heap of arms and legs, leaning into each other and sliding further down the wall slowly until they were sprawled on the ground deep in sleep.

Tom was sure neither of them had noticed him walking down George Street on the opposite side of the street, watching them unobtrusively, his hat low over his forehead, his head turned carefully to avoid his face being seen by them. Seeing them now huddled against the wall, he quietly crossed the street half a block beyond the alley and slowly made his way back towards it. 
     He thought how much they looked alike, lying there, his father's upper body resting across his brother's back, their faces crumpled, their dark hair trailing from under their hats. The smell was foul, though obviously appealing to rodents, Tom mused, as he watched a rat approach, its nose twitching. It crawled carefully across his father's boot and started up the leg of his pants, its tiny face turning this way and that, oblivious to its audience. It sniffed around Michael's pocket and neckchief, even poked its snout into the matted mass of beard. Michael snored loudly, undisturbed, and the rat turned and ran quickly across his chest and onto the ground, finding the stream of stinking waste on the other side of the alley more palatable. Tom carefully pulled open the flap of his father's vest and reached into the inside pocket. It was quite deep and as he pulled his hand free Michael stirred but did not wake. 

Two nights later Tom sat in the Pollard's parlour.
     ‘How could you not open it?’ Kathryn stared at her son-in-law in amazement.
     ‘It's yours isn't it?’
     ‘Yes, it is.’ Hamlet spoke quietly, having sat speechless while Tom told them how he had followed his brother and father up George Street, watched Michael point at the bank and then stolen the key as the two of them slept in an alley. He had gone to the bank first thing the following morning and shown them the key. He told the bank manager that his father was too old to come to town and retrieve the jewellery he had put away years ago for safe keeping. The manager had no qualms about him having access to the safe deposit box, relieved to have someone claim its contents. It was always a dilemma for them to know what to do with unclaimed goods. The small tin box inside was shut tight.  Tom had been too anxious to get out of the bank and on his way home to think of opening it there. When he was safely in the train, he considered it, but decided it belonged to Hamlet and Kathryn and they should be the ones to open it.
     ‘I don't know what to say,’ Hamlet continued, his voice unsteady. 
     Kathryn patted his back and nodded for him to open the box. His heart thumping, he reached out tentatively, afraid what he had longed to see again all these years would not be there. He breathed in deeply, controlling his emotions and took the box in his large hands, prising the edges apart and pulling the top off. 
     Kathryn and Elizabeth leaned forward over the table straining to see. Tom watched Hamlet's face, silently praying for an expression of joy and not disappointment. When there was a collective gasp around the table, Tom turned his gaze to the box.
     ‘Dear God!’ Kathryn looked at her husband in shock.
     The glint of gold from inside the box took their breath away. There were numerous gold watches, chains and bracelets, cuff links and a snuff box. They watched as Kathryn gently removed item after item and laid them on the table. The money at the bottom was just as Hamlet had left it. A thin ribbon, now almost decayed, was still tied around a wad of notes. Several coins lay underneath, though perhaps not quite as many as had been there before Michael and Norah's visit to Campbelltown all those years ago. And amongst the coins…Hamlet's mother's sweet face looked up at them from the small gilt-edged brooch. Hamlet looked at the brooch for a long time, tears running down his cheeks.
     ‘See, Elizabeth,’ he said when he could speak. ‘It's the image of you.’ His face broke into a broad smile even as tears continued to drip onto the table.
     Elizabeth turned on her stool and buried her face in Tom’s chest. ‘I can't believe it,’ she said through her own tears. 
     ‘Oh, Tom, thank you.’ Kathryn was also crying.
     ‘I'll never be able to thank you enough,’ Hamlet whispered, unable to control his voice. He was still staring at the brooch, too moved even to pick it up.
     ‘You don't have to thank me, Hamlet. It's enough to see this back in the family. I'm just sorry it's been so long.’
     ‘Tis here now and in time for Hamlet to pass it to Elizabeth, just as he's always wanted,’ Kathryn said. ‘It was always meant to be a keepsake, so that our children and your children would not forget Hamlet's mother's love and trust in her son. Tis a blessing from God that we've got it back, sure it is.’
     ‘I hope she knows,’ Hamlet whispered.
     ‘Sure she will, my love. She'll be rejoicing with us now, sure enough.’
