‘My mother was heartbroken for as long as I can remember, Hamlet, but I know she'd be happy for me now,’ Kathryn said. ‘It seems right to name my first daughter for her. Are you sure you’re all right with it?’
‘Of course I am, my love. The only better name would be that of the little one's own mother but we'll have another to name Kathryn before long I'm sure."
‘You might give me a short break, Hamlet Pollard, for I'll be worn out with birthing, so I will, the way you talk.’ She grinned up at him.
‘Ah, you're a natural. Not like some of these poor women who are sick as dogs and then lose half their babies. I think you're built for mothering.’
‘I'm not sure that's a compliment.’ She giggled. ‘I know I've added a few pounds lately but it's the contentment, so it is. Anyway, you should not be so smug in our good fortune, for tragedy comes to all and we'll not be escaping it forever. When the bad times come, we'll have to be trusting God to see us through.’
‘We've both had our share of that already, Kathryn, so let's hope the good Lord will spare us more.’
‘What are you thinking, Hamlet?’ Kathryn responded to the sudden sadness in his face.
‘I was thinking of my mother. She'd have been very proud too…I hope.’
‘Why, of course she'd be proud.’ Kathryn reached for his hand.
‘I've something to show you, Kathryn. I've been ashamed to talk about it, but wait, I'll be right back.’
‘I'm not likely to be going anywhere just at the moment, sure I'm not.’ Kathryn smiled and nestled the baby close to her breast as Hamlet laid her down.
When he returned a few moments later, he sat down on the side of the bed, holding his closed hand out. Kathryn looked at him quizzically and opened her palm. She gasped as he laid a small brooch in her fingers. It was oval shaped and rimmed with fine gold lacework.
‘Hamlet, tis beautiful. And the picture? She's so lovely.’
‘It's my mother.’ His voice almost broke. ‘When I was in prison in
, one of my brothers came to see me and gave it to me. Mother wanted me to have it. She was unwell at the time. I believe she knew she'd not recover. She told my brother to let me know she'd been praying for me, that she believed in me. She believed that I'd come out of prison and make a good life for myself. She hoped I'd find a fine wife and have lots of children. My brother said she wanted me to keep this brooch, so I'd always remember that she forgave me for whatever wrong I'd done and that she'd always love me.’ England
Hamlet’s eyes never left the brooch as he spoke. His eyes were brimming with tears. ‘She wanted this to be passed down to her grandchildren and great grandchildren.’ Hamlet paused and then looked into Kathryn's face. ‘I've been so ashamed. I let her down. She was gone when I got out of prison and I did everything except what she wanted for me. She believed in me and…I let her down.’
‘For a time…in your grief, perhaps,’ Kathryn said softly. ‘But look at you now. Everything she hoped for, so you are. She'd be very proud, Hamlet.’
‘I want you to have the brooch, Kathryn. I want you to wear it, to remind me that I'm promising Mother, and you, that I'll do all I can to deserve her belief in me…and yours.’
‘Oh, Hamlet, no. Tis for our daughter, so it is, for your mother's grandchildren.’
‘One day, yes. But for now I want you to have it. You're the reason I'll be able to be what Mother wanted. It's you who'll give me daughters, you who'll help me make a good life for our family.’
Kathryn closed her fingers around the brooch. Her own eyes now filled with tears. ‘What was her name?’
. Her name was Elizabeth .’ Elizabeth
‘Then surely we ought to call this little one
…after her.’ Elizabeth
‘No, let's wait. I want this baby to be called after your mother. There'll be plenty more. We've lots of time, a whole lifetime.’
Parramatta Street, Sydney, Norah sat alone, her heart breaking. She had pleaded with Michael to relent and marry her, for she was pregnant again and this time she was sure God would only spare her child if she was a married woman. She knew she was living in sin, a sin that the priests of her childhood would have condemned out of hand. She knew they would tell her that her second pregnancy had ended in the womb as a punishment for her flouting of God's laws. She was terrified for little Rebecca, now nearly two years old and seemingly very robust. But what might happen to her if she and Michael continued in their disobedience? Wasn't it bad enough that Michael supported her by stealing? How could he see her so distraught and not marry her? He had laughed off her concerns and gone to the pub.
