Sunday, 26 August 2012

Forgiving Michael Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine

None of us want to admit that we hate someone. When we deny our hate we detour around the crisis of forgiveness, we suppress our spite, make adjustments, and make believe we are too good to be hateful. But the truth is that we do not dare to risk admitting the hate we feel because we do not dare to risk forgiving the person we hate. Lewis Smedes.                                                    

Stoney Creek, May, 1853

James Pollard was eight years old now and he was trying not to be frightened. Beyond the door to the bedroom he could hear muffled voices. He was doing his best his best to keep his younger brother and sisters amused, for he knew something very bad was happening with his mother. He had thought by now that they would have another brother or sister. A few days ago his mother had told him it would be soon but when she called him yesterday and told him to get his father, she shrieked at him, which wasn't like her at all. He had known something was very wrong. Now his parents were in the next room, where they had been for hours. Old Mrs Foley was with them and kept shooing his Pa out. James had fed Johnny, Mary Ann and Elizabeth some soup, which had been bubbling on the stove when his mother's trouble had started. He had played as many games with them as he could think of and now he was getting really worried.
     The last time his father came out of the room, he carried a small bundle which James was sure had blood on it, even though his father tried to hide it. If his mother was bleeding, then it must be bad, for he remembered when he cut his foot just after Christmas, there had been a lot of blood and his mother had rushed him inside and bathed his foot in some stuff that stung a lot and then bound it up tight and made him sit for the rest of the afternoon with his leg on a chair. He had heard his mother crying earlier, so perhaps she had to have some of that stuff on her as well. He wished his father would come out again and tell him his mother was all right now because he was starting to feel sick in the stomach. 

‘It was too soon, Hamlet. I knew it was too soon but I couldn't stop it…I'm so sorry.’
Kathryn tried to push away the damp hair that was plastered around her forehead. It was hard to speak. Her mouth was dry and her lips felt like they were stuck together.
     ‘Shush now, luv,’ Hamlet said. ‘You just rest. What matters is that you get well.  I couldn't bear it if you –’
     ‘Don't you be talking like that.’ Kathryn pushed the words out. ‘I'll be fine in a few days, sure I will.’ She breathed in deeply. ‘It was a boy, wasn't it?’
     Hamlet didn't answer for a few moments and then he nodded his head slowly. ‘It was, but you're not to think about that now. I'll get you some broth.’
     Kathryn could see that his eyes were full as he rose. He turned towards the door, his hand slipping from hers as he moved away.
     A child conceived in such joy and so quickly leaving another space for mourning.  They were going to call him Hamlet. She closed her eyes and imagined her baby boy in the arms of an angel.
     ‘Not meant for this world, my darling child. I'll have to wait until the next life to see you, sure I will,’ she whispered to herself as she drifted into sleep. 

     Kathryn remained listless and sad through the cold, bleak winter but as Spring approached, the colour was back in her cheeks. They were feasting on fresh fruit and vegetables from the garden. Hamlet and James had caught eels in the creek, which she thought she could never eat but in fact found very tasty. Their chickens were laying plenty of eggs and the cow was resplendent with milk. Kathryn felt enlivened by the cascade of colours in the trees and shrubs around their cottage. Soft yellow and deep golden wattles were prolific on the property. Grevilleas burst into spidery flowers and dots of coloured wild flowers were beginning to cover the grass. Before the first week of Spring had passed, she knew she was pregnant again. 
     ‘We'll have our first calves before Christmas,’ Hamlet boasted. ‘And I'll take one of the originals in to be slaughtered. We'll have our own beef soon and plenty to dry and keep. I wish we had a whole paddock of stock, hundreds of them, but that's too much to dream of, isn't it? Once we might have dreamed of such a property but now – ’
     ‘Come, Hamlet, let's not look back. We've made a good start here, and who knows what we'll build up to.’
     ‘Not here, love. It's not enough land for too many head of stock.’ Hamlet dropped into his chair, and sniffed at the smell of the stew on the stove. ‘Now, what are you so bright about tonight? I can see you're feeling good about something.’
     ‘I can't keep much from you, can I now?’ She smiled and touched her stomach gently. 
     ‘Ah,’ he said, grinning. ‘Then you'll be leaving the gardening to me this Spring, eh?’

