Sunday, 21 October 2012

Forgiving Michael Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-Five

The strongest argument in favour of grace is
the alternative; a world of ungrace.                           
The strongest argument for forgiveness is the alternative;
a permanent state of unforgivness. Where
unforgiveness reigns a Newtonian law comes into
play; for every atrocity there must be an equal
and opposite atrocity. Philip Yancy 

Stoney Creek, July, 1872

Kathryn and Hamlet had barely risen and were preparing breakfast together. It was a cold winter morning and Suzannah was still snuggled up in bed with baby Thomas.  Johnny was already at the table, his stomach growling at the smell of the eggs and bacon that were sizzling in the pan on the stove, his hair still pushed sideways from his pillow.  Little Frank was gurgling from the playpen that Hamlet had built. Annie could be heard humming in the bedroom, probably doing her hair and other daily preparations that seemed important to young girls. The loud knock on the door surprised all of them.
     ‘Who could that be at this time of the morning?’ Hamlet huffed as he went to the door. He was even more surprised to see two men in police clothes.
     ‘Hamlet Pollard?’ The constable's jaw was set hard, his voice harsh.
     ‘Yes. How can I help you?’
     ‘You'll need to come with us. I'm Constable Borden and this is Constable West.’ He nodded to a second man behind him who stepped forward and held out a pair of handcuffs.
      ‘What the…?’ Hamlet stuttered.
     ‘What is it, Hamlet?’ Kathryn's voice came from behind him.
     ‘I'm afraid your husband's wanted in connection with some stolen horses, Mrs Pollard.’ The constable tipped his hat slightly in Kathryn's direction.
     ‘Why, that's the silliest thing I've ever heard,’ Kathryn scoffed.
     ‘The horse by the creek in your back yard fits the description of one of half a dozen missing horses, Ma'am. We've recovered two from the Foley's property in Wiseman's Creek, and we'll be investigating where the other three are when we get to the station in Oberon. You need to come with us now, Mr Pollard.’
     The constable who had clamped cuffs onto Hamlet's hands behind his back now pushed him forward. ‘Tether that horse to the back of the cart, West. In you get, Pollard.’
     ‘This is absurd!’ Hamlet was having trouble controlling his temper but knew he must. He reminded himself that he was still designated a Ticket of Leave prisoner and he couldn't even produce the certificate if they asked for it. Any trouble with the police could land him back in irons for the rest of his life. He knew that he would have to go with them quietly, try to convince them that this was a mistake, that however that horse got into his yard, it had nothing to do with him. He had to steel himself not to think about who might be behind this, for he was sure he would explode with rage if he let his mind go that way.

Kathryn was crying as she ushered Annie back into the house and then fell into Johnny's arms.
     ‘It'll sort itself out, Ma,’ he tried to assure her. ‘We all know that Pa had nothing to do with that horse.’
     ‘Yes, we do, but what if someone put it there deliberately, to make it look like your Pa stole the horse? How can we prove different?’
     ‘Why would someone do that? Who – ’
     ‘Michael Kearns,’ she whispered.
     ‘What? Why would he?’
     ‘There are things from the past, things you don't know about, son. I wouldn't put it past Michael to do something to hurt your Pa. God in heaven, I don't know how we're going to get out of this. Dear God, have mercy on Hamlet, please.’
     ‘We'll sort it out, Ma. Don't worry.’

