Then I rose to my greatest heights in dignified retreat,
(The greatest men in the world’s great fights
are those who are great in defeat.)
From “The Quest Eternal” ~ Banjo Patterson
Jemimah didn’t make it to the Bible study group at the Turnbull’s the following Tuesday; a difficult day at school and a growing headache sent her straight to bed after tea. It made her all the more determined, however, to attend the following week, even though she still planned to have tea with Matt first.
Matt Gordon was locking up the huge wooden doors of the historic Courthouse when Jemimah met him the next Tuesday afternoon.
“Hello!” Matt’s face broke into a pleased grin when he turned to see her there. “Thought you’d be making the most of the cool change and doing a second circuit of the cross-country track.”
Jemimah shook her head. “No, I gave it a miss today.”
“Good. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to see you - I’m going stir crazy after a whole day on my own. All of today’s cases were either cancelled or adjourned and not one single person came into the Courthouse all day. Even after I did all those jobs that aren’t worth wasting time on, it was still only ten-thirty, and by lunchtime I’d read every paper and magazine that the general store sells.”
“I wouldn’t mind a day like that once in a while - I didn’t sit down for the first time until after one today,” Jemimah said, leaning back against the stone balustrade beside the Courthouse steps.
“At least your days would pass quickly like that. I still have tomorrow to get through - we’ve only got one truck overloading case down for tomorrow - and it isn’t listed until two pm.” Matt pocketed the bulky keyring with a sigh, and glanced at his watch. “It’s way too early for tea though - the dining room doesn’t open for over half an hour. What do you want to do? I can’t talk you into a drink at the bar first, can I?”
“No, but you go ahead. I just wanted to see if we could meet for tea earlier tonight - but if you want to go and have a drink or whatever, I could come back around five if that was okay with you.”
“I only see you once a fortnight - I’m not going to go off and have a drink without you, Jemma. It’s a nice afternoon - why don’t we grab a coke and walk down to the levee bank? Have you been there yet?”
“No, I haven’t, and it sounds lovely.” Jemimah followed him down the steps, and across the road to the general store, their conversation interrupted by the brief exchange of greetings with various people as they passed.
“So what do you have to rush off for tonight, Jemma?” Matt asked after he emerged from the shop, and led the way toward the riverbank.
“The church holds a Bible study out of town on Tuesday nights - but there’s plenty of time for our dinner first if we start early.”
Matt frowned, his face darkening slightly. “How come you have to go in to some church thing in the middle of the week? Isn’t going on Sunday enough for them?”
“I don’t have to go, Matt - but I really want to. I like being with the people from church, and in this study group they’re working through some Bible topics that I’m really interested in,” Jemimah explained, slipping her hand into his offered arm as they negotiated a rough section of the path leading to the levee. “Like how I didn’t know the answer about your question on the Sabbath day last time I saw you - I really want to understand the Bible better and know why I believe what I do - and be able to explain it properly.”
“Gee, don’t tell me this is all my fault then?”
Jemimah laughed at his pained expression. “If it is, I thank you for it, Mr Gordon.”
Matt indicated a rustic bench overlooking the water, and shook his head in mock despair over her last comment. “I still think it’s a waste of time and energy - but if it makes you happy …. Now, brighten my dull existence and tell me what you’ve been up to lately.”
Jemimah took a seat beside Matt, and received with thanks the cold can he held out to her, sipping it slowly as they exchanged anecdotes from the previous fortnight. She found she enjoyed making Matt laugh at her stories from school almost as much as she appreciated his amusing tales of court life.
It was relaxing watching the breeze rifle the trailing willow branches that overhung the water, and listening to the birds carring on their business far overhead, but Jemimah kept a close eye on her watch. It was good to be able to keep up this contact with Matt, but she wasn’t going to risk missing out on the Bible study by letting things run too late.
When Jemimah recognised Jack Hart’s ute pulling into the Turnbull’s driveway behind her a couple of hours later, she didn’t know whether to be glad that she wouldn’t be the last one to arrive - or whether to regret turning up at the same time as Jack.
Despite her plans, Matt had lingered over every part of the dinner - taking his time strolling back from the levee bank, musing over the menu, ordering dessert and coffee and then insisting on walking her back home again at a frustratingly sedate pace. Jemimah had been too polite to try to hurry him up, and when he’d finally gone she’d had to grit her teeth and accept running late … again.
