Jacaranda Plains

Chapter 25

“I see the old bush homestead now
On Kiley’s Run,
Just nestled down beneath the brow
Of one small ridge above the sweep
Of river-flat, where willows weep
And jasmine flowers and roses bloom,
The air was laden with perfume
On Kiley’s Run”

From “On Kiley’s Run” ~ Banjo Patterson

If Jemimah had ever wondered about the full extent of Mrs Hart’s organisational abilities, she was in no further doubt by the time Mr Hart returned with the Land Cruiser a few hours later.

In the time it had taken Jemimah to carefully fold her clothes into her suitcases, Mrs Hart had emptied the entire kitchen into the packing boxes Jemimah had stored since her arrival. And while Jemimah collected up the last of her belongings from the bathroom and living areas, Mrs Hart dashed through the flat with a wet cloth and duster.

“I’ll just give the floor a quick vacuum once Mr Hart’s got those boxes in the back of the vehicle,” she said, her face glowing with heat but her smile undiminished. “Why don’t you just have a last check through for anything you’ve forgotten to pack?”

Feeling slightly guilty that Mrs Hart was doing all the work, but knowing it wasn’t worth the effort to argue , Jemimah occupied herself with going through the drawers and cupboards for a second time.

Right as she stuck her head inside one of the kitchen cupboards, the neighbour’s front door slammed, and Jemimah winced as the sound boomed through her ears. Any minute now the shouting will start, she sighed, and then caught herself.

It didn’t matter anymore! She wouldn’t be there!

Tears of joy and relief welled in her eyes. It was still hard to take in, that God had answered her prayer - without her even knowing what to ask for, and had set it all in motion before she’d even asked. But Michael had been right, the Psalm he’d shared with her had encouraged her to call out for God’s help - and God had answered beyond her wildest imagining.

Overcome with the sudden emotion, Jemimah put her head on her arms on the kitchen bench. Even with her lack of faith and trust in God, God had been so good to her. While she was feeling abandoned and unloved, it was like God was holding his gifts behind his back, just waiting for her to ask him to “show her a sign of his favour”.

“Oh, Honey - are you okay?” Mrs Hart’s broad hand came down to rest on her shoulder, “Maybe I’m rushing you … please tell me if you don’t really want to come.”

Jemimah turned around, smiling through her tears, and reached out to hug Mrs Hart. “No, I’m just so happy about moving to your cottage … it’s just unbelievably wonderful. I feel I don’t deserve anything this good to happen to me.”

“Get away with you!” Mrs Hart’s voice was thick, “I just wished I’d thought of offering sooner. It’ll be so nice to have you close by.”

“All packed.” They both turned to see Mr Hart’s head peeping around the doorway. “When you ladies are ready …”

Marlene and the children were waiting to welcome Jemimah when she arrived, the children running in and out of the cottage until Mr Hart firmly shooed them away.

“Are you sure you really want us as your neighbours?” Marlene grinned, pointing to her cottage a few hundred metres away.

Jemimah kissed her impulsively. “That makes it all the better!”

Embarrassed by her action, Jemimah grabbed a box from the back of the four wheel drive and followed Mr Hart up the three wooden steps to the verandah. White railing surrounded the small verandah and a long bench sat beneath the large front windows, commanding a view of the open grasslands that stretched to the bushland beyond.

Jemimah paused by the seat a moment. Although Marlene’s cottage was not far to the left, and the Hart’s own home lay only half a kilometre along the driveway, from that vantage point there was no other dwelling in view.

Thank you, Lord! Thank you! she breathed, stepping through the front door and into the bright living area of her new cottage. She’d suffered a few qualms on the drive out there, wondering whether she’d made a huge mistake in not stopping to so much as look inside the cottage before committing herself. Now inside, she gazed around the little house gratefully.

It was old and plain - and perfect . The front door opened into a rectangular lounge that ran the length of the verandah, and she could see straight through the open kitchen to a screened back door and another window - filling the room with vibrant sunshine. She headed down a short hallway to the right of the kitchen, pleased to see a bathroom with a huge iron bath inside the first door, a small bedroom beside it - and at the end of the hall the main bedroom, with large windows on both external walls.

