Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Forgiving Michael Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Twenty-nine
Forgiveness is the final form of love
Reinhold Niebuhr

Wiseman's Creek, August, 1875
"So, Kathryn, now that Annie's married and gone to live with the Quinns, tis just you and Hamlet, eh? It must be odd to have all your children married now?’
     ‘Not so much odd as a sense of completion, like that part of my work on earth is done. I'm glad that Suzannah and Johnny and the little ones are living with us though. It reminds me there's still plenty for me to do. We have eleven grandchildren now, can you believe it? Tis wonderful for Hamlet. Gives him a good excuse to sit a while instead of working flat out. With a child on his knee he feels very useful.’
     ‘Yes, I do know that feeling. I'm so looking forward now to going back to Forbes to see Rebecca's little ones. It's hard when they're not close by.’
     ‘It sounds like there's likely to be more little ones out there soon.’
     ‘True. Once she and Nels are married in November, I've no doubt there will be more.  Who'd have thought a few years back that Rebecca would be writing to me and telling me she wants me to come and help her prepare for a wedding? I'm very excited and so is Mary. She's insisting on coming with me this time. Bob Atkins said he'll find someone to fill in and her job will be there when we come back. She's a great little worker.’
     ‘Not so little, sure she's not.’ Kathryn frowned. ‘She's twenty-two and should be looking to be married herself. Hasn't there been anyone wanting to court her?’
     ‘Not a sign of one. I think she meets plenty of young men at the Inn, but apparently not the right one. And I'm just as pleased. I don't want her making the mistakes I did…and Rebecca did. I think she's learned from us. At the moment, she's chuffed enough being an aunt.’
     ‘Rebecca is going to be happy, isn't she? She is making a good choice now?’
     ‘I think so.’ Norah nodded. ‘Since she got the news that the children's father is really dead, she's more relaxed. It's awful to say but they're all better off without the fear of him turning up again.’
     ‘Well, she's not alone in that,’ Kathryn said with her usual candour.
     ‘She wants to have a wedding with all the trimmings,’ Norah continued without acknowledging Kathryn's remark. ‘As much to show the people of Forbes that she's going to be respectable as anything else, I'm guessing. She's determined to live down her reputation. Even started going to church with Nels. I do pray that she'll find her peace with God and have the support I've had from our church. That's my hope for her now.’

As the small party spilled out of St John's church they were met with a blast of hot air.  Norah blinked as her eyes adjusted to the glare and her hand went up to stop her bonnet from being blown from her head. Her full skirt clung to her legs as the wind pushed against her. It was a hot, gusty November day, not unusual for summers in Forbes, the locals said. Their greatest fear was that a fire would sweep across the farmlands, wiping them all out, for there was nothing that would stop a blaze in the tinder dry conditions.  There had been no rain to speak of for more months than they cared to count.
     Norah knew that Rebecca's life out here would not be easy, not as a farmer's wife and not as a resident of Forbes. Even now, as she looked across the street, there was a huddle of local women, their interest in the wedding anything but friendly. She could see the disapproval on their faces.
     ‘A woman with five children out of wedlock having the audacity to marry in the church,’ she could imagine them clucking. ‘And her in a long cream dress, no less, with a veil and flowers clutched to her waist, parading like a real bride, making a mockery of the decorum with which decent women conduct their lives.’
     Norah had overheard such comments around the town as she had bought ribbons and lace for Rebecca's dress, and searched for the brush and comb set she had eventually settled on to give her as a wedding gift. She was well aware of what the women of this town thought about her daughter and others like her, who they considered had brought upon themselves misery and no end of criticism by their own choices and actions.
     But that was passed now and Norah prayed that at least some of the people here would give Rebecca a second chance, for surely it was the Christian thing to do. Most of these women, no doubt, paraded into church each Sunday, professing themselves to be godly women. Well, here was a test for them, Norah thought. Could they forgive someone who had offended their sensibilities, who needed Christian charity and was sincerely trying to change to be a better person? Time would tell. She prayed Rebecca would have the courage and confidence to live out the plans she and Nels had made, with or without the approval of these sharp beaked biddies who were still whispering and twittering across the street.
     Nels helped Rebecca climb into their cart. He smiled up at her admiringly as her lustrous curls fluttered around her face. Her cheeks were rosy with health and her eyes glowing with happiness. He proudly ushered her five children in behind her before he climbed up beside his new wife. Norah followed with Mary, William and Theresa in a second cart which had been loaned to them by one of the church families.