She glanced in her mirror at the clouds of dust stirred up by the ute behind her and mused whether the church folk would start putting her in the Hart’s “always-late” category. Driving at a pace that Jemimah didn’t dare to attempt, Jack had closed the distance between the two vehicles, and although she leapt out of her parked car without a moment’s delay, Jack had caught her up just as she reached the entrance near Pastor Turnbull’s study.
Her pretence that she hadn’t heard him failed when he reached an arm over her head to lean on the top of the screen door, and her determined pull on the handle merely made the door rattle loudly back against the frame.
Jack held the door closed until she gave in and turned around to look up into his smug face.
“Evening, Miss Parker. Allow me.”
Suppressing a sigh of frustration, she stepped back while he opened the door without moving, leaving no option but to walk under his arm to enter.
“Thank you, Mr Hart,” she said, seeing the escape of the door into the lounge room just ahead on her left.
“You’re welcome. You know, for such a shy little girl it hasn’t taken you long to settle in. I must admit I’m pretty surprised.”
Jemimah stopped dead. “What are you talking about?”
“You’ve been here a couple of weeks and you are already seeing someone - now that’s pretty fast work.”
“You must be mistaken, Jack. I’m not seeing anyone.”
“No? I was dreaming tonight was I, when I saw you walking back from the pub with that young fellow from the Courthouse?”
“Oh, you mean Matt Gordon.” Jemimah smiled with relief, “No - I’m not seeing him, he’s just an old friend. We were just catching up on things over dinner.”
“Ahh, just dinner was it? And it was just dinner when he was in town two weeks ago, too?” Jack looked down on her, arms folded across his chest and his eyebrows raised in question.
Jemimah frowned at him. She was becoming more accustomed to Jack’s teasing, but this wasn’t funny. He stood in front of her now, and didn’t look as though he was going to let her slip past - but there was nothing more she could say. Matt was just a friend, and if Jack chose to put another construction on it - seriously or just to get a rise out of her - there really was nothing she could do.
“You’ll soon learn that you can’t get away with anything in a town this small, Jemimah,” Jack shook his head, taking her silence for some kind of an admission.
Jemimah’s voice was shaky as she tried to disabuse him, “I’m not trying to get away with anything - I’m not seeing Matt. I’ve known him since I was five - he’d just be eating alone in the pub when he’s in town - so I joined him for company. He didn’t even pay for my meal. We’re just friends, Jack - he’s not a Christian so I’d never go out with him like you’re meaning, anyway. But taking the opportunity to catch up with him does give me a chance to talk about the gospel with him.”
“Right - so you’re not going out him - you’re just going out to dinner with him whenever he is in town?”
“No … Yes ... I suppose …I do go out with him, but I’m not going out with him if you know what I mean.” Jemimah shook her head in frustration, didn’t she make it clear or was Jack being deliberately obtuse?
Pastor Turnbull entered the hall. “I thought I heard the door - are you two holding your own meeting out there? Come through and we can make a start, everyone else is already here.”
Jemimah’s face was blazing as she followed Jack into the lounge room where half a dozen others were already seated. Jack sat down in the centre of the only three vacant chairs, leaving Jemimah with no option but to sit beside him.
As Pastor Turnbull opened the meeting in prayer, she fumed silently beside Jack. It made her feel sick the way he’d tried to twist her dinner with Matt, and with her feelings in a turmoil there was little hope now of her learning anything from this study she’d been so looking forward to.
“How did dinner with Matt go tonight? Did you get to explain about the Sabbath day stuff?” Angie asked as she and Jemimah went into the kitchen to prepare the supper things for the fellowship time that followed the study.
Jemimah shook her head. The reminder of Jack’s comments made her stomach churn again, but she tried to focus on the positive.
“I don’t think it was ever a serious question for Matt, more something to tease me about, like he always did at school. But whenever we’re talking there are lots of little opportunities to say bits and pieces about church, or things I’ve been learning about God. Hopefully something will get through to him.”
“You certainly put me to shame - in the dozens of times I’ve chatted with Matt at the Courthouse I don’t think Christianity has come up once.” Angie reached down a stoneware platter from the top of the pantry and flicked the dust off with a tea towel. “Maybe this was one of the reasons God sent you out here to the Plains. You haven’t put Matt off yet with all your talk about religion?”
Jemimah took the platter, gave it another wipe with her clean hanky, then carefully arranged on it the jam tarts she’d baked the night before. “I thought I might have when I invited him to come along to the Bible study with me. He said he wasn’t that desperate for company! But when he said goodbye he still said, ‘See you next time’.”
