Sunday, 28 October 2012

Forgiving Michael Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-seven

When you give up vengeance, you don’t have togive up on justice.
 Vengeance is our own pleasure of seeing someone who hurt us getting it
back and then some. Justice is secure when someone pays a fair penalty
 for wrongdoing another, even if the injured person takes no
pleasure in the transaction. Vengeance is personal satisfaction.
Justice is moral accounting. Human forgiveness does not go
away with human justice. B. Smedes.

Bowenfels, just near Lithgow, August, 1873
The two figures entering the train were oblivious to the stares that their scruffy appearance was attracting. Three passengers moved to the back of the carriage after a few minutes of sitting behind them, their noses pinched, their eyes rolling. One small boy remarked loudly to his mother that the men surely needed a bath. She referred to the pungent odour they were all enduring as an example of what would happen to him if he should resist the soaping she insisted he have every other day. The ticket officer checked the tickets twice, baffled as to how the pair had afforded the fare. 
     Mick was busy looking out the window, enjoying the passing bushland. He had contemplated this trip for months now and the thought of retrieving the haul that he was sure his Pa had stashed away, left a greedy smirk on his face. Joseph had refused to come with them so, to Mick's mind that meant the rewards would be cut two ways.  Joseph had gone soft lately, he reckoned. Probably letting their mother get to him, the way Tom had, and it made Mick determined that he would never let any woman take over his life. He couldn't imagine ever getting married and he had no intention of getting back under his mother's thumb.
     It would be just him and his Pa now…at least for a while. He felt sure that his Pa wouldn't go back with his mother again. And he didn't seem to have any inclination to hitch up with any other woman. Not that he could imagine his Pa attracting a woman any more. In fact, it was pretty clear to him that his Pa was on the way out, for the old man constantly dribbled and rambled into his beard, even when there was not a person in sight. He would go into rages at the drop of a hat, ranting about someone after him, which was entirely possible, given the number of times they had tricked stupid miners out of their gold or stolen money from them right under their noses.
     Once a man was drunk, he was an easy roll and usually didn't know anything was missing till long after Mick and his father were on their way. A real chip off the old block, his Pa kept saying he was. Just as good as he was himself at fifteen, he'd often said of Mick. Still, over time there were more people who were suspicious and tried to prove the involvement of the Kearns boys in various robberies. So far, they had escaped, but Mick figured, sooner or later, their luck had to run out, no matter how good they were. He wanted something easier and he was sure that's what was waiting for him in Sydney. He was also sure that time was running out to get it. The old man's mind was going, nothing surer. Anything hidden behind those sunken eyes and bushy brows would have to be found out soon or lost forever. And Mick Kearns didn't intend to lose it… whatever it was.  
     He tore his eyes from the blur of trees through which he was sure he could see the ocean in the distance, and turned to his father. Michael's head lolled about with the rhythm of the train's movement across the tracks. His eyes were closed, a thin stream of dribble pooling on the greying collar of his shirt. He snorted in his sleep and Mick decided to leave him be. The old man needed his rest if they were to carry out their plan quickly. They had no spare cash to be hanging about the city, except, of course, for whatever cash might be waiting for them in a box somewhere that the key fitted.
     Mick licked his lips and thought about what a wad of cash would buy him. He wasn't so good at thieving that he would prefer it to buying with cash. Not like his father, who would steal food even when they had cash in their pockets, just for the thrill of it.  Joseph had started talking about the good money being made working on the rail line and in the mines that were springing up everywhere around the Lithgow valley, but that was not easy money, not by a long shot. There had been stories of explosions going wrong when rock had to moved out of the way for the rail line. There were earthfalls and explosions in the mines as well, men losing arms and legs, their eyesight. Accidents every day, it seemed. Just as bad as the gold fields. Mick had no aspirations for that kind of work. He closed his eyes and listened to the clacking of the wheels across the track.  The train was a mighty machine, no doubt about that, he mused as he drifted off to sleep.