A week later, Kathryn was packing the back of the cart with fresh vegetables, bottles of fruit jam, baskets of eggs and a platter of cheeses.
     ‘I'm not sure about you driving in there on your own, Kathryn.’ Hamlet frowned. ‘It's a fair ride and bumpy over that track.’
     ‘I won't be on my own, sure I won't, for I'm taking the girls with me and we'll be just fine. A little bump or two at this stage will do no harm and I have so much here that I might as well get a few pennies for it. I'll stop at O'Connell and catch the passers by.  There's a steady stream of people travelling into Bathurst these days, so the neighbours say. We'll be home well before dark so you're not to worry, and sure, you and the boys have some fencing to fix.’
     By mid afternoon, Kathryn was well pleased with her sales and just about to head for home when a cart pulled up just a little past the front of her own. A woman climbed awkwardly from the bench and Kathryn could see, even from the back, that the woman was very largely pregnant. A stocky, dark haired man sat on the bench, holding the reins of the horse and there were children bobbing up and down in the back, amidst a pile of goods. The woman wore a large brimmed hat and came towards Kathryn slowly, her gait clumsy.
     Kathryn was just thinking how unwise she was to be out and about at such a late stage in pregnancy, when she recognised something very familiar about the woman.
     ‘Norah?’ she gasped. ‘Is that you?  It is, sure it is, oh, my Lord.’ She walked quickly to bridge the few feet that were now between them and reached around Norah's wide girth to hug her.
     ‘I knew it was you, sure I did…as soon as I saw you there,’ Nora said, excitedly. ‘I told Michael, that's Kathryn, so I did, and he said I was daft and didn't want to pull up but I insisted. What on earth are you doing way out here? And look at these two little beauties now.’ She waved at the two girls playing at the side of the cart.
     Mary Ann looked up and smiled briefly and then turned her attention back to her small sister, for it was her job to take care of Elizabeth and the eighteen-month-old's attention could be taken very quickly by any small animal on the side of the road. 
     ‘We live near here,’ Kathryn answered, looking Norah up and down. ‘A couple of miles down the Fish River.’
     ‘You do?’ Norah's face was incredulous. ‘Why, we live along Wiseman's Creek, about seven miles south of here. I can't believe it, sure I can't. When…how long…?’ Norah stumbled over her words, her eyes wide with excitement.
     ‘Hamlet and I arrived in the spring of fifty-two. We've a small property now.’
     ‘We were here in February of that same year, so we were.’ Norah nodded, her red curls bobbing around her chin. ‘And all this time I had no idea. Oh, Kathryn, how odd…and how wonderful. Why, we're practically neighbours. Michael and I were on the gold fields north of here for a bit and then, well, he had a little luck and we took a lease on a property. Just a wee hut and a couple of fields. It was in pretty poor condition when we arrived but now we've done a few improvements…put on an extra room.’ She looked down and patted her enlarged belly. 
     ‘And when are you due, for you look like it could be any minute?’
     ‘Sure, it will be in the next couple of weeks. I'm a bit nervous for I've not been alone before…but there's Mrs Foley just down the road. She'll help me, I'm sure.’
     ‘I wish I could be there for you.’ Kathryn reached for Norah’s hand.
     ‘Now don't you worry. I'll be fine. But you must come and visit me sometime.’
     ‘I will,’ Kathryn announced definitely, although her mind was racing with how she would tell Hamlet about this meeting. ‘I'm pregnant myself and I'd not want to go through it alone either. I had Mrs Foley come to me last year…but sadly, it wasn't to be.’
     ‘I'm so sorry, Kathryn…but you must have quite a tribe by now. For it must be six years since I've seen you and…sure this must be Mary Ann?’ She beamed at the young girl who was still focussed on her sister's antics. ‘And you had James and the twins…and this wee one, what's her name?’
     Kathryn’s voice caught in her throat. ‘Uh, no…we lost the twins, Norah. Fever took them when they were very small.’ She took a deep breath. ‘We've just got these two and two boys.  What about you?’
     ‘Just the two still. I lost a little one a couple of years ago…on the gold fields.’ Norah’s face dropped. ‘And I've lost a few at birth.’ She held her stomach protectively.  ‘I'm praying the good Lord will grant me a healthy one now.’
     ‘Oh, I wish I was closer. I'd come, sure I would, Norah. I'm so sorry about your losses. I know how hard it is.’
     ‘Of course you do, for how tragic for you to lose those precious baby twins. If I'd only known. All this time, Kathryn, I’ve…I'm so happy to see you, sure I am. And how is Hamlet?’
     ‘He's fine…working very hard to make something of the little plot we have, as I'm sure Michael is.’
     Norah glanced back at their cart. Michael was still facing away from her. Kathryn could see the children were fidgeting in the back of the cart.
     ‘I'll be off now,’ Norah said. ‘The children will be agitated. It'd be grand to see you again soon. I come in here often on a Tuesdays to get a few supplies, so perhaps…when I've got this one out and about, that is.’ She smiled and rubbed her stomach. ‘Perhaps we might meet up here sometime?’
     ‘Oh, yes, I'll be sure to remember…Tuesdays. Now, here, take some of this with you, for I'm about to head home and I'm not wanting to take it back with me. We have plenty more.’ She held out a bottle of jam and a bag of vegetables.
     Norah shook her head. ‘I couldn't, Kathryn, for I've no money. We spent the last of what we had in Kelso…and I've some vegetables in the plot at home as well.’
     ‘Just some jam then, for we've loads of fruit on the trees and it's very good, even if I say so myself. The children will love it, I’m sure.’
     ‘All right, I will, and thank you. I've bought some fruit trees myself, just now in town.  I've been wanting to put them in since…well, it's taken us a while to get set up.  Thank you.’ Norah took three bottles of jam into the crook of her arm and leaned over and kissed Kathryn on the cheek before she turned and waddled back to her cart.