“Ah, so you are seeing each other!” Jack had snuck into the kitchen while the girls were talking.
Jemimah gritted her teeth, but didn’t look up. “I explained before, Jack - I’m not seeing Matt Gordon in that kind of way.”
“Oh.” He spoke as though some great mystery of the universe had been explained to him. “Now I see. Not seeing him, just seeing him.”
When Jemimah sighed heavily, her shoulders drooping in defeat Angie turned on Jack, hands on hips. “And what business is this of yours, Jack?”
“None at all - that’s what makes it so interesting!” He plucked a tart from the platter Jemimah was trying to negotiate past him, “I just came in to see how it could take two woman so long to boil a kettle?”
“Mind your own business, Jack, or you’ll find yourself in hot water.” Angie snatched up a plate of biscuits, slapping his hand as he made a grab for a chocolate chip cookie.
“Empty threats, Angie Pangie. Empty threats.” He chuckled after them as the girls left him filling a mug from the kettle.
Angie paused just inside the hall. “Is that what he was talking to you about at the door?”
“Oh, no! You couldn’t hear, could you?”
“Only that he was teasing you about something. Gee, Jack Hart makes me mad!”
Jemimah bit at her lip. “But does he really think I’m interested in Matt in that kind of way? He’s just an old school friend, I never thought that someone might get the wrong impression. I tried to explain that to Jack, but he doesn’t seem to understand what I mean.”
“Don’t worry about Jack - he’s just enjoying baiting you. What you’re doing is perfectly innocent, it’s not your problem if Jack wants to make something out of it.”
“That’s why everything takes so long with females,” Jack passed them at the doorway of the lounge room, “all this chatter - chatter - chatter. But, despite your other sins, Miss Parker, at least you cook well.”
He pinched another tart and went ahead of them into the room. Angie made a sound like someone crunching car gears, and stomped in behind him.
Later, when everyone was beginning to leave, Jemimah picked up the study notes that Pastor Turnbull had handed everyone at the start of the meeting. Many unfamiliar concepts had been covered that evening, and her preoccupation with Jack’s comments had kept Pastor Turnbull’s explanations from making much sense to her. At the bottom of the pages were homework questions that were to be completed in preparation for the following week’s meeting - and which Jemimah knew she had no hope of answering.
She went to tuck the pages quietly into her tote bag, intending to think up an excuse not to attend next week, when her conscience pulled her up. If God had put her in this church and given her an opportunity to learn, what did it say about her if she was willing to waste it? Would anyone here mind if she got it wrong?
With a frown, Jemimah looked at the sheets again. No-one would mind except her. She really didn’t want any one knowing how little she knew about these things - or perhaps, how slow she was to understand them even when they were pointed out.
“Are you heading off?” Angie’s voice caught her by surprise, and Jemimah looked up at her, pages still in hand. She remember Angie’s comments when she’d admitted to never having heard of a Confession of Faith before, and realised that trying to hide her ignorance would probably deceive no-one but herself.
“Yes, I’d better,” Jemimah replied, still preoccupied with her own thoughts.
“Are you going to do your homework for next week?”
Jemimah’s eyes opened wide at Angie. “I, um …”
“I didn’t really understand it, tonight. Well, a little bit - but not enough to write answers. Could you … could you help me with it sometime?”
Angie’s quick smile almost surprised her. “Yeah, of course. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand the stuff first time through - that’s the point of the questions and then going through it all again next week. Sometimes it’s not until I try to put the Bible teaching about something into my own words that I realise that I don’t really know how to describe it. And sometimes, I think I understand it just fine until I read my answer out to Dad.” She gave a short crack of laughter and opened the door for Jemimah, walking with her to her car.
“The social night isn’t far from here this Friday - why don’t you sleep over here afterwards instead, and we can do it together on Saturday morning.”
“Thank you. You will you check with your father and Nan first, though? As long as it was okay with them -”
“Of course it will be alright. Dad’ll be happy I’m making the time to do my homework properly anyway - he’s been having a go at me for scribbling it out during tea on Tuesday nights. And don’t let Jack give you any more trouble about seeing Matt,” Angie added as Jemimah climbed into her car. “He’s just making an issue out of nothing.”
I hope so, thought Jemimah as she turned the car down the driveway. Hopefully I’m getting myself upset over nothing. By next week it might be completely forgotten ....
© R. L. Brown 2007