Sunday, 14 October 2012

Forgiving Michael Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Three

Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds
on the heel that crushes it.  Mark Twain

Wisemans's Creek, February, 1870

Tom and Elizabeth were married at the end of February. Stephen Chastagnon, the elderly priest, wondered why the bride's father looked so glum throughout the ceremony when the rest of the family were so joyful. They danced and sang their way through the evening, the church hall having been decorated by church members, who had also prepared a wonderful feast of scones and jam, fruit tarts, and lemon and pumpkin pies.  The sound of the fiddlers' music, the shuffling of dancing feet and peals of laughter floated out along the river bank and Father Chastagnon thought it a grand occasion for the church community, just the kind of gathering he was sure God loved to see among His people.
     The father of the groom, of course, was not present. In fact, he had not been sighted for eighteen months. Not that anyone seemed worried about that, for the word was that the man had gone barking mad, which was only slightly worse than he had been for as long as anyone had known him. Pity, Father Chastagnon thought, for Tom seemed to be a very level headed young man. His brothers, Joseph and Mick, might not turn out that way, the Father noted, remembering that the boys were apparently with their father, doing goodness knows what. 

‘Can you believe we're to have a grandchild that will be part of both of us, Kathryn?’ Norah beamed.
     ‘Tis wonderful, isn't it?’
     Kathryn and Norah were clearing away plates and cups and left over food after the wedding party, both thoroughly pleased with how it had all gone. 
     ‘Tis very sweet that Tom has taken Elizabeth into Bathurst for their first night together. He's tried to make everything so special for her. She's in heaven…except for the morning sickness of course.’ Kathryn grimaced.
     ‘Yes…tis a pity. I do wish they'd waited, but they're so happy, Kathryn. Hamlet still looks very glum about it all, though. Do you think he'll come around?’
     ‘He'll have to. He's to be a grandfather. Tis the beginning of a whole new generation.  And he has children to be proud of…a life to be proud of. Hopefully, by the time the wee one gets here he'll have woken up to himself. When Suzannah's baby is born it might soften him up a bit. Who can resist the newborn?’
     ‘I hope so. I don't want anything to spoil Tom and Elizabeth's happiness, sure I don't.  My heart aches for some of my children.’ Norah sucked back tears. ‘But I'm so proud of Tom.’
     ‘Of course you are. And this wedding is a sign that the future holds good things.  Nothing need mar the happiness of this day, Norah. Nor the happiness of the years ahead. You take no notice of Hamlet's face.’

But Hamlet's face and his attitude was marring Elizabeth and Tom's happiness. In spite of the nausea and dizziness which plagued Elizabeth through the following months of her pregnancy, it was her father's refusal to be happy for her that most distressed her.
     ‘I don't understand it, Tom. Surely he can see that we're right for each other. He must know how much I love you. He's always been a good father…always understanding.  And wanting more than anything for all of his children to be happy. I just don't understand it.’
     ‘I don't either, Lizzie. But I do wish you'd not fret so about it now. It's all you can do to cope with this pregnancy. I'm worried about you.’
     ‘I know you are, and I do want to focus on having the baby. But I can't imagine what Pa will be like when the baby's born. Surely, he won't be as stony faced about our child as he is about the marriage. He's tickled pink about Johnny's baby. I want him to be as happy about our son as he is about little Francis.’
     ‘We don't know that it'll be a son, Lizzie. I know that's what you're hoping, but I'll be more than happy with a baby girl. As long as she's healthy, and you're healthy, it doesn't matter.’
     ‘I know, but I am dying to give you a son.’
     ‘Don't talk about dying and giving birth in the same breath, Lizzie. It frightens me.’
     ‘Oh, men are always more concerned about giving birth than women. It's natural to us. Don't worry. It's Pa that's the real worry.’
     ‘I'm sure he'll be fine about the baby, Lizzie. It's me that he resents. I feel like he's  waiting to see me turn out like my father. I don't know if he thinks I'm going to take off, like Pa did, or what? There must be something more, something about my father that we don't know. I'll find out sooner or later, I promise. I'll make it right. But for now please concentrate on keeping well until our baby's born.’
     ‘All right, Tom, I'll try,’ Elizabeth promised.