     A few of Nels' friends from the church and the local area waved and whistled as the carts headed down the main street, one of the young women catching the bouquet of flowers that Rebecca threw ceremoniously as she passed the small group of onlookers. Then she turned to the pinched-faced huddle on the other side of the street and waved, laughing over the clatter of the string of tin cans that had been tied to the back of their cart. The women pulled back, their mouths pursing, their hands grabbing at their shopping baskets as if they were afraid of being assaulted. Or perhaps afraid they had been caught in the act of unchristian gossip, Norah thought, smiling at the courage of her daughter. Perhaps she would survive here just fine.

As the family settled back into their chairs and cushions on the floor, their stomachs bulging from the spread that Norah had prepared before the ceremony, Norah glanced around the cottage that Nels had lovingly built for Rebecca. He had lived in little more than a tent when he arrived, using strips of bark and rough planks to protect himself from the worst of the weather and the animals that foraged for food wherever their noses led them. But gradually, he gathered the stones and wood, and bought the other materials needed to build what was a comfortable and cosy cottage for his bride and the five children to whom he would now become father. 
     It was quite an undertaking, Norah acknowledged to herself, one that gave her confidence that Nels would take good care of her daughter and her grandchildren. He was young and strong and obviously totally in love with Rebecca, who sat in one of the two large soft armchairs that Nels had brought home last week, insisting they would be kept for he and his wife to rest in at the end of the day. They would discuss their plans and their problems from these chairs, he had said proudly. They would warm themselves by the large fire in the corner, drink tea and remind each other how fortunate they were and what a fine life they would build.
     He had said all this in the short speech that he made earlier, having carried Rebecca across the threshold of the cottage as Mrs Glander for the first time. The children had all clapped, delighted to see their mother so happy and in awe of the room which would be theirs to sleep in. It was the first time that they had been in a house with a plank floor, having always lived on packed dirt. They kept tapping their boots on the boards, amused by the noise they could make as they walked across the room. Even having boots was a novelty, for they had spent most of their childhood barefooted. They had gradually spread themselves more spaciously around the table as they had eaten dinner, surprised to find that the long benches on either side of the wooden table provided ample room for them all. 
     Norah watched William, as he sat in one corner of the small parlour; Thomas and John on either side of him. Rebecca's two sons had found it hard to take in that this boy, just three years older than Thomas, was their uncle. And he could read! He had shown them in the local newspaper how he could understand the neat print, which to ten-year-old Thomas and nine- year-old John were just strange and uninteresting marks.
     Now William was suggesting that in fact the words in the papers were not uninteresting at all. What's more, he was telling them, there are wonderful story books which tell exciting tales of brave men and of animals and birds and huge fish that live in the ocean. Their eyes almost fell out of their heads as William explained that an ocean was like a river that was bigger than all of Australia and that huge boats could float from one side of the world to the other. Their grandmother had come in one of these, all the way from Ireland, he said, which was a faraway land. They all stared at Norah, admiration spreading on their face. She smiled at them and wrinkled her nose.
     ‘You could read about the explorers who are travelling across Australia, too,’ William was saying, enjoying his raptured audience.
     Even Mabel had settled at her brother's side and was listening intently to the stories.  ‘See here. Just a few weeks ago this explorer, Ernest Giles, arrived in Perth, which is a big town a long way west of here, right at the edge of the ocean. He and eight men crossed the desert on camels, which they call ships of the desert, because they can go for much longer without needing to drink than horses can.’
     William paused to watch the nods of his nephews and niece, making sure they understood, just as his brother, Tom, had always done. ‘It was the third time that this explorer tried to cross the desert for it's a very long way and it's very hot and dry. No one has done it before so he wasn't sure which way to get across.’
     Rebecca's attention was drawn to the little group on the floor. She had just finished feeding baby Arthur and put him down at her feet where Theresa was waiting to play with him. She listened to William for a few moments.
     ‘He's just like Tom, isn't he, Ma?’ She smiled at Norah.   
     ‘Yes, William is much like his older brother and if I'm not mistaken, so is your Thomas.’
     ‘Perhaps,’ Rebecca mused. ‘I always thought Tom was a clever boy. Not that I ever let him know that.’ She grinned sheepishly. ‘But he was very bossy and…I guess I was jealous of him. It's hard for me to see my Thomas like that. He certainly rounds the other children up here and makes them help, but he's not smart like Tom. He can't read or anything.’
