God invented forgiving as a remedy for a
past that not even He could change and
not even He could forget. Lewis B. Smedes
Stories of the ravages of the Cholera outbreak filtered back slowly. The Quinns had lost their eldest daughter along with three grandchildren. The Lynch's three young children had suffered badly and, eventually, only one had survived. There were many similar stories. The whole
area reeled from the loss. Bathurst
‘You can't blame Michael, Hamlet, sure you can't, for there's so many.’ Kathryn pleaded. ‘I might have got it regardless of little Mary being here. We need to be thankful that baby Annie has survived. Tis a miracle she's here and look how well she's doing now.’
‘All I know is that every time Michael Kearns comes anywhere near us, we suffer. Either God is punishing me for my early sins or the devil himself is in that man and he's cursed me.’ Hamlet paced the floor, his face despairing.
‘God is not punishing you. You've been a good man for many years now and God does not mete out punishment like that anyway, sure He doesn't. You heard Father O'Reilly say as much at the funeral. And as for the devil being in Michael, well in that he's no different to the rest of us, for the devil will get his way with any he can. Granted, Michael seems to go along with him more often than many.’
‘There you are then, you've as much as admitted it.’ Hamlet’s eyes flew open. ‘Michael sent that child to us when Norah was asleep. He thinks of no one but himself and that always spells trouble for someone.’
‘Oh, Hamlet, whatever the truth is, we can't be burdened down with this. I know Norah's blaming herself and it's just no good. The whole area has suffered terrible loss and we've to pull together, not apart. The Quinns want to hold a memorial service in a few weeks and I want to be there and support the others who have lost loved ones. We can be a comfort to each other. I do want to go and see Norah first, though. She's stayed away these past two months because she knew we needed time but she's my dearest friend. She's the one who suffers most from Michael's ways.’
‘She made a very bad choice when she married Michael Kearns…and it will cause her grief all her life, you mark my words.’
Kathryn sighed deeply. ‘Well, I made a bad choice with my first love, as well, and if it hadn't been for Norah, the results of it may well have killed me. I'll not abandon her. She needs me now.’
Hamlet nodded. Kathryn ached for him. She knew how hard it was for him to accept that Michael Kearns would continue to be in their life.
At Wiseman's Creek, Michael tried to convince his wife that a break from the Pollards would be good for them as well.
‘Stop yer mopin' about, girl. If that stuck up woman wants nothin' to do with yer, then yer better off, I say. There's others about would be better friends. The Quinns for instance. If you want to comfort someone, go see Mrs Quinn. She lost family, so she did, and makin' friends with that family will be far – ’
‘Michael!’ Norah interrupted. ‘You're thinking of how well-off they are, aren't you? This is a time for considering others, not yourself. I can't imagine how you think you'd benefit from the Quinn's wealth, and I don't want to think about it. I miss Kathryn. She's my friend and if she can forgive me for my part in the loss of her baby then I'll be there quick as a flash. The children miss their friends as well. We've their lives to consider as well, you know.’
‘If you're considerin' the future of our children, then all the more reason to befriend the Quinns, I say. Rebecca could do very well hookin' up with one of their sons. God knows there's a few of 'em and the younger ones are about her age. Not that it matters, for aren't I a good bit older than you an' it works for us, an' anyhow, the older ones are more likely to get a good share of the –’
‘Stop it. I'm ashamed to hear you speak like this.’ Norah hurried out the back door before Michael could see the tears rolling down her face. She remembered Tom's question to her. Why did God not answer her prayers and change Michael into a good man? What had she done wrong to be in this terrible dilemma?
Two weeks later, there was a quiet knock on Norah's back door and she was delighted to find Kathryn smiling at her.
‘I can't stay now, Norah. I've been in O'Connell and I'm weary. I've spent the morning selling my jams and some fruit. Hamlet will be worried, but I wanted to come out and arrange for you to come over with the children. I've missed you, so I have.’ Kathryn's eyes filled and she reached out. Norah flew into her arms and the two hugged and cried together.
‘Oh, Kathryn, I'd so love that, sure I would.’
‘Good. Now, you take these last jars of jam for I've more than I can use at home. Walk with me to the cart. I want you to see our wee baby. She's really bonny, so she is.’
‘I'm so pleased, Kathryn. And I'm so sorry.’ Norah dropped her eyes as she followed Kathryn to the cart, searching for words.