By the end of September, Elizabeth was unable to get out of bed. Her feet and legs were swollen and throbbing. Her usually bright, happy face was haunted with fear and pain.  Tendrils of lank hair lay across her forehead, plastered there by perspiration. Tom, Kathryn and Norah took turns to sit by her bed for the week that followed, reading to her, soothing her, praying for her. Bridget Hotham came daily, checking on Elizabeth's progress, and encouraging her to hold on.
     ‘She can't hold on much longer,’ Kathryn sighed on the fourth day of October. ‘Oh, Norah, I'm so afraid we're going to lose her. She's spent, so she is, and the labour hasn't started yet.’
     ‘We've had two false starts so it can't be too much longer. Let's sponge her down again and give her tummy a rub. The wee one is itching to be out. You can see that by all the movement.’
     ‘I'm grateful we can still see the movement. I was worried a few days ago that the baby had – ’
     ‘Shush now, none of that.’
     ‘Tom…?’ Elizabeth's voice came as a strained whisper.
     ‘He's just outside, pet, having something to eat,’ Norah said quietly. ‘He's hardly had a mouthful for days. Your mother and I had to push him from the room, sure we did.’
     ‘Please…tell him I'm…sorry.’ Elizabeth could barely find the energy to speak.
     ‘You've nothing to be sorry for, Lizzie.’ Tom entered the room and came quickly to her side. He leaned close to her face, brushing strands of hair from her cheek before he kissed her lightly. ‘You're doing fine, my darling. It will be over soon.’
     ‘I'm not sure…I can…do this.’
     ‘Of course you can. I won't leave you for a minute. Bridget will be back this afternoon. She's sure it will be tonight. Then you can rest. I promise you it will be all right.’ He moved back as tears welled in his eyes. 
     Norah moved aside to let him sit down. She rubbed his shoulders gently, feeling the tension in his muscles, the strain in his neck. Dear God, she thought, don't let this be the end of this lovely marriage. Surely, after all this pair have been through, they have more years to look forward to. And the child. She couldn't bear to think of them losing their child. How would her dear son survive such a tragedy? He deserved so much more. But Norah knew well that what comes to us in this life is not always what we deserve; not the goodness nor the badness. The rain falls on the just and the unjust, she recalled from the scriptures. Justice belongs to God and sometimes we only know that justice in the life to come. Oh, please, God, she prayed silently. Please bless this sweet girl and her baby…and my dear son. Please save them. She leaned close to Elizabeth again and wiped her face with a cool cloth. 
     ‘You hold on, dear girl,’ she whispered. ‘Soon you'll have a sweet bairn to hold. It will be worth it all, sure it will.’
     Kathryn gasped quietly. ‘Oh, Norah…and it's not so far from Christmas.’
     ‘Christmas?’ Tom raised his head from his hands.
     ‘Tis something that happened between your mother and me, Tom, a long, long time ago. Something I've never forgotten.’
     Tom looked quizzically at Norah. Tears were running down her cheeks.
     ‘When Kathryn and I were on the boat...’ she started, and then turned to Kathryn.    ‘But this is not the same. This wee bairn has so much to look forward to. A home, a family, everything prepared for him. Some little ones are not meant for this world, but, oh, I do believe this one is. This is our first grandchild together, Kathryn. A gift from God, sure he is. Please believe it with me.’
      ‘Yes, this time I do believe it with you, Norah. I do.’ Kathryn clutched Norah’s hands.
     ‘Lizzie seems to have drifted off, Ma,’ Tom said. ‘Why don't you two go and have a cup of tea. I'll sit here. I'm sure Bridget will be back in the next hour or so. Do you really think it will be tonight? I don't think I can stand too much more of this. Poor Lizzie.  She's… Ma, I'm afraid. I'm really afraid.’
     ‘I know, son. But we must trust. It's all we can do now.’
     Kathryn and Norah crept from the room, holding hands. In the parlour they collapsed into the large soft chairs, both exhausted. A moment later Mary's head appeared at the door from the kitchen. 
     ‘I've boiled the kettle, Ma,’ she said. ‘Tom said you and Mrs Pollard would need a cup of tea soon. Can I bring it to you?’
     ‘Thank you, Mary. Yes, that would be lovely.’
     When Mary had gone Norah looked back to Kathryn. ‘Poor girl. She's frightened too.  She's been so good with William and Theresa all day today. Thank God it's a Sunday and she was home. She even asked me if I wanted to go to church this morning. She said  she'd mind the children for me, dear girl. But I told her I'd be doing my praying here today.’ Norah smiled briefly. ‘I'm sure God won't mind. I'm very bold with God these days, sure I am. I often ask for miracles, so I do. For Rebecca, for Mick and Joseph, as well as for Elizabeth and that precious baby. I want so much. I'm sure God thinks I'm too bold. But He did say we're to ask, didn't He?’
     ‘He did.’ Kathryn nodded.
     ‘Then we'll be asking, won't we? And believing that He'll do what's best,’ she added quietly.