     ‘Has he been taught?’
     She shook her head. ‘There are no schools out this way and I'd hardly be able to take him into Forbes. We'd be thrown out, for sure.’
     ‘Then you don't know how smart he is, do you? Tis just a chance he needs, sure it is.  Like the rest of them. They need to be learning, Rebecca.’
     ‘Why?’ Rebecca bristled a little. ‘They'll probably just go onto the land, like most other boys around here. It's more important they learn to ride a horse than read a book.’
     ‘No, tis not,’ Norah insisted. ‘They may not want to be farmers. They may want to travel to the big towns and work there. They might want to be teachers or doctors.’
     ‘Ma.’ Rebecca chortled. ‘You always did have such notions. I'll be happy if they get alongside Nels and help him with this farm. He has plans to grow wheat and get some more cattle. He'll need all the children to help.’
     ‘That's fine for now, but you never know what they might like to do as they get older.  It pays to be prepared.’
     ‘Dishes all done,’ Mary announced coming from the kitchen at the back of the cottage. Nels followed her back into the parlour, having helped her wash up.
     ‘I was just telling Rebecca how important it is for young children to learn to read and write,’ Norah explained, yawning.
     It had been a long day and she was ready for sleep. It had been a wonderful time here helping Rebecca prepare for her marriage, but now she was looking forward to getting back to her own room in Wiseman's Creek. It was time for this little family of her daughter's to get on with their own lives. 
     ‘I agree, Ma,’ Mary said quietly, sitting on the chair beside her mother. ‘That's why I've decided to stay here.’ She smiled innocently, as if it had been something everyone was prepared for.
     ‘What?’ Norah recovered from her drowsy state.
     ‘Nels and I have been discussing it,’ Mary said. ‘I said I'd like to stay and help with the children. Rebecca could do with another pair of hands and I could teach the children to read and write as well.’ It seemed a simple and obvious solution to Mary. ‘What do you think, Rebecca? We never did have much time together as sisters and I think I could help you a lot.’
     ‘Why, it would be wonderful.’ Rebecca sat up, her face breaking into a wide smile.  ‘I'd love it. Yes, I think it's a grand idea.’
     Norah sat back. Her first thought was that she was to lose another daughter. But then she turned to Rebecca and saw the look of gratitude on her face. Rebecca was overwhelmed, clearly not thinking that she deserved such grace from her sister. Yes, it would be good for her, not only to have help with the children but to receive the love and acceptance her sister was showing and to know that she was worthy of it, no matter how much she had held her family at bay these past years. It would be a new chapter in her daughters' lives. A good chapter.
     ‘Well.’ Norah sighed, satisfied. ‘That's decided then.’

‘Gwandma, Gwandma.’ Young Catherine ran to the door to welcome her grandmother home from Forbes.
     Norah dropped to her knees to receive the five-year-old's hug. ‘Tis so good to see you, my sweet. My, I think you've grown while I've been away.’
     ‘I drawed you a picture, Gwandma. Come and see.’
     Norah followed the little girl to a chair in the parlour and dropped into it gratefully before carefully examining and marvelling over the drawings her granddaughter produced.
     Within minutes, Elizabeth appeared with a pot of tea on a tray. Marianne was walking slowly behind her mother, her eyes trained on the small plate of biscuits she was carrying. Norah grinned as she watched little Rebecca, now fifteen months old, pull herself up on the arm of the chair and reach for a biscuit the minute her sister had laid them down on the small table.  
     ‘So, do you think this one will look like her namesake, Ma?’ Tom said after hearing how beautiful his sister had looked at her wedding. He drew his youngest daughter onto his knee. 
     ‘She doesn't have your sister's dark curls, does she?’ Norah smiled at the infant's pale brown hair.
     ‘No, Catherine's the one who's going to have her Aunt Rebecca's and her Grandma's curls.’
     ‘Not Gwandma's,’ Catherine piped in authoritatively. ‘Gwandma's hair is grey…isn't it, Gwandma?’ The little girl turned to Norah, looking for agreement.
     ‘It is now, my darling, so it is.’ Norah pushed her fingers through her still thick hair.  ‘But once it was red just like yours.’
     ‘Truly?’ Catherine's eyes widened. ‘But Daddy's hair is black. So why wasn't your hair black?’