Johnny hadn't reckoned on it taking three months to sort out. But it was early in October by the time he and his mother were in Oberon Police station, hopefully near to the end of the ordeal. The whole family had been in a constant state of tension and anger over the months of Hamlet's imprisonment. Johnny was particularly disturbed by the state of distress which had debilitated his usually calm and controlled mother. 
     ‘Ma, you have to stop pacing up and down like that. You'll make yourself sick.’   
     They had been waiting at the station for over an hour. The magistrate had been due there early that morning and had not yet arrived. After being allowed to see Hamlet for a few minutes, they had been made to wait in the pokey office for the magistrate's decision. 
     ‘Your poor father is going mad in that cell,’ Kathryn said. ‘It's been over three months and they keep saying the case is under investigation. How can they hold him like this? Tis so unfair.’
     Kathryn sat down beside Johnny but only lasted a few minutes before she was up looking out the window again. ‘Tis blowing a gale out there, sure it is. What if the magistrate decides the weather's too bad to be out?’
     ‘What if? What if? Ma, you must have said that a hundred times. There's no good wondering what if all the time. Now come and sit down.’
     ‘Wait, I think he's coming.’ Kathryn peered out of the window again and then hurried to sit beside Johnny.
     A few moments later, a large man with a flowing coat and top hat strode through the door. He tipped his hat briefly in Kathryn and Johnny's direction and continued on through the door on the other side of the office. Kathryn sighed deeply and sank back into the hard seat, clearly resisting the urge to follow the magistrate and demand justice for her husband. 
     Thankfully, in a very short time he reappeared, minus the hat and coat, and sat down at a desk across from the mother and son. 
     ‘You'd be Mrs Pollard, I take it,’ he said, not unkindly.
     ‘And this is my son, Johnny.’ Kathryn nodded.
     ‘Well, I have some news for you.’ He opened a large envelope and spread some papers across the desk. ‘Your husband was committed to trial in Bathurst, such trial to begin later this month,’ he began slowly, scanning the papers as he spoke. 
     ‘No…Hamlet is innocent.’ Kathryn protested, rising to her feet.
     ‘Please let me finish, Mrs Pollard.’ The magistrate raised his arm and motioned for her to sit down. 
     Johnny took her hand and guided her back into her seat where she sat reluctantly, wringing her hands and biting her lip.
     ‘I'm about to write an order for that trial to be dismissed, you'll be pleased to hear.’
     ‘Oh, that's wonderful…but how? What happened – ’
     ‘Please, Mrs Pollard. If you'll kindly allow me to continue...’
     He looked relieved when Johnny grabbed his mother's arm and held it firmly. He stroked his long dark beard and took a moment to rearrange his papers.
     ‘I have here three signed statements, all of which give clear indication of who the thieves in this case were, and your husband was not one of them.’
     At this point, tears sprang into Kathryn’s eyes and she dropped her head into her hands. Johnny could see his mother was praying, no doubt giving thanks to God for granting the mercy that she had so fervently prayed for over the past month. 
     ‘The statements?’ he ventured, noting the irritation of the magistrate. ‘Are we allowed to know who they've come from?’
     ‘All from members of the Foley family,’ he answered brusquely. ‘A Mrs Mary Anne Kitt and a Mrs Bridget Hotham, apparently daughters of the Foleys, and a Michael Foley, one of the sons. Apparently, there was a family gathering the night of the theft, and some dissension about what actually occurred. It's taken a while to sort out but I think we have the truth of it now. You can thank one Tom Kearns for getting to the bottom of it all, despite the involvement of his father.’ He packed the papers together neatly and put them to one side. ‘Now I think we can arrange for the release of Mr Pollard.’ He pushed back his chair and signalled to the officer behind the other desk. 
     Kathryn looked up at the rattle of keys. She clasped her stomach as she stood and took in a deep breath, her shoulders relaxing into a slump. Johnny thought she was about to collapse and put his arm around her.
     ‘I'm all right, son, sure I am. I just can't believe it. Your father's to be freed. That is what he said, is it not?’
     ‘It is, Ma. I think they're getting him now and we'll be off home, thank God for that.’
     ‘So it is, Johnny, so it is.’ She smiled for the first time in months.
     ‘And thanks to Tom by the sound of it,’ he said.
     ‘What's that? I missed that part. What did Tom do?’
     The door in front of them opened and the officer preceded a weary Hamlet into the room. Kathryn forgot her question to Johnny and rushed into her husband's arms. 
     Hamlet was quiet all the way home. His beard had grown wild and his eyes were sunken, his usually sunburnt skin was sallow. Kathryn tried to soothe him with soft words and reassurances, rubbing his back and squeezing his rough hands. 
     ‘Tis over, Hamlet, sure it is. It was a dreadful mistake, but tis over now. Annie will have stew well under way when we get home. You'll have a good meal in that stomach of yours by nightfall, sure you will. You'll feel way better after you've had that and a good night's sleep in your own bed.’
     ‘I'm fine,’ he said eventually, his face steely. Don't fuss.’
     ‘I can't help it, Hamlet. I've been so worried and I can hardly believe we're on our way home.’
     ‘So did anyone say what really happened?’ Hamlet addressed Johnny, who was gripping the reins tightly as the cart bumped across a swollen creek. 
     ‘Only that there was some commotion at the Foley's house that night. A fight, I'd guess. It seems half that family's determined to make a decent life here and the other half's just as determined to get into trouble. Apparently Mary Anne and Bridget told the truth, and young Michael as well. Bridget's the older one, the midwife. She came to help Susannah with Frank, remember? She’s married to Ed Hotham. Mary Anne married Jeremiah Kitt and she lives in Bathurst but it seems they were all in Wiseman's Creek that night.’        
     ‘Michael Foley, did you say?’ Kathryn asked. ‘He's Tom's age and they've become quite good friends over the past few years. Oh, and what was it the magistrate said about Tom, Johnny? You said he mentioned Tom. I was too overcome to hear it all.’
     ‘He said it was due to Tom that it all got sorted out. We'll find out soon enough, I’m sure.’

