Jacaranda Plains

Chapter Seven

“The daylight is dying,
Away in the west,
The wild birds are flying
In silence to rest;”

From “The Daylight is Dying” ~ Banjo Paterson

The last tinges of sunset had all but faded from the sky when Jemimah followed Michael and Angie out of the kitchen door and toward the front of the house. It was a little cooler now, but the scent of baked earth and warm grass still thickened the air.

Relief at not having to face the room full of strangers again seemed to have given her new energy and now that she was safely on the way home with the Turnbulls, Jemimah felt so much brighter. It was amazing how God had made everything work out for her yet again. If only she hadn’t let her worries get on top of her earlier . . .

“You can play chauffer, Michael,” Angie said as they stopped beside a burgundy sedan, “and Jemimah and I can sit in the back and relax while you do the driving.”

“As madam wishes,” Michael bowed, winking at Jemimah as he held the door for her. Feeling her face already beginning to burn in response to the light-hearted gesture, she climbed quickly into the back seat, thankful that she would not be sitting in the front beside him.

Even though she felt certain Michael would not mention the things she had unintentionally said in the kitchen, she was painfully embarrassed to have broken down like that in front of him. There was just something about the genuine concern in his eyes that had made her feel safe confiding in him and suddenly the things she never meant to admit to anyone had come tumbling out.

Jemimah looked up through her eyelashes as Michael climbed into the front seat, ease and confidence in his every movement. Despite being ashamed of acting like a foolish child she couldn’t really regret having told him what she had. His calm answers had shrunk her fears back to size and restored her perspective, helping her to remember that she was here to serve God, not to make a perfect impression on the town’s people.

She did wish, however, that she could have made a slightly better impression on Michael Turnbull. She’d certainly never met a man like him before.

“All buckled up?” his deep voice came through the darkness as he started up the car. Jemimah’s heart gave a little flutter at the sound of it, still finding it hard to believe that he had gone to so much trouble to help her. He had seen her weakness but instead of making her feel small, his strength and confidence had restored her own.

“So where were you all evening, Michael?” Angie’s question cut across her thoughts. “You’re always telling me to learn to reflect quietly for a respectable time after the message yet when I opened my eyes after the service you were already gone.”

“I went outside to talk to Gary Peterson. He was listening from inside the kitchen during most of the sermon, and I wanted to catch him while I had the chance.”

“Really? Gary Peterson?” Angie repeated. “He’d be the last person I’d expect to hang around while the church was visiting. What did he have to say for himself?”

“We had a bit of a chat, and I’m very thankful for the opportunity to speak with him,” Michael said, his indirect answer giving Jemimah a reassuring sense of his discretion. “I don’t know what will come of it, but it’s a good reminder not to give up praying for anyone, Ange.”

Jemimah chewed on her lip. To think she’d been praying for that man while he was standing in the kitchen . . . and that Michael had known to go and speak to him. Had her prayers been a tiny part of God’s plan tonight - was this a reminder that even her being here was a part of his bigger plan for more than just her?

“How did you find the sermon, Jemimah?”

Michael’s question caught her completely off-guard and she simply could not think of anything to say.

“Michael!” Angie complained before even a few moments’ silence passed, “It’s one thing to interrogate your own family - but surely it’s not fair to cross-examine our visitors.”

“I’m not cross-examining Jemimah. The whole point of preaching is to make God’s word clear to the listeners - our congregation is used to this style of preaching - but someone from another church might not be,” he replied, his voice gentler as he continued, “But I’m sorry if I put you on the spot Jemimah. I didn’t mean to - I just thought this might be a good time to check if you had any questions.”

“No, that’s okay, I appreciate it,” Jemimah said quickly, feeling bad that Angie had spoken so unkindly to him because she’d hesitated to answer. From what she knew of him already, Jemimah felt sure he’d only have her interests at heart. But how could she tell him what she’d really thought? That looking at the way God dealt with Saul and the Amalekites had left her feeling rather uncomfortable and depressed?

“Hard to follow?” he prompted, a smile in his voice.