‘Kathryn held up her hand. ‘Let's not speak of the past. I'm mending, sure I am, and what I need is my good friend. I'll be at the Quinn’s when they have the service for all the lost. Come, and we'll all be a comfort to each other. Bishop Quinn is a relative of Owen and Catherine, and he's coming from
to preside over the service. It will be a blessing, I know it will. Then we'll be moving on, so we will, for we've the future to think of.’ She took Norah's hand and they crept to the back of the cart where, not only baby Annie, but Harriet and Elizabeth were sleeping peacefully. Sydney
‘They're angels, Kathryn, the three of them.’ Norah whispered, as she hugged Kathryn again. ‘I will come to the Quinns’ next week. I'll see you there.’
‘There you go, girl, over there.’ Michael gave Rebecca a shove towards the group of young boys standing in the corner of the room. The Quinn's home was filled to the walls with small groups of people, some still wiping tears from their eyes after the moving service.
‘Pa, stop.’ Rebecca objected, resisting his push. ‘It's a funeral, an' besides, they're really religious, this family. They'd not take to someone like me.’
‘Tis not a funeral, sure it's not. Tis a memorial. Tis what we Irish call a wake an' tis meant to be a celebration of life not a morbid carry on like this. An' besides, this is yer opportunity. Those boys need some cheerin' up, so they do, an' a pretty face like yours is just what the doctor ordered.’ Michael chuckled loudly, causing numerous people to turn in the direction of the
Kearns family and frown.
‘Please, Michael.’ Norah glared at him. ‘Have a wee bit of respect for these poor souls, for heaven's sake. And Rebecca will not be taking advantage of their grief, sure she won't.’
Norah took her daughter's arm and they both moved away from Michael and towards Kathryn and Hamlet where the children from both families were huddled, whispering to each other.
Michael was not pleased with what he saw and overheard.
‘Annie slept through the whole service, the wee pet?’ Norah peeked at the tiny face partly covered with a shawl and snuggled against her mother's breast.
‘She's always a quiet one.’ Kathryn smiled. ‘I'm glad you're here, Norah. You will visit soon, won't you?’
‘I will, sure enough.’ Norah glanced at Hamlet and he smiled at her and nodded.
‘Well, I learned a few things today, me luv.’ Michael grinned at Norah as they headed home as if he had a new plan hatching in his head. She shuddered at the thought.
‘Some of the men there were tradesmen, you know, plumbers an' carpenters an' bakers an' such.’
‘I know what a tradesman is, Michael,’ she said, trying not to snap at him. ‘Sure, and I'd like to think they might inspire you to take up such work, for tis regular and provides for their families.’ She sighed deeply, knowing she might as well be talking to the horse.
‘Not likely, me luv,’ he responded predictably. ‘They were celebratin' the fact that the government 'as just passed a new law reducin' the workin' man's day from ten hours to eight. An eight hour workin' day! Now isn't that somethin' to be 'appy about?" He sneered contemptuously. ‘A man who 'as to slave for someone else for eight hours every day needs 'is 'ead read, if you ask me.’
‘And what's the alternative, tell me that? For you're not a bit interested in running a farm, are you now? And don't tell me you've done well at gold mining for you've only benefited from the hard work of others there.’ She kept her voice low, hoping the children in the back of the cart wouldn't be listening.
‘That's just it, girl. What else I 'eard is the interestin' part. It seems there are some mighty nasty bushrangers terrorisin' folk around
an' further west an' there are rewards for their capture that would be worth more than six months' pay for these poor sods workin' 'emselves into the ground for a pittance. Now that's an alternative to consider, is it not?’ He raised himself up on the bench beside her as if expecting her to be impressed. Bathurst
She shook her head, her disappointment so great she was unable to think of a thing to say.
‘You'll not be shakin' your 'ead like that when I bring you 'ome one of those fancy new American cookin' stoves, will yer now? The Quinns 'ave one, apparently. I 'eard one of the women say so. Not that I saw it, for they 'ave servants in the kitchen doin' all the work, don't they? No guests get a gurney in there. But tis the thing for the rich, so it is, all the latest inventions. So, 'ow about that, now? Perhaps I'll get you one with the money I make catchin' one o' those bushrangers.’ He smiled smugly.
Still unable for find words to respond to Michael’s nonsense, Norah waited until they were almost home before she told him her news.
‘In case you're thinking of going off again any time soon, I think I'm pregnant, so I'd appreciate you being around to help, so I would.’
‘Don't you be worryin' yer sweet 'ead, me luv. If I go, it'll not be for long for I've got the measure of these bushrangers, so I 'ave.’
Norah was relieved when Christmas drew close with no sign of Michael leaving. He seemed to have forgotten his plan to go after bushrangers and through the Spring he had actually worked a little in the garden, tending to the vegetable patch and fixing some leaks in the roof that had caused them great discomfort through the rainy months of Winter. It seemed to her that he might even be a little excited about the new baby.