Norah was overwhelmed with relief when Kathryn and Hamlet came to visit a month after his release. Hamlet's expression was still grim, though. Even the sweet smiles of his granddaughters did little to change the dark broodiness of his face. He tried to assure Norah that he was fine but quickly found an excuse for going outside, leaving the two women to talk alone. 
     ‘This has been so awful, Kathryn. Just when Hamlet seemed to have relaxed with Tom. I hope this won't set back their relationship.’
     ‘I hope so, too, Norah.’
     ‘Surely it will help that Tom was able to talk to Michael Foley and find out what really happened that dreadful night before Hamlet was hauled off to prison. I'd never have forgiven myself if they'd tried him for something he didn't do.’
     ‘Thankfully, Bridget and Mary Anne were prepared to tell the truth as well. They've already got two brothers in prison. I hope the others have learned their lesson now, and will stay away from those Cummins boys. They're really trouble, they are. Bringing stolen horses to the Foley's farm… thinking they'd hide them…such a nerve, they have.’
     ‘But it was more my Michael who got Hamlet gaoled, wasn't it?’ Norah said sadly. ‘On purpose, no doubt. I don't know how I'll ever be able to forgive him for that, especially since he had Joseph and Mick with him. I know him. He'd think that because the horses had already been stolen he'd get away with taking a few for himself. And my boys probably thought it a great lark. But leaving one in your yard to make it look like Hamlet was involved was just unforgivable.’ Norah shook her head wildly, trying to get the images out of her mind. ‘It doesn't bear thinking about, does it?’
     ‘No, it doesn't, so let's not dwell on it,’ Kathryn said kindly. 
     ‘All right, we won't talk about it any more. So, tell me how Isabel and Harriet are.  They'll both have their babies before Christmas, won't they?’
     ‘They will, Norah. I can't believe we have new babies coming so fast. But they're good medicine, so they are. For me and for Hamlet.’
     ‘I'm glad. Seeing these new little lives certainly gives hope for the future, doesn't it?  We must hold onto that, sure we must.’ She paused before she spoke again. ‘You know, I often wonder if I'm already a grandmother to little ones of Rebecca's. Surely in all these years she's married. She could have had…oh, dear, there I go again, talking about the sad things.’
     ‘It must be very hard not to think about her, even after all these years, Norah. She's your first born. We must pray very hard for her, sure we must, though these last few months have reminded me that God does not always give us exactly what we want, and that perhaps it's through things we certainly don't want, that we must learn some of life's lessons.’