It was a long night, one Tom wondered if any of them would live through. By morning Bridget Hotham had all but given up. 
     ‘I'm not sure she's going to survive this, Tom,’ she warned when she came out of the bedroom asking for more hot water and clean cloths. ‘I'll do my best, but I'm just not sure. It's taken so long. Something is wrong but I don't know what.’
     Tom spoke through his tears. ‘I've sent for the doctor, like you said. Surely...’
     ‘There's no surely, Tom. We can only do so much. You need to prepare yourself. All of you,’ she added, looking at the two distressed mothers. 
     ‘And the baby?’ Tom asked. 
     ‘I don't know, Tom. I'm sorry, I don't know.’
     Tom paced up and down the length of the parlour. Kathryn and Norah came and went from the bedroom, helping Bridget, taking out soiled cloths, taking in hot water. The doctor arrived soon after and went straight to the bedroom, a grave expression on his face, which said that he’d faced more tragedies in birth than he cared to remember, and facing the family afterwards was almost as difficult as losing the battle for life. 
     It was mid morning when they heard the mewling cry. Kathryn, Norah and Tom all leapt to their feet, their eyes glued to the bedroom door. The strangled screams they had heard from beyond the door had told them that Elizabeth was, at least, still alive. Now they could hear the sounds of new life, tentative though they were.
     Norah and Kathryn stood side by side, hands clasped. Tom rushed to the door, to be met by Bridget as she was coming through it.
     ‘She's alive,’ Bridget gushed. ‘She's alive…weak…but alive. I can hardly believe it.  She has such a fighting spirit.’
     ‘Who? Which...’ Tom stammered.
     ‘Both,’ Bridget said, still puffing with the strain of the final moments. ‘Both are alive. Both have fought like troopers.’
     ‘Thank God.’ Tom's shoulders relaxed in relief. He waited for Bridget to let him pass and went quietly into the room.
     ‘Praise be to God.’ Norah raised her eyes to the ceiling and burst into tears. She and Kathryn fell into each other's arms and turned about on the spot, hardly able to contain their joy and thankfulness. 
     It seemed only a moment before Tom came out again. ‘Lizzie fell right to sleep, but the doctor said she's not lost too much blood and that he's sure she'll be all right with rest. She just not really built for it, he said. But it'll be easier for her next time.’ His words rushed out, his eyes were drowned in tears and his smile was spread across the whole width of his face.
     ‘And the baby?’ the women chorused.
     ‘Catherine Mary Agnes,’ Tom pronounced proudly. ‘We decided last night that's what we'd call her if she was a girl. Lizzie wanted us to decide in case…well, she wasn't sure… Oh, Ma, I don't know what I'd have done if I'd lost her.’ He collapsed into the chair and dropped his head into his hands, sobbing with relief and joy, and the anguish of the loss he'd almost had. 
     ‘Catherine Mary Agnes Kearns,’ Norah said, laughing through her own tears as she patted her son's head. ‘Tis quite a name, eh, Kathryn?’
     ‘It is…for quite a baby. Our granddaughter. Our gift from God. Our hope for the future.’ 
     They took hands and went to see their first granddaughter. 