     ‘Well, your daddy's hair is more like his…Pa's.’ Norah faltered. She noticed Tom tense. ‘It seems the time is coming when there'll be difficult questions to answer,’ she said quietly across the child's head. 
     ‘Hmm,’ Tom murmured. ‘Now, Catherine, did you show Grandma all those beautiful pictures you drew?’
     ‘Me too,’ Marianne attempted to push her older sister aside and nestle into her grandmother's knee.
     The interruption distracted Catherine from her question and she focussed on competing with her younger sister for their grandmother's attention.
     Elizabeth chucked Rebecca under the chin and smiled warmly at her mother-in-law.  ‘I just hope this little one gives us as much pleasure as her name sake is now giving you.  It must have been a wonderful day for you to see Rebecca happily married.’
     ‘Yes, it was, and not only happily married, but happy with herself. I've waited a while for that blessing.’
     Between biscuits and more cups of tea, Tom and Elizabeth listened to Theresa's and William's stories of their time in Forbes, the gestures of the two older children keeping the little ones amply entertained throughout.
     When the chatter slowed, Tom suggested they go out the back and have a play before dinner, and then he turned to his mother. 
     ‘Have you decided what you're going to do with that jewellery from the box, Ma?’
     ‘Oh, that again. I'd like to take it to the police and hand it in. Tis stolen property, after all. But that would surely spell more trouble for your father. I'm not wanting to do that, even though I know he deserves it. I couldn't possibly benefit from it, though, Tom. All those years I tried to get him to change his ways…perhaps I didn't try hard enough. But now I couldn't bring myself to use things he stole from other people. I still have trouble thinking about the gold we found in his coat being used to fix up this house. It just doesn't seem right.’
     ‘I understand, Ma, but how could I possibly find out who really owned that. I wouldn't know which of the men after Pa were robbers themselves and which had really dug for those nuggets. It's even harder to imagine how the jewellery in that box could ever be returned to the people it belongs to. It would be impossible after all this time for even the police to establish that. And what difference would it make if they went after Pa for it? He could be charged with so many thefts. Sooner or later, something will catch up with him. Or he'll completely lose his mind and have to be locked up anyway.’
     ‘It's a sad end, Tom.’
     ‘But hardly surprising, Ma. In the end you won't be able to prevent him having to face the consequences of his life…in this world, or the next.’
     ‘I know, but I can still be sad about it.’ She sighed deeply. ‘So what do you suggest I do with the jewellery?’
     ‘I think Hamlet's right. Pa's children might well do with getting something from their father's life. Not me, of course. I've all I need. But what about Theresa? Or Mary…now that she's embarking on a new life out there at Forbes? Or Rebecca? She and Nels might like a bit of help. Joseph and Mick can work for what they need. They don't deserve to benefit from his thieving. Not after they aided Pa in some of his later escapades. And William, well I suspect he'd rather earn his own way as well.’
     ‘So the boys can earn their own way, and the girls should benefit from some criminal means of gain. Is that what you think?’
     ‘Oh, Ma, don't put it like that. I just thought perhaps they could do with some help.  But on second thought, I guess their husbands would prefer to support them by other means. Of course we don't know when Mary or Theresa will have husbands, do we?’
     ‘Mary could meet someone any time now, but it's a long way off for Theresa, seeing as she’s only ten. She actually found the jewellery just before we went to Forbes and was parading around in one of the necklaces as if she was a queen with the crown jewels. She's not had too many pretty things. But I still don't want her wearing something her father stole from some poor woman.’
     ‘It's up to you, Ma. But it won't do to leave it around the house too long. As you see, Theresa found it. We can't hide it forever. What did you tell her about it?’
     ‘The truth. I couldn't lie to her. She seemed hardly affected at all. Tis the only kind of thing she's heard about her father all her life, sadly enough.’
     ‘Well, I hope she doesn't say anything to Joseph. I didn't tell him what was in the box besides the brooch and I don't think he needs to know. He does seem to have settled down but I'd not want to tempt him too much. And I certainly don't want Mick finding out about it.  Goodness knows what he'd do.’
     ‘We have no idea when we might see Mick again, do we?’ Norah’s heart still ached for her wayward son.’
     ‘No,’ Tom murmured, his face darkening.
     ‘Do you think you'll be able to put the past behind you now, Tom?’
     ‘What do you mean?’