‘Perhaps Joseph would go to work on the rail line,’ Norah suggested to Tom quietly one evening.
     Her mind had been working overtime for a few weeks now. She sensed it was time for something to happen for at least one of her wayward children. She had seen Joseph in Kelso in May, a month ago. She had not mentioned anything about the horse incident, although it had been difficult for her to hold her tongue. She wondered if Joseph considered it anything more than a joke, a silly prank of his father's that had caused no real damage. But she had sensed as they talked that he was uncomfortable with himself, that he had some regrets, and that had given her hope. 
     ‘He's sixteen now,’ she said. ‘This last time that I saw him I got the impression that he's not very happy. But he's still concerned about Mick. Maybe he'd consider working as a way of better looking after his brother.’
     ‘Perhaps,’ Tom said cynically. He stared thoughtfully over the top of his paper for a few moments.
     ‘What are you thinking?’ she asked.
     ‘I was just wondering if that might not be a good idea after all…to go and find Joseph and suggest the rail line work. Perhaps he is ready to listen to good sense. You said he was out at Sunny Corner. There's nothing out that way but a few humpies. They can't be too hard to find.’
     ‘What are you up to, Tom?’ Norah could almost see the wheels of his mind turning.
     He smiled wryly. ‘I'm going to catch up with my brother, is all, and see if I can help.  It's time…yes, it's time.’
     ‘You will be careful of your father, won't you?’ Norah warned, wondering what she’d instigated.   
     ‘I will,’ Tom said as he stood and yawned. ‘I'm off to bed. I have an early start in the morning.’

‘I don't want no trouble,’ Joseph said gruffly.
     He wasn't pleased to see Tom, but he realised that it was more because of what his father and Mick would think if they knew that he had been around. If he was honest with himself, he was missing his family, his mother especially. His father and Mick seemed to get on well, always laughing and making plans, but Joseph felt more and more uncomfortable with the life they were living. He was tired of scraping for food and always being dirty and cold. He had given up any notion of the gold digging he thought they would do and his father was always wanting him to be sneaking around, on the look out for what they could take from someone else. Joseph had suggested on a number of occasions that they think about ways to earn a living, but the other two had scoffed at his ideas. And now here was Tom, offering him an opportunity to do just that. 
     ‘Why would there be trouble?’ Tom said. ‘I'm simply here to let you know that there's a real possibility for you to work on the rail line. I know you didn't like farming, but this is pretty exciting. They're building the line down into Bathurst now. It's hard work, but you can learn a lot and set yourself up for a better life. The rail line from Lithgow to Wallerawang and Piper's Flats has really opened up the working of the mines at Irondale and Lidsdale as well, and you might want to think of that kind of work later on. You could start saving for the future…get somewhere decent to live.’
     ‘And what's wrong with this place, then? It's like what we grew up in. It was good enough for us, weren't it?’
     Joseph felt the ire that had always risen up in him when his brother started telling him what was good for him. He tried to rein it in, knowing in his heart that Tom was right. He leaned back against the tree trunk where they stood talking; the shabby humpy standing not twenty feet away, making it impossible for him to defend what his father had claimed as their home. Around it lay flattened dry grass, along with a few old tree stumps which had been cut down to make a clearing in the scrubby bushland. The sound of blowflies around the pit at the back could be heard above the uncomfortable silence between the brothers. 