“No, not hard to follow . . . hard to take in?” she began finally. The message had been clear enough - she just hadn’t liked thinking about that part of the Bible. But why not be honest and tell Michael? The concerns it had raised about her image of God were still hanging over her and maybe he could help her deal with them too.

“The way God deals so harshly with people like that in the Old Testament . . . it just doesn’t seem to sit right with what we know of him from the New Testament,” she said slowly, nervous she was revealing some great lacking in her understanding.

“Well - it’s what the Bible says, so we just have to accept it whether we like it or not.” Angie kicked off her high heeled shoes and tucked her legs under her, settling in for the drive.

“That’s not exactly the most helpful way of looking at it, Ange,” Michael answered. “Yes, God’s justice is very much a part of who the God of the Bible is - and while from a human perspective it can seem very harsh - it is inextricably linked with his love and mercy. When you mention seeing God’s love and mercy in the New Testament, Jemimah, I imagine you are thinking of Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross? That God is so loving and merciful he’d give up his own Son to save his people? And when you think of passages like 1 Samuel 15, you just see his wrath in the outworking of his justice?”

“Yes,” Jemimah whispered, relieved he understood. Gumtrees briefly lit by the headlights were flashing by on either side of the road, but she was only aware of Michael’s voice within the semi-darkness of the car.

“Although we often focus on God’s mercy in the New Testament, God’s judgement is right there with it. Christ died on the cross so God’s wrath could be satisfied. God’s justice demanded that man’s sin be dealt with by death - but God’s mercy provided Christ as a sacrifice for that sin so that his people could be saved. It’s the same revelation of God’s nature in the Old Testament, wherever we are brought face to face with God’s justice against his enemies, we also see his mercy.”

“Okay then,” Angie challenged, “how do you see God’s mercy with the Amalekites? That was a pretty thorough execution of justice.”

“For one thing, we see his mercy when we realise that he’d allowed over three hundred years to pass since he’d declared that they would be destroyed for their wicked actions. When Jonah warned the Ninevites that God was going to destroy them - they repented immediately and cried to the Lord for mercy and he withheld his judgement. The Amalekites didn’t heed the warning but continued in their rebellion against God and his people. Whenever we see God’s judgement in action, we also see his mercy by how much he has stayed his hand until then.”

“Like the Bible says the delay in Christ returning to judge the world is to give people time to repent before it is too late?” Jemimah asked.

“Yes, that’s exactly right - it is not God being slow in keeping his promise but being patient and not wanting anyone to perish. When Christ comes back we will see God’s mercy and justice acting together again - judgment on those who have rebelled against him and mercy on those he has saved,” Michael continued, his voice warm with enthusiasm for his subject. “And in passages like this one in Samuel we also see God’s mercy toward his people by bringing his judgement on his enemies. Just like the Israelites had been suffering at the hands of the Amalekites, people in many parts of the world today are being greatly persecuted because of their faith in the God of the Bible. The reminder that God will deal justly with those who seek to harm his people must be a tremendous encouragement to those who are suffering for his gospel.”

“It just seems so harsh,” Jemimah murmured.

“Yes, but that’s what our sins deserve. And these instances of God’s wrath and judgement which we see clearly in the Old Testament really give us a wake-up call. Through the account of the destruction of the Amalekites, God in his mercy is warning the rest of us that we must repent or we too will experience his justice as they did. We have no excuse for being ignorant of how God deals with those who oppose him, and warning others of his wrath and the desperate need to call on his mercy.”

Michael glanced over his shoulder toward Jemimah. “Does any of that help put it in perspective, Jemimah?”

She let her head drop back against the plush headrest and breathed out slowly before answering. “Yes, I think so. I can see what you are saying about both God’s justice and mercy being there - but it’s just hard to take in because they seem such opposites.”

“Don’t worry about being able to tie it all up too neatly, Jemimah,” he replied, and from the tone of his voice she could imagine the gentleness in his eyes. “The important thing is understanding how God reveals himself in the Bible and accepting that, even if we can’t fully grasp it. Finite people will always struggle with the complexity of God’s infinite nature.”