     ‘Looks like you did well, my love,’ Hamlet said as Kathryn put the few remaining vegetables and bottles of jam back in the pantry. ‘Such an enterprising wife I have.’
     ‘It was an interesting day, sure it was, Hamlet,’ she said tentatively. ‘Very interesting, indeed.’
     ‘Oh?’ Hamlet said, and waited. When she didn't speak, he went on. ‘Well, tell me what you've got bubbling away there.’
     ‘There's something I need to tell you about, sure there is. You'd best sit down.’
     Kathryn watched Hamlet's face tense as she spoke of seeing Norah. His eyes were dark, his jaw clenched and when he spoke it was through gritted teeth.
     ‘Where were they headed? Probably off to the gold fields knowing that one. He'd not be one for farming. Dear God, I hope they were just passing through. I swear I'd not be able to contain myself if I ran into him. Every time I think of my dear mother's face on that brooch I could – ’
     ‘Hamlet, please stay calm,’ Kathryn soothed, rethinking quickly what she had been about to say. ‘Yes, Norah did say something about the gold fields. I'm sure you'll not have to see the man about here. It was just lovely for me to see Norah again though, to see that she's well…and she seems happy. Now, we won't talk of it again. You must try and let it go…please. It's not good to stay angry.’
     ‘I know, my love. I'll have to pray that God gives me a forgiving heart. When I think of that man I realise I’m still as angry as ever I was with him.’ He put his arms around Kathryn and squeezed her gently.
     Kathryn hated to deceive him but she was afraid what he might do if he knew that the man who still haunted his sleep was living just a few miles away. 