Jemimah put down her box, smiling with delight. She’d never imagined there’d be more than one bedroom; now when Angie stayed over even the mornings would be more manageable. Perhaps her family might even come to visit?

Mr Hart appeared with another carton, and after receiving directions about where to place it, insisted that he do the unloading while she began to unpack. Mrs Hart was already busy satisfying herself that the kitchen cupboards were clean, and Jemimah had only managed to hang her clothes by the time the Harts were finished.

They brushed off her thanks as she followed them outside, and Mrs Hart was just insisting that Jemimah join them for dinner when the sound of a fast approaching vehicle made her turn to look up the drive.

Gravel flew up from the tyres of Jack Hart’s red ute as he pulled up behind his parents’ vehicle.

“So it’s not just a rumour,” he said with a slow shake of his head, as he climbed out of the vehicle. “Goodness help us! You’ve brought Jemimah Parker - and her propensity for trouble - onto our property?”

Mrs Hart turned on him, hands on hips, but Jack was saved from the ministrations of her tongue by the appearance of his niece and nephews.

“Miss Parker! Miss Parker!” The children rushed towards her, arms filled with wildflowers and foliage, their excitement and breathlessness combining to render her name as “Miss Sparker, Miss Sparker!”

“Miss Sparky?” Jack rumbled with laughter. “Now ain’t that apt! She of the quick wit …”

Burning with annoyance, Jemimah turned her flushed faced away from him to receive the flowers from the children. Jack had had his fun, surely he’d be going soon?

Mrs Hart opened her car door, then turned back to her son. “Since you’re here, Jack, make yourself useful. Climb up on the roof and take the cover off the cooler, please. I was going to send Jamie along to do it, but you’re on the spot.”

Jack shot his mother a pained smile, waited for them to drive off, then swung himself up onto the verandah railing, then onto the verandah roof. Jemimah stood back in the drive, watching a little nervously as he clambered up the steeply pitched roof to the box-like cooler sitting at the apex. For such a bulky man, he had quite surprising agility.

“Thank you, Jack. That’s very kind of you.” Jemimah called out, as he unhitched the tarpaulin that was lashed over the cooler.

“Not kind at all. Got to keep Ma happy, or there won’t be any dinner for me tonight!”

Jemimah swallowed hard, regretting the agreement she’d just made to join the family that evening.

Jack let himself slide back down the roof, executing a neat landing from the edge of the bullnosed roof of the verandah.

“Thank you. Years of practice,” he brushed off her non-existent praise, then grinned cheekily at her as he threw the tarpaulin into the back of the ute.

“No-one asked me, but I suppose it’s a good thing Mum’s brought you out here to keep her eye on you.” He paused to watch her reaction. “Obviously after all the scandals you’ve been getting yourself involved in, you couldn’t be trusted in town on your own.”

Jemimah’s mouth fell open. How dare he! She was about to swallow her indignation, as she always did, when she remembered how much he loved having the upper hand, and determined not to let him have it this time.

“I hadn’t thought about it, Jack, but I suppose you’re right. Your mum obviously knows I’m completely safe from temptation out here.”

He stared at her, stunned, for several seconds and then laughed. “I’ll pay that one, Miss Sparky. I’ll pay that.”

Jemimah was still glowing with satisfaction when Jack’s ute disappeared along the driveway. It was the first time she’d ever managed to get one back at him, and after all the grief he’d given her lately, it felt good. Very good.

“Hey, Jemimah! What happened to you?” Angie interrupted Jemimah’s conversation with Mrs Sainsbury at the church door the following morning. “I rang you all last night until nearly midnight.”

Jemimah murmured embarrassed apologies and excused herself, and turned around to face Angie.

“And then,” Angie’s face was red as she practically simmered with indignation, “and then when I go by your place this morning to check on you - I look in the window and see the whole place is empty! I was just on my way now to tell Dad you’d shot through to Newcastle or something! What’s going on?”