She fossicked in the cupboard for something to feed Rebecca, who was clinging to her leg, whining. She did not wait too long when she felt a need, this little one. So much like her father, Norah mused. If things didn't go her way, she stamped her feet and screeched, and once she got what she wanted, she would be as sweet as apple pie. Norah knew she spoiled her daughter, giving in to her far too much, but she was such a beguiling little thing; her dark curls bouncing around her face, framing her rosy cheeks and large green eyes. Norah couldn't walk down the street without everyone cooing and admiring the little girl. And Michael was worse, treating the child as if she deserved to have her every whim. He had taken to bringing home little trinkets he thought Rebecca might enjoy playing with, which only detracted from what little they had to pay the rent and buy food.
Now there was another child on the way and Norah was frightened. She had only been three months along when she had lost the second and then she thought that she might die in the process, so horrible it was. Mary Cregan had complained about her crying out in pain, saying it happened all the time and that she should not be making such a fuss. When he had been unable to make her laugh, Michael had gone out on his usual nightly jaunt, leaving her alone and in agony. He had been very sorry the next day, when he realised how upset she was, and tried his best to comfort her. He could be so loving, so attentive, but soon resorted to trying to jolly her out of her mood, for he much preferred to be joking and having fun than being serious about anything.
‘Right then, we'll do it.’ Michael was barely through the door and his words were hardly slurred so it seemed that he had not been drinking too much at all.
‘Do what?’ Norah said, looking up from her mending. The cracked lantern gave little light but she needed to mend her blouse for it was the only thing she had that would be cool enough to wear in the summer heat.
‘Get married, what else, yer daft girl?’ Michael came toward her, grinning when she squealed with joy. ‘Joseph shamed me into it, so he did. Said he was tired of lookin' at yer long face and that a man needed to keep 'is woman happy, if 'e were to 'ave any peace.’
‘Michael, do you mean it?’ Norah’s heart leapt. ‘You were dead set against it, so you were. Are you sure tis not just that you've had too much to drink?’
‘Sure and I've 'ad 'ardly a drink at all, for Joseph dragged me from the pub before I 'ad a chance. Said I was far too forthcomin' about our 'business'. But what's a little braggin', eh? Lets people know they can't put it over ol' Michael Kearns. Joseph thinks I give too much away but aren't we doin' alright, then?’
‘Actually, no, Michael, we're not doing well at all, sure we're not, for we've hardly enough to eat most of the time and look at where we're living? What are we going to do when this wee one arrives? We've not got enough room for the three of us now.’
Norah glanced at Rebecca, asleep in the corner, and lowered her voice.’Joseph might do all right but if you ask me, he and Mary keep more to themselves than we ever see.’
‘Now, girl, don't be complainin', for Joseph 'as the contacts, you see, and without 'im, I'd not be able to sell what I bring in. And 'e lets us stay 'ere for just a wee bit.’
‘Oh, Michael, you've no idea how bad this is, sure you don't, for you've never had a decent place to live in your life, have you?’
‘Decent is a bed and a roof over yer 'ead, luv. What else do you need? We 'ave fun, don't we?’ He moved closer and pulled Norah in his arms. He was only just over five feet tall but his body was stocky and hard, dwarfing her fine frame. ‘Now, do you want to marry me, or what? I thought you'd be excited, sure I did.’
She nestled into his neck. ‘I am, Michael, sure I am. But I'd rather you marry me because you want to, than because Joseph shamed you. I want us to be happy. Look at wee Rebecca. She deserves a real family, does she not?’
‘And you'll both 'ave what you want for you know I adore you, but I'll not be goin' into a Catholic church to be married. I made that clear to Joseph too.’
‘What on earth are you saying? We're both Catholic and now that there's Catholic priests here of course we should be married in our own church.’ Norah pulled away from him, frowning.
‘I'll not, an' that's an end to it, for didn't I speak to the local Father in the pub just last week, and didn't 'e tell me that I'd more to do than marry before I'd 'ave the blessing of God? Said I'd have to go to confession for weeks and change the way I'm livin',… said Rebecca would die a 'eathen and we'd all be damned to hell. The cheek of 'im, and I'd not give 'im the satisfaction of askin' 'im again. I'll be damned if I'll be goin' to confession for aren't I only doin' what I've always done to survive an' if not I'd be long dead? If God don't like that then let 'im be damned too.’
‘Michael, you mustn't speak like that.’ Norah gasped and crossed herself as she spoke. ‘If we need to go to confession, is it so much to ask? Michael, please, for my sake and Rebecca's. We could have her baptised. I'm sure it's not too late.’
‘We'll not and I'll talk about it no more. Joseph said John McGarvie was a decent fella, so he did. A Scot, an' 'appy to marry those who want to make a go of it, whatever their religion. So tis
St Andrews or nothin', girl. We'll be legally wed and that should satisfy you, for I'll not step foot in a Catholic church where they're condemin' a man for survivin'.’