“That’s more than enough preaching for tonight, Michael,” Angie complained. “I hardly had a chance to speak to Jemimah this morning before Mrs Hart shanghaied her back to their place. Michael said you were pretty worn out,” she said, turning to Jemimah, “and no wonder - a day at the Hart’s would exhaust anyone. I told Gabi at church that I thought it was a bit much for you to get thrown in amongst that crowd on your first day - especially after the morning you’d had, but there’s no arguing with the Harts, as I’m sure you’ve already picked up.”

“Is that so, Angie?” Michael teased from the front seat, “It sounded like you were having a fair go of it with Jack tonight!”

“Oh, that man is so infuriating! Can you believe that he was trying to tell me tonight that running cattle out here is a waste of good cotton growing land? Really - what a hide! It’s the cotton farmers like him who are spoiling good grazing land with all their chemicals!” she snorted, every trace of her sophisticated demeanour having disappeared the moment she scrambled into the back seat of her brother’s car.

“So how did you survive the afternoon out there, Jemimah - I bet Jack gave you a hard time too.”

“Yes, I suppose he did,” Jemimah laughed a little at Angie’s question, remembering the joke Jack had played when she’d fallen asleep. “You expected that?”

“Yes - he likes to act as though he eats girls like us for breakfast. Someone needs to cut him down to size, that’s for sure.”

Michael laughed. “You deserve everything you get, Angie - can’t you see that Jack deliberately baits you on your favourite topics, because he knows that you can’t resist diving in to straighten him out?”

Angie gave the back of Michael’s seat a half-hearted kick and he chuckled again before continuing, “But what did you think of “Hart’s Desire”, Jemimah? It’s pretty impressive isn’t it?”

“It’s incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it - the cotton fields seemed to stretch on forever. Gabi mentioned that you live out on a farm too.”

“Yes - but it’s nothing like the Hart’s - they’ve got quite a profitable business going there. We only run enough cattle to make the place viable - just what we can manage on our own around our other commitments. But it’s a nice lifestyle.”

Both Michael and his sister’s comfortable style of conversation put Jemimah more at ease than she could have imagined on such short acquaintance. She turned to Angie, eager to learn more about some of the things she’d heard at the Hart’s.

“Gabi was telling me that you both work in town for the Three Brothers Grimm. The whole situation sounds intriguing - like something out of a book.”

“Well, it’s even more interesting than that - there are actually four Brothers Grimm - but I bet you wouldn’t have heard that at the Hart’s,” Angie answered with dramatic emphasis.

“No - there was no mention of a fourth brother. Who is he?”

“The youngest one - Aaron Grimshaw, the requisite black sheep of the family. Quite a scandal really, right after he was old enough to claim some of his father’s money, he -”

“That’s enough Angie!” Michael cut in, in a tone that firmly silenced his sister. “Don’t forget that’s a real person you’re talking so glibly about.”

He paused and then continued in a gentler tone which Jemimah realised was for her benefit, “Aaron is nearly 20 years younger than the oldest of his step-brothers, he was in the same year as me at school. Old Mr Grimshaw’s sons were already grown up when he remarried and Aaron was born and Aaron was only 12 when his father died. His brothers didn’t want to know him, and his mother pretty much left him to his own devices. He left town under a dark cloud about ten years ago, just after he turned eighteen, and there’s been no word of him since. Not long before he left he caused some trouble for Rowan Hart, that’s why Angie was inferring that you wouldn’t have heard about him at the Hart’s.”

“Marlene was telling me about Rowan,” Jemimah said hesitantly at the mention of his name, “She showed me his photo and told me that he had died . . . but I didn’t want to ask any questions . . . may I ask what happened?”