Jemimah blinked under the onslaught. “Oh, I moved.”

Oh, I moved!” Angie mimicked her. “Just like that? You didn’t think to mention to anyone you were planning to move?”

“Well, I didn’t actually plan to move. It just happened all of a sudden yesterday. Mrs Hart --”

Angie cut her off, “Mrs Hart? I see. So you’re over at ‘Hart’s Desire’, are you?”

Still on the defensive, Jemimah shook her head. “Not really. I’m renting one of their river-side cottages, you know, near where Marlene lives.”

Angie blew out through her lips and she subsided onto one of the benches not far from the church door, reminding Jemimah of a deflating balloon. She sat down beside her and apologised for not thinking to let her know.

“It all happened so quickly,” she explained, “Mrs Hart popped in for morning tea, next thing I knew we were packing all my things. Since I hadn’t much time to get organised they invited me for tea … and it was quite late when I got home. I’m sorry, Angie, were you really worried?”

“I was a bit. I was talking to Michael on the phone last night, he said Nan had told him a bit about what had been going on, and that he’d rung you and thought you sounded pretty flat. I told him you were perfectly fine, but he wouldn’t be satisfied unless I promised to give you a call and see if you were okay. And I guess when you didn’t answer the phone all night, I did start to wonder where you were. I mean, where else would you be?”

Jemimah bit her lip, not sure whether she wanted to laugh or cry. It was sweet that Michael was obviously concerned about her, but it hurt her pride deeply to know how much he knew about her struggles. And at the same time, her sense of humour was tickled that Angie couldn’t contemplate her having any other friends or arrangements that she didn’t know about.

“I’m sorry, Ange. I rang my parents from the Hart’s to tell them it would be a few days until I had the phone on, but I didn’t think anyone else would be worrying about me.”

“Since when do you do impulsive stuff like this? I didn’t think you even crossed the road without getting someone else’s opinion.”

Jemimah shrugged. “I know. But it just seemed so right. That morning I’d been praying about my worries and then Mrs Hart came and offered me the cottage --”

“What worries? I know this thing with Matt shook you up a bit, but that’s all over now! I can’t believe you threw away all your independence the first time things got a little bit difficult.”

Surely it couldn’t have been wrong to move out of town? Jemimah questioned herself. Usually she went over and over every possible negative aspect before coming to a decision, yet this time she’d been so sure …

“It wasn’t just Matt. And I’m going to be close by church people now, that’s got to be a good thing.”

Angie shook her head. “That’s the whole problem - don’t you think it’s just a little obvious that Mrs Hart has come and swooped you up right after there’s talk about getting involved with some young man other than one of her sons? She wants to keep you under her eye, my girl!”

“Marlene was over last night when a parent from school came to the door, drunk and a bit aggressive. I know she told Mrs Hart about that, and all the noise from the neighbours, and I think that was really the main reason she offered me the cottage.”

“Whatever! You can kiss your freedom goodbye now, anyway. I can’t think of anything worse than having the Harts knowing my every movement, it would be worse than being at home. I thought you liked being in town, and us getting to do stuff together.”

Jemimah tried not to smile. Yesterday she’d felt so alone in the world, and today … she was caught between two families who appeared to feel somewhat possessive of her. At least she could guess what was eating at Angie now.

“It won’t make any difference to our plans,” Jemimah said, rising as she heard the church organ begin to play. “I’m still working in town, so I can pick you up after work anytime we want to do something together. And the cottage has two bedrooms - so when you sleep over on Friday nights you won’t have to sleep on the lounge anymore.”

“So you still want to have me over just the same?” Angie followed her toward the door.

The realisation that their friendship actually meant a lot to Angie too, made Jemimah offer up yet another silent prayer of thanks.

“Of course I do! Especially this coming Friday night at the Cox’s. I’m dreading it already,” she whispered as they entered the building. “Last night Jack was telling me
he’s taking his whip along, and planning to teach us “townies” all about whip cracking. Something gives me the suspicion I’m not going to be allowed to just sit out and watch …”

© R. L. Brown 2007

Eos Development