Rebecca stirred and Norah moved to her side, nodding at Michael as she went. She felt happy and sad all at the same time. She would go to confession herself and pray that God would forgive her, that He would accept her marriage to Michael, even if it wasn't in the true church. Surely, He would prefer that to how it was now. She had to think of her babies and perhaps this was a first step. If they were legally married, perhaps things would begin to go better for them. She knelt down and patted her daughter, soothing her back to sleep.
Michael and Norah were married on
October, 26th, 1846. Joseph and Mary Cregan stood beside the couple, dressed in their best clothes, meagre as they were. Michael had brought home a pretty white blouse for Norah. A wedding gift, he had said, and she didn't ask where he got it. She never asked any more, for the answers were never what she wanted to hear. He had also turned up on the day of the wedding in a black top hat; the kind that all the nobs were wearing. He thought it would mark the occasion appropriately and although it looked rather out of place with his baggy pants and ragged shirt, Norah was pleased that he had made an effort to make their day special.
In June the following year, Norah presented Michael with his son, Thomas. She had a gruelling fifteen hours of labour, sweat pouring from every part of her body, but twenty minutes after the birth, she was shivering again, dragging her thin blankets up around her throat and over the wee newborn beside her. He had been quiet about his entry into the world, unlike his sister, and now he nestled close to her breast, his tiny mouth suckling, his fists clenched tight to his face. Norah was frightened that she would not be able to keep him warm enough. She could hear the wind whistling around the building, and feel the bite of it as it found its way through the walls and circled their bed on the cold floor. Michael lay beside her, totally enamoured with his boy child.
‘We'll be fine, sure we will, me luv. You wait an' see. I won't let this wee man down, for 'e's a
Kearns, so 'e is. He'll carry on the Kearns name. I want 'im to be proud.’ Michael stroked the tiny face gently.
‘I'm glad,’ Norah whispered, sleepily. ‘I want him to be proud, too.’
In October, Michael and Norah stood in the Catholic Church in the
East Sydney, watching as Father Roche baptised first Rebecca and then Thomas. Norah beamed as she watched Michael take the baby back from the priest's arms. She tugged Rebecca's hand as the three-year-old strained to look into the baptismal bowl, wondering what had been poured on her head. She was hard to constrain, pulling determinedly at Norah’s hand and shuffling her feet about noisily. Michael was oblivious to anything but the small face of his son. His expression was gentle, his hands protective. Norah enjoyed seeing Michael like this. It was the best side of his nature, the part of him she loved.
Her hopes soared as she remembered how quickly Michael had agreed to have the children baptised in the Catholic Church, once Thomas had come along. They had found a little church on the Eastern side of Sydney, and a priest Michael found easier to speak with, perhaps because Father Roche knew nothing of Michael's lifestyle. They were legally married now; a couple with two children, wanting to do what was right in God's sight and the priest was more than happy to oblige. The fact that Michael presented himself as a carrier, who moved around considerably in his work and had not been able to settle into regular church worship, may or may not have fooled the priest, but Norah was just grateful that they were being obedient to God's will. Surely, it was another step along the way to their better life.
‘Do you think we could visit Kathryn some time soon?’
Norah thought Michael might be amenable in his current good mood. They had just arrived home from the baptism, Michael having carried Thomas all the way, cooing at the little bundle, smiling at passers by, even showing his son off to a couple of nobs as they strolled down Parramatta Street. Rebecca had jumped and prattled all the way, trying to get a response from her father, for she had never found it this hard to hold his attention. When they closed the door of their tiny room, she flounced to the corner to play with a small trinket he had brought home for her a few months before. She turned her back on him, as if to punish him for ignoring her but Michael had noticed none of it. Norah was amazed at how taken he was with Thomas.
‘Michael, you've not answered me. Do you think we could visit – ’
‘One minute, me luv. Thomas is just about asleep, so I'll put 'im down and then we can talk, eh?’
Michael lay the baby in the small wooden crib, another addition to their little room which looked brand new and had come complete with baby rug and a feathery cushion. Thomas sighed and settled into a deep sleep.
‘Now, me pet, what is it you're askin'?’
‘You know how I've always wanted to go and visit my friend, Kathryn, who lives in Campbelltown. She has two little ones as well, and another soon to come. She wrote again this month and would so love us to visit. I told her about our Rebecca and Thomas and, well, t'would be grand to see her and…just to be out in the county air for a day. We could catch the coach, couldn't we? I'm sure it would be good for Thomas and Rebecca for they need to be out in the sunshine more.’