They arrived in Sydney late in the evening, darkness slowly enveloping the city, except for the occasional circle of lamp light along George Street. The carriages and carts and horses were thinning as they wandered down the wide street. Michael stared in amazement at the buildings, as if he had never seen any of it before.
     ‘But I thought you lived 'ere for years,’ Mick questioned when his father mumbled about being lost. 
     ‘I did, yer daft beggar. But it were over twenty years ago. Tis changed, so it 'as. I can't tell what's what in this light. In the mornin' it'll be clear. You'll see. I'll know what I'm lookin' for.’
     ‘And what exactly is it that we're lookin' for?’ Mick demanded. He was tired of his father's games and secrets.
     ‘Ah, you'll be waiting to see what's what, sure you will. Don't be touchy about it, or you'll never know.’ Michael let out a loud, half crazed laugh. 
     The few people that were still on the street glared at him suspiciously and Mick hurried him along. It was a warm night, the city air sticky and strong with the scent of horses' droppings.
     ‘I need a drink,’ Michael hissed. His eyes scanned the street searching for a familiar sight. A few moments later, he stopped in front of a small pub. He rifled about in the pocket of his pants, dragging out the last of the coins he had stuffed into it after buying the train ticket. He held them up to the fading light and ascertained that there would be enough to buy a bottle of rum, then disappeared into the pub for a few minutes and came out with a bottle protectively under his arm. 
     ‘For later,’ Mick heard him mumble as he patted the bottle and nodded for his son to keep going. 
     George Street seemed unending to Mick as they trudged on, his father's face vague.  He was beginning to worry that this might be a wild goose chase when his father spoke again. 
     ‘Ah.’ Michael let out a knowing sigh as they came to a cross street. 
     ‘What is it?’ Mick looked about, then back to his father.
     ‘There it be,’ Michael said, nodding at the building across the street. 
     He pointed to a large brick frontage with imposing doors, now closed, but suggesting wealth and power, over which Mick could see something written in broad letters. He could not read it. It hardly looked like a place his father would use to hide something.  He wondered if the old man had really lost his mind altogether. 
     ‘There it be,’ Michael called loudly. His laugh was more of a screech, his enjoyment of the moment seeming demented. Mick pushed him across the road and past the building, the two of them narrowly avoiding ploughing into a man and woman walking down the street arm in arm. They both stood aside quickly, their faces registering contempt as they hurried on. 
     ‘Watch this,’ Michael hissed, his face suddenly trained on a man coming towards them dressed in a tailored coat and top hat. 
     The man swung a cane by his leg jauntily, looking as if he had had a very good day.  That was about to be spoiled, Mick had time to think before his father threw himself sideways into the man, almost knocking him to the ground. The two jostled for a few moments while Michael righted himself, grabbing at the other man who was trying to straighten himself up. He brushed down his clothes, obviously appalled at the smell and grubbiness of the drunken fool who had run into him.
     ‘For God's sake, watch your step, old man. You're disgusting. Get out of my way.’ The man grimaced as he spoke, backing away as soon as he had his balance, barely able to contain himself long enough to reprimand the vagrant. ‘You both should be ashamed.’ He turned his glare onto Mick as he put distance between himself and the two of them, rounding the corner before he had finished his sentence.
     Michael roared again with laughter and held out his hand to Mick, a gold watch glinting in the fading light.
     ‘Pa, you devil. You'll 'ave the police on us. Let's get out of 'ere, quick.’
     Mick dragged his father along the street until they came to an alley. They both ducked off the main road and collapsed onto the dirt, pulling their feet back from the stream of what was likely effluent running along the edge of the building.
     Michael was puffing but still laughing. ‘Tis good, Mick. Tis good to be back. Old Michael's still got it, eh? I've missed these old alleys, so I have. Tis 'ere a man can do what 'e's best at, eh?’
     ‘Never mind that, Pa. You get some rest. We've got things to be about come mornin'.  An' then we'll be out of 'ere, back to where we belong.’
     ‘Ah, but tis 'ere I belong, Mick. Tis 'ere I belong.’ Michael slumped down against the stone wall and drew up his feet, folding his arms over his chest, patting the small bulge of the watch in his fob pocket. 
     There was very little sound now, just the occasional cursing of another homeless, lurching man looking for a place to curl up in the back streets to sleep off the belly full of drink that he had consumed. Mick huddled close to his father, his arm across the pocket of the old man's vest lest someone attack them and steal their means of getting their prize. 
     Michael turned his attention to the bottle of rum under his arm. He sniffed the uncorked rum and sighed loudly.
     ‘Can I 'ave some, too?’ Mick said wearily. His father occasionally gave him a nip these days. A boy had to learn to hold his liquor, he was fond of saying. ‘You'll not be drinkin' all of that by yourself, now will yer?’ Mick held out his hand. 
     Michael passed the bottle to his son, watched as he gulped at it, then pulled it back to his own mouth. Between them they emptied the bottle within minutes and settled down into a slack heap of arms and legs, leaning into each other and sliding further down the wall slowly until they were sprawled on the ground deep in sleep.