Before the end of the next year Elizabeth was pregnant again. Fortunately, she had picked up quickly after the birth of Catherine, as had the baby, and now both were blooming with health.  Everyone had relaxed into the rhythm of a baby's routine, even William and Theresa, who were a very proud aunt and uncle. They had all marvelled at the beauty of the new little addition to their family. Catherine already had signs of the copper curls which still graced her grandmother's head. 
     ‘A little early to say who she'll be like,’ Elizabeth whispered, lightly touching her daughter's cheeks. Catherine beamed up at her mother. ‘But if she's like her Grandma Kearns, I'll be more than happy.’
     ‘Thank you, Elizabeth,’ Norah smiled. ‘That's very sweet of you.’
     ‘And I'm not nearly as ill this time. Surely that suggests I'm having a boy.’
     ‘I'm not sure about that logic, Elizabeth.’ Norah grinned. ‘But I'm sure God knows whether He wants to give you a girl or a boy this time.’
     ‘I'm sure God would want to give Tom a son. One to be just like him.’
     ‘We can never be sure just what our sons are going to be like.’ Norah’s heart felt heavy with the thought.  
     ‘I'm so sorry. I've reminded you of the boys again, haven't I?’
     ‘Not really, Elizabeth. I haven't said anything yet, because I'm not sure what to say about it but Joseph came to the inn a couple of days ago.’
     ‘You saw him? Why, that's wonderful.  Is he – ?’
     ‘He's just the same, I'm afraid. He wanted to let me know they were all right, so that's something. But nothing's really changed. They're just wandering about the countryside.  I did get the feeling that Joseph would think about coming home except for Mick. He still won't leave his brother. And it sounds like Michael is as bad as ever. Joseph seems a bit tired of his father's ravings. He used to be so full of promises. That was bad enough, for he never fulfilled one. But now he seems more full of hate, which is really distressing. Tis terrible to think of the boys hearing that all the time.’
     ‘But who does he hate so much?’
     ‘The world, I think, and probably if he could admit it, himself. He'd never admit that, of course, not unless there's a miracle, and I'm not past praying for that, let me tell you.  But mostly, he seems to aim all his hate at your Pa. I don't know why, sure I don't.  Except that he's probably jealous that your father has made a good life for himself and given his family what they need for a decent future. More than Michael's ever been able to do.’
     Norah sighed deeply and turned her attention to little Catherine, who was making faces at her from her mother's knee. ‘Best we leave it to God, Elizabeth. We must leave all that we cannot do to God.’