     ‘But what about all these other things?’ Elizabeth said through her tears. ‘Are they yours as well, Ma?’
     ‘No, Elizabeth, they're not. Except for the money. That was our savings, what we were going to buy the farm with.’ She picked up the bundle of notes. It's still quite a bit of money, Hamlet.’
     ‘It's something to give the children now…to help them along.’ He pushed his hands through his hair and rubbed his eyes, still hardly able to believe what he was seeing. He picked up the brooch and studied it lovingly.
     ‘So the other jewellery is someone else's?’ Tom sighed. ‘Poor devils.’
     ‘Likely not poor,’ Hamlet said. ‘Your father would have targeted the wealthy, picked their pockets on the streets or broken into their homes at night and raided their jewellery boxes. No doubt they'd have missed these things but there's nothing personal on any of them to indicate who they might have belonged to. And goodness knows how long they've been in this box. I doubt your father has been back to Sydney in all these years.’
     ‘What will we do with them?’ Kathryn looked around the small group.
     ‘I'd say they're Norah's,’ Hamlet announced after a moment. ‘Whatever Michael had should be passed onto her. God knows he gave her little enough over the years. She might as well have these now. She might be able to sell some of it…the watches at least.’
     ‘I don't think Norah will want any part of these,’ Kathryn cut in. ‘They're stolen goods. And you know how she felt about Michael's thieving. It broke her heart.’
     ‘Yes, I think it would distress her,’ Tom agreed. ‘But we are going to have to tell her something. If Elizabeth's to have this brooch –’
     ‘I think Ma should keep the brooch for now. You've not had the enjoyment of it, Ma,’ Elizabeth added quickly, before her mother could object. ‘Pa should have the pleasure of his mother's lovely face for a while. He's been deprived of it all these years.’
     Hamlet smiled gratefully at his daughter. ‘It would be nice.’ Reaching for Kathryn’s hand, he grinned. ‘But I suspect your mother is not going to agree to it, and I have to admit that to see you have it seems the right thing.’
     ‘Exactly.’ Kathryn nodded. ‘The brooch was always meant for our daughters and our granddaughters. That was your grandmother's wish, Elizabeth. I had a great deal of pleasure wearing the brooch before it was stolen. Besides, you have daughters of your own now. The years go by very quickly. Catherine and Marianne will be women before you know it and having children of their own. Then it'll be time to pass it on again.’
     Before his daughter could speak again, Hamlet reached out and pinned the brooch to her blouse, his eyes filling again with tears as he stood back and looked at it.
     Tom patted Elizabeth's arm gently, signalling she should not argue. Then he turned back to the box. ‘What do you suggest we do with the other things?’ he asked. 
     ‘I think Pa's right. They belong to your mother,’ Elizabeth said. ‘At least the benefit of them. I think we should trust her with the truth and let her decide what to do with these things.’
     ‘Good, and we'll share the money amongst the children. Not that it'll be a great deal for each, but something of an inheritance.’ Hamlet sighed. 
     ‘Don't you talk of inheritances, Hamlet Pollard. That's what family gets when you die.  And I'll not hear of that just yet.’
     ‘Well, my dear. I'm nearly seventy. It's a fair age for children to expect to benefit from their inheritance. What else would we do with it? We've everything we need.’
     ‘We do, my love. But let's think of this as a gift to our children. Tis a blessing to be able to give them a gift. An inheritance cost much more.’
     ‘I hate to break the spirit of all this but I'm wondering what Mick and his Pa will be doing right now,’ Elizabeth said cautiously. ‘Do you think they had any idea who took the key, Tom?’
     ‘Not unless they went to the bank to see if someone picked up the box.’
     ‘My guess is they won't do that,’ Hamlet said. ‘They wouldn't want an inquiry into the whole thing, would they?’
     ‘Perhaps not,’ Tom said. ‘So let's assume they don't know it was me until we learn differently, but we need to be careful all the same. If they were to come back looking for it again…well I'm not sure what they're capable of. I know Joseph wants to stay out of it now. I think he might even start work on the railways with me. He's had enough of Mick and Pa's antics.’
     ‘So, the next thing is to talk to your mother…just as soon as she gets home from Forbes. I'd like to be with you, Tom,’ Kathryn said. ‘She'll find it hard to understand why I kept this from her all these years. I hope she'll be able to forgive me. I couldn't bear to lose her friendship.’
     ‘I doubt that could ever happen,’ Tom assured her. ‘Ma's the forgiving type. I think she's proved that already.’

To be continued....

Carol Preston