Tom was sure neither of them had noticed him walking down George Street on the opposite side of the street, watching them unobtrusively, his hat low over his forehead, his head turned carefully to avoid his face being seen by them. Seeing them now huddled against the wall, he quietly crossed the street half a block beyond the alley and slowly made his way back towards it. 
     He thought how much they looked alike, lying there, his father's upper body resting across his brother's back, their faces crumpled, their dark hair trailing from under their hats. The smell was foul, though obviously appealing to rodents, Tom mused, as he watched a rat approach, its nose twitching. It crawled carefully across his father's boot and started up the leg of his pants, its tiny face turning this way and that, oblivious to its audience. It sniffed around Michael's pocket and neckchief, even poked its snout into the matted mass of beard. Michael snored loudly, undisturbed, and the rat turned and ran quickly across his chest and onto the ground, finding the stream of stinking waste on the other side of the alley more palatable. Tom carefully pulled open the flap of his father's vest and reached into the inside pocket. It was quite deep and as he pulled his hand free Michael stirred but did not wake. 

Two nights later Tom sat in the Pollard's parlour.
     ‘How could you not open it?’ Kathryn stared at her son-in-law in amazement.
     ‘It's yours isn't it?’
     ‘Yes, it is.’ Hamlet spoke quietly, having sat speechless while Tom told them how he had followed his brother and father up George Street, watched Michael point at the bank and then stolen the key as the two of them slept in an alley. He had gone to the bank first thing the following morning and shown them the key. He told the bank manager that his father was too old to come to town and retrieve the jewellery he had put away years ago for safe keeping. The manager had no qualms about him having access to the safe deposit box, relieved to have someone claim its contents. It was always a dilemma for them to know what to do with unclaimed goods. The small tin box inside was shut tight.  Tom had been too anxious to get out of the bank and on his way home to think of opening it there. When he was safely in the train, he considered it, but decided it belonged to Hamlet and Kathryn and they should be the ones to open it.
     ‘I don't know what to say,’ Hamlet continued, his voice unsteady. 
     Kathryn patted his back and nodded for him to open the box. His heart thumping, he reached out tentatively, afraid what he had longed to see again all these years would not be there. He breathed in deeply, controlling his emotions and took the box in his large hands, prising the edges apart and pulling the top off. 
     Kathryn and Elizabeth leaned forward over the table straining to see. Tom watched Hamlet's face, silently praying for an expression of joy and not disappointment. When there was a collective gasp around the table, Tom turned his gaze to the box.
     ‘Dear God!’ Kathryn looked at her husband in shock.
     The glint of gold from inside the box took their breath away. There were numerous gold watches, chains and bracelets, cuff links and a snuff box. They watched as Kathryn gently removed item after item and laid them on the table. The money at the bottom was just as Hamlet had left it. A thin ribbon, now almost decayed, was still tied around a wad of notes. Several coins lay underneath, though perhaps not quite as many as had been there before Michael and Norah's visit to Campbelltown all those years ago. And amongst the coins…Hamlet's mother's sweet face looked up at them from the small gilt-edged brooch. Hamlet looked at the brooch for a long time, tears running down his cheeks.
     ‘See, Elizabeth,’ he said when he could speak. ‘It's the image of you.’ His face broke into a broad smile even as tears continued to drip onto the table.
     Elizabeth turned on her stool and buried her face in Tom’s chest. ‘I can't believe it,’ she said through her own tears. 
     ‘Oh, Tom, thank you.’ Kathryn was also crying.
     ‘I'll never be able to thank you enough,’ Hamlet whispered, unable to control his voice. He was still staring at the brooch, too moved even to pick it up.
     ‘You don't have to thank me, Hamlet. It's enough to see this back in the family. I'm just sorry it's been so long.’
     ‘Tis here now and in time for Hamlet to pass it to Elizabeth, just as he's always wanted,’ Kathryn said. ‘It was always meant to be a keepsake, so that our children and your children would not forget Hamlet's mother's love and trust in her son. Tis a blessing from God that we've got it back, sure it is.’
     ‘I hope she knows,’ Hamlet whispered.
     ‘Sure she will, my love. She'll be rejoicing with us now, sure enough.’
     ‘But what about all these other things?’ Elizabeth said through her tears. ‘Are they yours as well, Ma?’
