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.’
looked surprised. Elizabeth
‘She does. Five of them.’ Norah paused while
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.’ Elizabeth
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?’
‘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,’
said quickly. ‘Ma wants to be here when we tell you.’ Elizabeth
‘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.’
‘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?’
clapped her hands together gleefully. Elizabeth
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
. Do you think he's learned his lesson?’ Norah was hopeful, buoyed by all that had happened recently. Sydney
‘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
, 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 Sydney 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.’ Pa.
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
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. Elizabeth
‘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...