‘And what does this Kathryn's husband do?’
‘Pardon?’ Norah was thrown by the question. ‘Oh, he's the overseer of the farm where they live. He's an exconvict but apparently he's done very well for himself. Oh, Michael, I didn't mean to imply you've not, sure I didn't. I'm just repeating what Kathryn has told me about Hamlet.’
‘Hamlet, eh?’ Michael murmured. ‘Not Irish then, so I'm not surprised 'e's done well, for don't the English get all the chances? Right then, perhaps we will visit. I'll arrange it, me pet, sure I will. Don't worry yourself about it anymore.’
Michael was strangely quiet as he peeled off his good vest, donned his street clothes and headed out. Norah had learned not to ask where he was going and busied herself with preparing some food for Rebecca.
‘You get the wee ones ready, eh? I'll be back before you know it and we'll be 'eading for the 'ills, so we will.’ Michael chortled as he dragged up his britches and pulled on his boots.
It was very early on a Sunday morning and Norah was barely awake. She rolled over on the lumpy mattress and stretched.
‘Ready for what, Michael? Sure, I don't know what you're rushing for. Rebecca and Thomas are still sleeping and isn't that a blessing? Tis only an hour or so since I was up feeding Thomas. Couldn't we lie in for a bit?’
‘Not today, Norah, for didn't you want to visit yer friend? And today's the day. Tis all arranged. You get yourself an' the wee ones looking their best, you hear? Be ready when I get back, an' it won't be long, sure it won't.’ He chuckled again as if he had a secret.
‘What are you up to, Michael?’
But Michael was disappearing out the door even as she began to stand from her bed. The slam of the rickety boarded door woke Rebecca and she pulled a disgruntled face and sat up, rubbing her eyes.
‘Where's Pa goin'?’ she yawned.
‘I'm not sure, my sweet, but we must get ourselves dressed for it seems your father has a plan he's not shared with us and we need to be ready for it.’
‘I'm hungry.’ Rebecca pushed her unruly curls from her face and rubbed her stomach.
‘I know, my darling. I'll see what I can find for you now. Thomas is waking. Will you just give him a wee cuddle while I get your clothes?’
Norah pulled on her skirt and rummaged through the basket beside her bed for her white blouse. If they were to be visiting Kathryn today she wanted to look her best. As she shook out her blouse she noticed Rebecca grimace at her tiny brother and roll the opposite way. She shook her head sadly but said nothing.
She had dressed the children, fed Rebecca a few crusts with jam and was just brushing her hair when Michael burst through the door, letting in a stream of bright sunshine.
‘Let's be away, girl. Quick now. Your carriage awaits.’
Michael was beaming as he bowed deeply and pointed to the door. He ignored Norah's shocked expression, swept Thomas into his arms, blanket and all, and held the door open with his foot as he motioned for Rebecca to move outside.
Norah stepped out of the alley way onto the narrow path in front of Cregan's house. The horse and cart that stood in front of her blocked the passage onto the road and Michael was settling Thomas into a crate behind the front bench.
‘Where on earth…?’ she stuttered.
‘Up yer 'op, both you girls, and no gabbin' or we'll miss our chance for a day out, sure we will. An' just look at that sky, Norah, me luv. A perfect summer's day, is it not? I promised yer a visit to yer friend, an' I'm not a man to go back on a promise. Now, close yer mouth and 'old onto Rebecca. Thomas is snug as a bug, eh?"
He beamed at Norah and Rebecca beside her, glanced at the baby behind them and then clicked his tongue loudly at the horse as he jerked at the reins. The horse trotted obediently down the lane and turned onto the road west to Campbelltown.
Rebecca twittered most of the journey about small animals she spotted at the side of the road. Norah couldn't think of a thing to say, so she listened to the banter between Michael and their daughter, partly amazed that Michael could sound so knowledgeable about the sights of the country for they had never ventured out here before, partly preparing herself for the excitement of seeing Kathryn, and at the same time holding back the myriad of questions which plagued her mind about how they lived and what their future held. The questions were always there, always niggling at her, arousing a fear she worked hard to push away. She must keep them at bay today for, she wanted Kathryn to see that she was happy, that she had made good choices. Oh, if only she could believe she had.
To be continued....
Carol can be found at www.carolpreston.com.au www.amazon.com/author/carolpreston www.facebook.com/writingtoreach