     ‘No, Elizabeth, they're not. Except for the money. That was our savings, what we were going to buy the farm with.’ She picked up the bundle of notes. It's still quite a bit of money, Hamlet.’
     ‘It's something to give the children now…to help them along.’ He pushed his hands through his hair and rubbed his eyes, still hardly able to believe what he was seeing. He picked up the brooch and studied it lovingly.
     ‘So the other jewellery is someone else's?’ Tom sighed. ‘Poor devils.’
     ‘Likely not poor,’ Hamlet said. ‘Your father would have targeted the wealthy, picked their pockets on the streets or broken into their homes at night and raided their jewellery boxes. No doubt they'd have missed these things but there's nothing personal on any of them to indicate who they might have belonged to. And goodness knows how long they've been in this box. I doubt your father has been back to Sydney in all these years.’
     ‘What will we do with them?’ Kathryn looked around the small group.
     ‘I'd say they're Norah's,’ Hamlet announced after a moment. ‘Whatever Michael had should be passed onto her. God knows he gave her little enough over the years. She might as well have these now. She might be able to sell some of it…the watches at least.’
     ‘I don't think Norah will want any part of these,’ Kathryn cut in. ‘They're stolen goods. And you know how she felt about Michael's thieving. It broke her heart.’
     ‘Yes, I think it would distress her,’ Tom agreed. ‘But we are going to have to tell her something. If Elizabeth's to have this brooch –’
     ‘I think Ma should keep the brooch for now. You've not had the enjoyment of it, Ma,’ Elizabeth added quickly, before her mother could object. ‘Pa should have the pleasure of his mother's lovely face for a while. He's been deprived of it all these years.’
     Hamlet smiled gratefully at his daughter. ‘It would be nice.’ Reaching for Kathryn’s hand, he grinned. ‘But I suspect your mother is not going to agree to it, and I have to admit that to see you have it seems the right thing.’
     ‘Exactly.’ Kathryn nodded. ‘The brooch was always meant for our daughters and our granddaughters. That was your grandmother's wish, Elizabeth. I had a great deal of pleasure wearing the brooch before it was stolen. Besides, you have daughters of your own now. The years go by very quickly. Catherine and Marianne will be women before you know it and having children of their own. Then it'll be time to pass it on again.’
     Before his daughter could speak again, Hamlet reached out and pinned the brooch to her blouse, his eyes filling again with tears as he stood back and looked at it.
     Tom patted Elizabeth's arm gently, signalling she should not argue. Then he turned back to the box. ‘What do you suggest we do with the other things?’ he asked. 
     ‘I think Pa's right. They belong to your mother,’ Elizabeth said. ‘At least the benefit of them. I think we should trust her with the truth and let her decide what to do with these things.’
     ‘Good, and we'll share the money amongst the children. Not that it'll be a great deal for each, but something of an inheritance.’ Hamlet sighed. 
     ‘Don't you talk of inheritances, Hamlet Pollard. That's what family gets when you die.  And I'll not hear of that just yet.’
     ‘Well, my dear. I'm nearly seventy. It's a fair age for children to expect to benefit from their inheritance. What else would we do with it? We've everything we need.’
     ‘We do, my love. But let's think of this as a gift to our children. Tis a blessing to be able to give them a gift. An inheritance cost much more.’
     ‘I hate to break the spirit of all this but I'm wondering what Mick and his Pa will be doing right now,’ Elizabeth said cautiously. ‘Do you think they had any idea who took the key, Tom?’
     ‘Not unless they went to the bank to see if someone picked up the box.’
     ‘My guess is they won't do that,’ Hamlet said. ‘They wouldn't want an inquiry into the whole thing, would they?’
     ‘Perhaps not,’ Tom said. ‘So let's assume they don't know it was me until we learn differently, but we need to be careful all the same. If they were to come back looking for it again…well I'm not sure what they're capable of. I know Joseph wants to stay out of it now. I think he might even start work on the railways with me. He's had enough of Mick and Pa's antics.’
     ‘So, the next thing is to talk to your mother…just as soon as she gets home from Forbes. I'd like to be with you, Tom,’ Kathryn said. ‘She'll find it hard to understand why I kept this from her all these years. I hope she'll be able to forgive me. I couldn't bear to lose her friendship.’
     ‘I doubt that could ever happen,’ Tom assured her. ‘Ma's the forgiving type. I think she's proved that already.’

To be continued....

Carol Preston

No comments:

Post a Comment