‘What's this really all about, Ma?’ Elizabeth pleaded. She and Tom had come to visit her mother and father with a purpose they were determined not to back down from. ‘Tom's been wracking his brains ever since Joseph came to see his mother this last time. Why would Tom's father be going on so much about hating Pa…even if he is babbling like a madman. Tom's out back now trying to get it out of Pa but I'm not sure that'll achieve much. Something awful must have happened between Pa and Tom's father. You must know.’
     ‘It's no good asking me about this, dear. If your father won't talk about it, then I can’t.’ Kathryn pounded the scone dough she had on the kneading board. ‘You sit down there. I've got some of these scones nearly ready in the oven. You need to rest more, girl.  You're looking very puffy around the face. You're six months along. The nausea should have settled down by now.’
     ‘I'm fine. Don't change the subject. Tom and I came over here especially to get to the bottom of this. Tom so wants to make things right between him and Pa.
     ‘I've said all I'm going to say on that subject,’ Kathryn insisted. ‘Now you take these scones from the tray and I'll go and call Suzannah. She'll need a cup, I'm sure.  She's been very tired since she had wee Tommy. A second child really makes you know you're alive. You'll notice it I'm sure, with another one. You need to conserve all your strength.’
     Kathryn bent down and took Catherine's tiny chin in her hand for a moment, blowing a kiss at the child.  Catherine looked up from the knitted doll she was playing with and grinned. ‘At least it won't be in the middle of Summer as Suzannah's was. I think the
Summers are getting hotter don't you?’ She brushed her hair back as she rose, her forehead glistening with sweat. 
     ‘No, Ma, I don't. It must be your stage of life.’
     ‘My stage of life?’ Kathryn bristled.   
     ‘Well, you are over fifty. Isn't that what happens to women then, getting all hot and bothered?’ Elizabeth sniggered.
     Kathryn grinned, unable to take offence. It really was good to see her daughter so happy, in spite of this frustration with her father. If only Hamlet could see what a good husband his daughter had. He’d had nothing but smiles for Harriet when she married Henry Woods a month earlier. Kathryn knew it had hurt Elizabeth to see her father so approving of her sister's marriage when she knew that he still had reservations about hers. Then when James married Isabel Quinn, just a few weeks later, Hamlet had seemed as proud as punch. Even though they had hardly any warning about that wedding. Apparently, the Quinns had known for much longer than any of the Pollards had, but then, James had not been home very often, and he’d insisted that he must have mentioned it before. And why women needed so much time to prepare, he couldn't imagine.
     The upshot of it for Kathryn was, that two of her children had been married in the first two months of the year. Harriet had moved out of their home and into a sweet little cottage in Bathurst which Henry Woods had spent months refurbishing. Isobel and James were to live with the Quinns until the hut James had been living in on the property was made more suitable for a family. Kathryn and Hamlet were really happy that both of these children had made such good choices. But it was still a sore point between them that they didn't agree on the choice Elizabeth had made, even though in Kathryn's mind, a blind man could see that their daughter was blissfully happy. Surely, Hamlet would come to his senses soon. 
     As if to grant the desire of her heart, her husband came through the door and smiled sheepishly at her. Tom was close behind.
     ‘Just in time for a cup of tea and some scones,’ Kathryn said hopefully.
     ‘Tom wants to know the truth,’ Hamlet said quietly as he came up behind his wife and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. ‘Perhaps it's time, eh?’
     ‘Whatever you think, dear.’ Kathryn winked at her daughter and took out two more cups.
     ‘It was while we were living near Campbelltown...’ Hamlet started. By the time he had finished the story of Michael and Norah's one and only visit, Tom was nodding his head.
     ‘So you think what's in that safe deposit box might be what Pa stole from you all those years ago?’
     ‘I do.’ Hamlet nodded soberly. ‘Most likely the brooch. And possibly the money, for your Pa was never one to enjoy spending money. It's too much like normal folk. He'd rather steal what he wants. The only thing he ever spent money on was his drinks at the pub and most of the time I reckon he got away with someone else buying. He occasionally bought a few small trinkets for your mother and you children. And that was only to make a big man of himself in your eyes.’
     ‘Now, Hamlet. Don't be too harsh,’ Kathryn warned.  
     ‘I'm not being harsh, Kathryn. Tom wanted the truth. This is it.’
     ‘It's all right,’ Tom said. ‘I knew what he was doing when he brought things home for us. It was mostly for Rebecca and he got tired of doing it soon enough. But I just can't imagine him leaving a tin of money in a bank.’
     ‘I made a real fuss when I went to Sydney after him,’ Hamlet said. ‘I let it be known around the pubs that I'd lost a brooch that was of great personal worth to me and I suspected someone might be showing it off. Which is what he'd have done…skite about his haul. And I went to the police too. I told them what I suspected. They said they'd be on the lookout. So I suspect he never spent that money, or not much of it anyway. But I don't really care about that now.’
     ‘So it's the brooch you're really hoping is there?’
     ‘It's nearly killed me thinking what it would mean to my mother if she knew it'd been stolen. Kathryn should have had it all these years. And now Elizabeth should have it.  Our Mary Ann wouldn't want it. Nuns don't have anything like that as far as I know.’ He glanced at Kathryn, who nodded, encouraging him to continue.
     ‘Mother's name was Elizabeth, and it's amazing how much Elizabeth looks like her grandmother. If you saw the photo, you'd see for yourself. It's something she should be able to pass down to this one.’ Hamlet reached out and touched Catherine's hair softly, his eyes creasing as if he was holding back tears. ‘So there you have it.’ His voice hardened again. ‘That's why I've hated him. I know it's wrong to harbour hate, and it's done me no good over the years to do so but I've not been able to shake it…not seeing what he's done to your Ma and how he's continued to get away with all he does.’
     Tom sighed deeply. ‘There's got to be a reckoning one day.’ Shame and anger creased his face. ‘If not in this life, then the next. Justice will find its mark eventually.’
     ‘That's right, Tom,’ Kathryn agreed. ‘There are some things we can't change here on earth. We must let God deal with men like your Pa. Tis not your responsibility, you know. Now that you've heard the story you'll understand Hamlet a little better I hope.  But you mustn't take it on yourself to bring about justice.’
     ‘That doesn't mean I can't try and right a wrong, Mrs Pollard.’
     ‘Not if it means putting your family in danger, Tom. You've a family of your own now. And tis time you called me something other than Mrs Pollard,’ she added warmly.  ‘You could call me Mother. Susannah does and I rather like it. Oh, dear, I forgot to call Susannah out for a cup of tea. The poor girl will be dying of thirst in there…if she's not dozed off with the little ones, that is.’ Kathryn touched Tom's shoulder firmly and moved away from the table.