Tom was wondering whether to bother going on with the conversation. He looked at Joseph's wild hair, his ragged clothes. His boots were almost worn through, his hat shredded. He felt sorry for his brother. He was too young to be in this position, and yet their father had given him this choice and Tom knew if Joseph didn't make a better choice soon, his life's path would be hard to change. 
     ‘Our hut sufficed for us because Ma worked herself into the ground to make it a home,’ he said finally, trying again to reason with his brother. ‘She grew vegetables and raised animals. It took all of us to make it work, and then it was only just enough. You've no help here, that's plain to see.’
     Tom felt the annoyance of the past when he tried to guide Joseph. Perhaps he was wasting his time. He turned his mind to his other purpose in coming to Sunny Corner.    ‘And speaking of help, where is Mick? And Pa, what's he up to?’
     ‘They're about. They'll be back soon. They're always fossickin' about. We pick up a bit of work here and there.’
     ‘Come on, Joseph. You must have seen Pa's work for what it is by now? Do you really want to spend your life like he has? Is that what you want for your future?’
     ‘I'll work. I know we have to,’ Joseph conceded reluctantly. ‘I'm just waitin' ’til Mick grows up a bit more. Someone has to look after him.’
     Joseph's defences seem to go up again. Tom knew their father would be very unhappy with Joseph for even having this conversation, let alone agreeing to work on the rail line. He could see his brother’s struggle.
     ‘Do you really think Mick would ever want a real job?’ he asked.
     ‘Maybe, when he’s a bit older,’ Joseph said sullenly.
     ‘And what about Pa?’
     ‘He's…well, he's not what he used to be. He's over sixty now. I don't think he'd be up for it. And his mind wanders a bit. It's hard for him to remember things. He rambles a lot and we don't know what he's on about. Mick gets real short with him. He has a bit of a temper, has Mick.’
     Tom was surprised at Joseph’s honesty. ‘Yes, I remember. So, what do you think will happen to Pa?’
     ‘I don't know. He's got this idea in his head...’
     ‘Nothin'. I don't know what he's up to. Like I said, he doesn't make much sense.’
     ‘You said they'd be back soon. Where from?’
     ‘Just around…getting something together so they can go to…Sydney.’ Joseph sighed as if he was weary of his father’s ravings. ‘Mick’s convinced that Pa has somethin’ put away in the city that will make us all rich, but I reckon it’s just an old man's ramblin’s.’ He kicked the dust around his feet. 
     ‘It's about the key…isn't it?’ Tom urged. ‘The key that was in Pa's coat? And in my wallet?’
     Joseph nodded sheepishly. ‘He was crazy about gettin' it back an' we didn't think you'd just hand it over so we…we wasn't goin' to hurt you. It was Pa's…so we thought we'd get it just to shut him up, really.’
     ‘The key might have been Pa's but what he's got locked away is not his.’ Tom felt his ire rise. ‘Everything he's ever had he's stolen. You know that. When's this trip to Sydney supposed to happen then?’
     Joseph eyed him for a moment and then shrugged his shoulders. ‘Soon as they get hold of a bit of money. I think Pa's worried if he doesn't go soon, he mightn't make it at all.’
     ‘Are they planning to go by train?’
     ‘I guess.’
     ‘Come on, Joseph. You know this is wrong. You're breaking Ma's heart living this life. Isn't it time you shaped up? Do the right thing, eh?’
     ‘Don't go preachin' at me, Tom. I'm not a kid anymore.’
     ‘Then let me know when Pa and Mick come back. Let me put things right.’
     ‘How can you do that? What's Pa got that's so important, anyway?’
     ‘It's a brooch. It belongs to Hamlet Pollard. It was his mother's and he wants Elizabeth to have it.’
     ‘What! You can't be serious. All this carry on over a brooch! I don't believe it.’
     ‘Believe it or not, that's what it is. And I intend to see it back in Hamlet's hands.  Whatever he wants to do with it is his decision but it belongs to him.’
     Joseph frowned and rubbed his hands down his shirt. He was sweating profusely.  Tom sensed he felt caught in the middle; not wanting to betray his father, but tired of the life he’d been living.
     ‘All right,’ Joseph said suddenly. ‘I'll let you know when they're plannin' to go to Sydney. But after that I don't want to know anythin' about it. Right? I don't want any part of it.’ He gritted his teeth and pushed his hands through his matted hair.

To be continued...

Carol Preston

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