“Rowan had cancer,” Michael answered. “Even now it is still a bit hard to believe - he was the same age as me, and we’d been best friends from before we’d even started school. Even though you know it happens - you just don’t expect it to happen to someone like Rowan. He was a truly wonderful man and he and Marlene and the kids were so happy. The worst part of it was that he was the only one of us who had actually married and had children - they’d only just found out that Marlene was expecting twins when Rowan was told he had an inoperable brain tumour.”

Michael’s voice reflected his own loss, and Jemimah regretted asking him about it - she hadn’t even stopped to think that in a small place like Jacaranda Plains, Rowan’s death would have affected many more people than just his family. She was about to apologise when Michael spoke again.

“But in all these things we’ve got to be careful not to question God’s purposes. I may never understand on this side of eternity why he took Rowan - but because of what I know of God I can still accept that it was the wisest and most loving thing to do for everyone involved, even if I can’t see it for myself yet. And God is faithful - even though it has been very hard, I’m sure you’d agree that Marlene and the children seem to be thriving.”

“Yes - I would never have guessed what they’d been through until Marlene told me. I think she’s just incredible. She was telling me about the social group she organises, and that there aren’t any girls my age involved.” Jemimah glanced across at Angie, and took a deep breath, “She asked to me come along when it starts up in a fortnight - and I wondered if you’d consider coming with me.”

“Marlene has been trying to rope me in for years but I wasn’t going to go and be the only girl there - not when Jack is there too, more often than not. If you’re going too, though, I wouldn’t mind.”

“Especially since all you do on Friday nights anyway is moan about how boring your family is,” Michael teased her.

“I know - because you are boring! Gabi is fully occupied dreaming about marrying Ashley, and you can’t wait for it to get too dark to work, so that you can come inside and read all night!” She shook her head disparagingly and turned to Jemimah again.

“It’s going to be great having you here, Jemimah. There’ve been no other girls my age in the church since the end of high school and there’s just no-one to do anything fun with. I could even come to your flat straight from work on a Friday, it’s just around the corner from the office - and we could have tea together and go to the social from there. If it’s in town we could stay the night at your place and then drive over to Narrabri or Gunnedah on the Saturday morning.”

“Isn’t that a bit of an imposition, Angie - inviting yourself to stay at Jemimah’s?” Michael asked.

“No, not at all - that would be terrific,” Jemimah answered quickly, thrilled by Angie’s proposal. Since meeting Angie that morning she’d hoped that they would become friends, but she’d worried that someone as vivacious as Angie wouldn’t be interested in spending time with someone as quiet as she was. “I’d love you to stay over whenever you want to.”

“Thanks, it will be great fun. And I was thinking about you getting lost this morning,” Angie continued, “You’re not going to survive if you can’t find your way around the place - why don’t we spend this Saturday driving around and let you find your bearings before school starts up.”

“That would be very kind of you. Would you like to come for tea and sleep over this Friday night then?”

“Well, you girls don’t need me here to arrange any of this,” Michael said as he pulled up in front of the church, “If I can have your keys, Jemimah, I’ll swap cars now. And Angie, take it easy with my car please - if you’ll wait and follow me I’ll feel a little safer that you won’t be tempted to try out its paces.”

Within minutes the girls had moved into the front seats of the car and were following the red tail lights of the Datsun back toward the township of Jacaranda Plains. Jemimah still felt intently aware of Michael Turnbull’s presence, the faint scent of his aftershave lingering even though he was no longer in the car.

Even while she listened to Angie’s bright chatter about the plans she was making for the both of them, her thoughts were preoccupied as she went over everything Michael had said to her that evening. She had certainly never met anyone like him before.

It seemed no time until the lights of the main street glowed just ahead of them. As much as Jemimah had been looking forward to getting home and going to bed, she now hated the thought of parting from the Turnbulls so soon.

It wasn’t really too late yet, perhaps she could ask them to come in for supper? She hadn’t had a proper chance to thank Michael yet for everything he had done for her . . . if only she could have a few more minutes with him before they left.

The Datsun pulled up in front of her flat, and Jemimah drew in her breath as Angie parked behind it. They were here - and now she just needed the courage to ask them in . . .

© R. L. Brown 2006

Eos Development