‘What are you thinking, Tom?’ Hamlet asked, watching the young man's face. 
     ‘I could try and find the bank where the safety box is?’
     ‘But how do you know your father hasn't already gone and got the box himself?’ Elizabeth asked.
     ‘I don't,’ Tom said thoughtfully, ‘but from what Joseph has said the couple of times he's talked to Ma, Pa’s still raving on about going to Sydney and the boys can’t understand what he’s talking about. They'd never figure it out unless he was clear. And who knows that he's not even worse now…in his mind, I mean. I do believe it's all coming against him, all the lying and hiding, watching his back. It would have to send you crazy after all those years, wouldn't it? Perhaps he can't even remember where the bank is himself.’
     ‘Are you thinking you'll go to Sydney?’ Hamlet asked, his mind reeling.        
     ‘Tom, no,’ Elizabeth cried. ‘Wouldn't that be too risky?’
     ‘Not at all, Lizzie. I could check out the banks, tell them I'm his son. I have the key so they should believe me.’
     ‘That’s assuming it's still there,’ Elizabeth said.
     ‘It's worth a try.’ Tom clamped his hands together decidedly. ‘I'd rather not go until Lizzie has the baby but right after that I'll see if I can arrange some time off work. I'd need a day to do the rounds of the banks. I could travel down by train. It's a great service from Sydney, this new rail. And when this mess is sorted out, we should all go for a round trip. Don't you think that'd be grand, Lizzie?’
     ‘I do,’ Elizabeth said, her face lighting up. She glanced toward her father hopefully.   
     Hamlet turned to Tom. It took him a moment to speak. 
     'Thank you, Tom, for all this...and I think it's time you called me...well, Hamlet would do,' he said shyly.
     When the two men had shaken hands firmly, Elizabeth hugged Hamlet and kissed his cheek.

To be continued...

Carol Preston

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