     Two weeks later as Hamlet was showing the children how to milk the cow, Kathryn came into the barn, wiping her hands on her apron.
     ‘I need to go into O'Connell for a few things, Hamlet. And there's a woman who lives close by that I need to drop in on. I think she'll be able to help me…when my time comes.’
     ‘Fine, love. Just watch yourself on that track. We could all go if – ’
     ‘I can't be talking to the woman about birthing with all you lot about. No, you just look after the children for a bit and I'll be back later on.’ Kathryn tried to keep her voice light. She hated herself for lying but she had been thinking about Norah and needed to see she was all right. ‘The children had a big breakfast so some bread and cheese will do for lunch. I'll be back soon after.’ Her words were hurried.
     Hamlet nodded, although his frown remained. Kathryn knew he was not happy with her travelling in the cart in her condition but he would not argue with her. She turned and hurried away before he could say any more.
     Kathryn put a couple of items of baby clothing in her bag, along with some more bottles of fruit jam, pulled her bonnet over her hair and headed off in the cart. The track out to Wiseman's Creek was flat for the most part, with a steep pinch towards the end, over a scrubby, rocky hill.
     As she started down the other side of the incline, she was pleasantly surprised to find herself in a small green valley; the grasses high, dotted with wild flowers. She could hear the mooing of a few cattle on the low hills. The creek she had been following had widened into substantial pools. A flock of white cockatoos erupted from a large tree as she rounded a bend, and she saw underneath it a rickety gate on which Kearns had been scratched. She pulled on the reins, turning the horse towards the open gate onto the track to the cottage.
     Well, perhaps one couldn't call it a cottage, she thought as she approached, for it was not much more than a humpy. She could see a second room had been added to the side, although it looked as if it would not stand a strong wind. She knocked quietly and smiled at the young boy who opened the front door. He looked nervous.        
     ‘Are you come to help Ma?’ His lip trembled as he spoke.
     ‘You'll be Thomas, then…and Rebecca?’ she added, looking at the girl who sat at the small table in the corner of the room, brushing her hair.        
     ‘Tom,’ the young boy corrected. ‘It's just Tom now.’
      Rebecca hardly paused in her attention to her hair. 
     ‘I see.’ Kathryn nodded. ‘Yes, I've come to see your Ma. Is she in there?’ She pointed to the other room. As she glanced around the room they were in she couldn't help but notice how bare it was. Apart from the table and a couple of stools, there was an open fire against one wall, a pile of wood, a few pots and pans hanging from the roof above it, and a small cabinet with plates and cups neatly stacked inside. The floor of the room was dirt and Kathryn could smell the mustiness of the winter cold still coming up from the ground. 
     ‘She's poorly,’ Tom said. ‘Pa's gone for Mrs Foley.’
     ‘I'll go to her then, will I? Rebecca, perhaps you could make us a cup of tea.’
     The nine-year-old looked up, a disinterested expression on her face. ‘Tom'll do it,’ she said and looked away.
     ‘I will,’ Tom agreed quickly and moved towards the fire. ‘How do you know our names?’
     ‘I met you a few years ago. You've grown quite a bit but I've not forgotten you. Your Ma and I were good friends.’ She smiled reassuringly at Tom but when she glanced at Rebecca, she could see the girl was not listening. 
     Kathryn moved toward the opening to the other room and peered inside. There was only one small window and the room was quite dark, for the sun was still low in the eastern sky.
     ‘Norah,’ Kathryn said quietly. ‘How are you?’ She knelt close to the mattress, brushed back damp copper curls from Norah's face and took her hand gently.
     ‘Kathryn? Sure I wasn't expecting you,’ Norah murmured, drawing the small bundle beside her close to her side. ‘It was a hard one, sure it was, but worth it.’ She smiled at the tiny face, almost completely covered by a small blanket which had seen much better days, Kathryn thought as she touched the little cheek softly. 
     Norah took a deep breath. ‘Michael's gone for Mrs Foley. She was here for me yesterday but she had to get back to her family. She has about ten of them, so she has. Michael's afraid I might need more help today and…he's not good at this. He's not been left alone with me so soon before.’ She sucked in her breath as she adjusted her position and got more comfortable. 
     ‘Well, I'm glad I came. I thought you'd have the wee one by now, the way you looked last time I saw you. I wanted to bring you a few things. I've plenty for mine…and time to make some more.’ She held out the tiny jacket she had crocheted and a dress with small flowers embroidered on the bodice. 
     ‘Kathryn, they're beautiful. Our wee Mary will look adorable in those. I've not got too much for her.’ She again drew the baby close and a tear rolled from one eye.
     ‘What is it?’ Kathryn asked, stroking Norah’s hand.  
     ‘I was hoping it would be a son for Michael, that's all. She's beautiful, sure she is, but it's just that…she's only the third child to show for any number of pregnancies and I know he'd like another boy.’ Norah wiped her eyes with her sleeve and laid back, spent.
     ‘Well, he'll have to settle for a healthy daughter, won't he now?’ Kathryn said.   
     A few minutes later Tom tapped tentatively on the door and poked his head into the room.
     ‘The tea’s ready.’ 
     ‘Thank you, Tom. I'll get some for your Ma and me.’
     ‘He's a treasure, that one.’ Norah grinned. 
     When Kathryn went to get the tea, Michael was sitting at the table.
     ‘Missus Foley weren't 'ome,’ he mumbled. 
     ‘Norah's weak, but I’m sure she’ll be fine, Michael. And you've a beautiful daughter.’ Kathryn poured two mugs of tea.
     ‘Ah, well.’ Michael sighed, squinting at mother and child through the doorway to the bedroom. ‘Maybe next time, eh?’
     ‘You should be happy to have this one alive and well.’ Kathryn moved back into the bedroom, finding it difficult to hide her annoyance. 
     ‘I'll be pleased enough just to keep her alive, so I will,’ Norah whispered, drawing the baby close. 
      ‘Well, we've each other now, don't we?’ Kathryn helped Norah sit up enough to drink. ‘I'm not so far away that I can’t visit.’ She glanced sideways at Michael, who had come to the door opening. ‘I'm sure the children would enjoy playing together and I'll be grateful for a friend, sure I will.’
     ‘I'd like that so much.’ Norah beamed. ‘There's the Foleys and the Forans and Hanrahans near here – quite a few Irish – but we haven't mixed much. We'll be pleased if you'll come, won't we Michael?’
     ‘Hmm,’ Michael murmured, clearly not excited by the prospect.
      Kathryn ignored him. She and Norah had been friends before he came along and would be again and she was not going to be put off by him. She felt she would like to give him a piece of her mind. His attitude to his wife was appalling, apart from the rest of what she knew about him. She was going to have trouble holding her tongue, though she would for Norah's sake.
     As she drove home that afternoon, she was conscious that her greater problem would be finding a way to tell Hamlet that the Kearns family was going to be part of their lives again. 

To be continued...

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