     ‘I mean will you be able to let go of your anger with your father and your brother?’
     ‘You mean, can I forgive them?’
     ‘Tis a hard thing, I know, but if we can't let go of all that, then it will haunt us into the future.’
     ‘I'm trying to put it behind me, Ma. But forgive is a pretty strong word. I don't believe my father deserves forgiveness.’
     ‘Perhaps, but then, who of us really does? We all do wrong one way or another.’
     ‘Most of our wrongs hardly compare to Pa's.’ Tom shook his head. ‘He's followed every wrong path he could find since he was a young boy, don't you think? And Mick may not be much different, I'm afraid.’
     ‘Now, Tom, please don't have Mick judged so harshly before he's even a man. We don't know that he won't turn his life around, as Joseph has done. We must hold out hope for him.’ Her voice wavered as she thought about Mick. ‘But even as far as your father's concerned, ultimately tis not up to us to judge him. That's a job for God alone.  Ours' is to forgive…for our own sakes, if not for his.’
     ‘I don't know how you can think like that, Ma…after all he put you through.’
     Norah could hear the hardness in her son's voice. ‘He put all of us through a great deal, Tom. And I'd never say it wasn't wrong of him. He's caused a lot of heartache and provided little of what I'd hoped for from a husband and father. But to harbour resentment would only bring us further heartache and trouble. We must let it go if we're to have a happy future. Heaven knows, he needs our prayers more than anyone. He's a scoundrel but he was spoiled early. Only God can help him.’
     ‘We can't be sure we won't have more trouble from Pa yet to come…and perhaps from Mick. It's a bit soon to be forgiving, isn't it?’
     ‘We can't always wait for a person to change before we forgive, Tom.’ Norah sighed deeply, feeling the years of pain. ‘I'm sorry for the past. But I want us to be free to enjoy the future.’
     Tom pushed his hair from his forehead and took a deep breath. ‘Well, let's just concentrate on the wonderful things ahead, then, eh? Lizzie and I have some news.  We're pretty sure, aren't we, sweetheart?’
     He turned and smiled warmly at Elizabeth. ‘Looks like we'll be having another child next year. This time I'm praying for a son… for Lizzie's sake.’ He squeezed her hand and her face lit up. ‘Do you think God might grant her that?’
     ‘I wouldn't be surprised, Tom. He's very gracious.’
     ‘Oh, oh, they're back.’ Elizabeth laughed as Rebecca bounced gleefully at the sight of her sisters coming back into the room.
     ‘Catherine's done another drawing, Ma,’ Theresa said. ‘She's very good at it.’
     Catherine came directly to Norah and proudly placed a drawing on her lap.
 ‘It's Mummy,’ she announced.
     ‘So it is.’ Norah nodded. ‘She's looking very beautiful.’
     ‘Yes, she has brown hair. And a green skirt and a white shirt.’
     ‘She does, and what's this on her shirt?’ Norah pointed to a small circle on the drawing.
     ‘That's her brooch,’ Catherine exclaimed, as if it should be perfectly obvious. ‘With her picture on it. See?’ She moved close enough to her mother to point at the brooch which was pinned to the top of her blouse.
     ‘Well, I do see that now…but it's not your Mummy's picture on there, my sweet.  That's your great grandmother's picture.’
     ‘No, it's Mummy,’ Catherine insisted forcefully.
     ‘It looks a lot like her, doesn't it? But it's your Grandfather Pollard's mother.’
     ‘Truly?’ Catherine's face screwed into a doubtful expression.
     ‘I have told her that before,’ Elizabeth said, ‘but she finds it hard to understand.’
     ‘Of course it's hard to understand, my sweet.’ Norah drew the little girl back into her arms and kissed her lightly on the cheek. ‘It's hard to imagine people from such a long time ago, isn't it? But one day I'll tell you all about your great grandmother Pollard. She was a very special lady and that brooch is a precious treasure. One day you'll understand, I promise.’  

You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and you feel the power to wish them well.  Lewis B.  Smedes


Carol Preston


  1. Thank you so much for this wonderful book. At times it was hard to wait for the next chapter, now I am waiting for time to finish the last three:)
    I hope your book will be an inspiration to many people and help them with their own forgiveness issues. Loved it...

  2. Thanks Margaret. I'm glad you enjoyed the story and I too hope that it will inspire readers to consider the issues around forgiveness. Such a big topic.