When she was ready to give birth early in January, he sent Tom to fetch Ellen Foran and instructed Rebecca to take care of young Mary. He stayed with Norah right up until the final hour and was sitting by the stove, drinking hot tea when Ellen popped her head out of the other room to announce that he had a baby son.
‘Both doing well,’ she added, nodding for him to come and see for himself.
‘We'll call 'im Joseph, eh, girl?’ Michael had a broad grin as he gazed down at the newborn. ‘Yer did good, girl. Yer did good.’
‘Sure, Joseph is a grand name,’ she said softly as she stroked the baby's forehead. ‘He hasn't stopped wriggling since the early months so he's to be a lively one. Glad to be out and ready to get on with it, sure he is.’
When winter set in again and the days shortened, Michael became restless and Norah was not surprised one July morning when she woke to find him gone.
‘He was so pleased to have a son,’ she told Kathryn two months later. ‘I didn't think he'd go off again. But he gets so agitated when he's not able to get to the hotel easily. He needs more activity, more excitement.’
‘Tis not activity he needs, Norah, for if that were the case he'd be working the farm. Hamlet works from daylight ’til dark. He gets such satisfaction from seeing what he's achieving for the family, even though it's hard and sometimes very disappointing. Last Winter most of the garden was washed out with the torrential rain but he just got to and built it all again. And when the wind blew that tree right over the corner of the house – frightening it was – but he was up there the next day, wind and all, fixing it up.’
‘They're a different breed, sure they are, Michael and Hamlet.’ Norah sighed. ‘I know now that Michael will never work the farm. Tom helps as much as he can but Rebecca's not the least bit interested. She's so like Michael and when he's away, she pines. Not so much for him, I'm thinking, as for whatever adventure she thinks he's having out there. God help us, I suspect he's off chasing bushrangers now and sooner or later they're bound to get the better of him, for he's not as clever as he thinks he is by half. I worry what will become of us. I wonder if God's abandoned me, sure I do. I must have done something very bad.’
‘No, Norah. God has not abandoned you, and what is happening in your life is not because you've done anything bad. You should come into O'Connell with Hamlet and me to St Francis's church. We've been blessed there. We hear good teaching about how God loves us and cares for us, and how He has a plan for all of us. Sometimes it just takes a while to figure out what His plan for us is.’
‘I thought the plan for us was to be good wives and mothers. What else have we time for? Tis all I can fit into each day just to feed the children and try to teach them to make good choices. But look at Rebecca. She's nearly fourteen, and all she's interested in is making herself pretty for whatever boys she can find and they're few and far between here, so she says. She'd like to live in town, as Michael would, close to people where there's more going on. I don't think she cares what it is as long as she's not stuck here on the farm.’
‘I don't know what you're to do about her. But I do believe there's something to be brought out in you through all the hardship you've suffered. God will turn these things to something good. You wait and see.’
‘How long, Kathryn? I'm over thirty. Tis hard to see how my life can change now.’
‘Sure it can. You've more brains than most of us. Look at how you're teaching your children to read. Sure, didn't I see Tom with my three biggest just last week, reading to them he was. I thought to myself then, that I would ask you to teach ours as well.’
Norah looked at Kathryn skeptically. Surely she couldn’t be serious.
‘It would be grand for them,’ Kathryn went on excitedly. ‘There's talk that the church will start up a school when they build the new convent. But for now the only schools are in
. Hamlet and I talked about getting the children some schooling, but it's too hard to get them there and the boys are needed here on the farm. But you could teach them, so you could. You could have a little class right here. Please say you'll do it, Norah. You'd be so good at it.’ Bathurst
‘Michael's not one for schooling. He doesn't like it that I teach Tom to read. He’d be very unhappy if I were to do more than that.’
‘And so your life is to be shaped by his likes and dislikes, is it?’ Kathryn spoke as firmly as Norah had heard. ‘You're worth more than that, Norah. You've strengths and abilities Michael knows nothing of and tis a shameful waste not to use them. Please come to church on Sunday and hear the message. It'll encourage you. And the people are very friendly. God knows we all need our friends, don't we?’
Norah smiled. She couldn't help but be excited by the things Kathryn had said, even though she would never have thought of them by herself. She looked down at baby Joseph, just nine months old and for the last two of them, he had not laid eyes on his father. Already Tom and Mary were inclined to ignore Michael, even when he was about. Perhaps she did have to make a life for herself and her children without Michael, or in spite of him.
To be continued...
Carol Preston http://www.carolpreston.com.au