“They started at telling stories
when they wearied of cards and games,
And to give these stories flavour
they threw in some local names”
From “Those Names” ~ Banjo Patterson
Michael looked around the crowded table with a feeling of complete contentment. Nan and Gabrielle had arrived home just as Jemimah and Angie had begun serving out the casserole, and now they had all finished the freshly baked apple pie which Mrs Hart had sent home with Nan.
He noticed that Jemimah’s glass was empty and reached for the jug of juice to refill it for her. She’d been listening intently to something his father had been saying, but as he finished speaking she turned and noticed what Michael was doing.
“Oh, no thank you! I’ve had way too much of everything already, thanks,” she said, waving the jug away with a smile. Michael couldn’t help smiling back. She looked far more happy and relaxed than the subdued girl who’d arrived back from Newcastle that afternoon.
Over the meal Angie had been full of stories from her time with Sonja Winslow, and Nan and Gabrielle had filled them in on the progress of wedding plans. Jemimah had shown interest in everyone’s news, and when she’d spoken about her own holidays she already sounded much more positive than she had a few hours earlier. She even mentioned some of the issues she’d been struggling with, and how she was already beginning to see things a little more clearly after talking with Michael. When his Dad had put a couple of questions to Jemimah, it had been an incredible encouragement to realise how much she’d understood of what he’d been explaining to her.
“I’ve got another question though,” she was saying now, and it gave Michael a tiny thrill to see her turn to him and not his father. “If God’s people really are assured of going to heaven completely because of what Jesus did on their behalf . . . what would stop them from just being as sinful as they liked, since they know they’re going to be saved anyway?”
Michael raised his eyebrows. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? --” he began to quote from Romans chapter six.
“Argggh! I knew that too!” Jemimah screwed up her eyes in annoyance at herself, making everyone laugh. “I remember now - that’s in Romans. About how we have died to sin and are now slaves to righteousness. I’ll just have to read it again. I keep thinking I’ve found an unanswerable problem – completely forgetting that I already know the answer from the Bible. It’s like thinking I have the highest trump card in Five Hundred but forget that there is the right bower or joker still to be played. If I could keep all the different parts in mind at once it--”
"Do you play Five Hundred?" Angie interrupted. “I didn't think you'd go in for that kind of thing."
Jemimah shrugged. "About as well as I do theology. You wouldn't want to be on my team."
"I'd be very pleased to have you on my team," Michael said quickly. "We haven't played it for years - why don't we all have a game?" He looked around at the rest of the family, excitement bubbling up in him. "Are you all in? Three teams?"
"Ah, Michael - not on a Saturday night," his Dad replied, taking the chance to excuse himself from the table, "and especially not after spending all those hours on the wretched ute this morning. Once you get a game started you’ll be here for hours."
Michael’s heart sank as Jemimah looked at her watch and frowned. "Maybe another time? As soon as we've done the dishes I really should be heading for home." She rose to her feet to and turned to Nan. "Thank you so much for having me stay to dinner . . . but I really mustn't leave it too late. It's been a big day."
"Don't you even think about the dishes, sweetheart. I'll potter away in the kitchen - I've been sitting around all day at the Hart's being waited on hand and foot. But I hoped you'd stay the night, Jemimah. You've got your bags still with you, why don’t you go home after church tomorrow? I think it’s a lovely idea for you young people to have a card night.”
Indecision flashed across Jemimah's face, and Michael couldn't resist adding his weight to the argument. When Jemimah was there, she added a certain light and joy to the family - he didn't want that to disappear a second earlier than it absolutely had to.
"It’s already dark - you don't want to drive home on your own at this time of night," he said and then, as his high spirits got the better of him, he added, "What about the yowies?"
"Yowies?" She took the bait, stopping in her tracks as Nan and Gabi continued on into the kitchen. "I thought that was just something that Jack made up. Isn’t it?"
"Oh no, ask anyone around these parts, They'll tell you about the yowies." Angie followed his teasing seamlessly, just as she’d done when they'd had their young cousins stay in January.
Jemimah's eyes widened, and she glanced around at the others, finally looking in appeal at Michael. "You are joking, aren't you? You haven't actually seen one have you?"
He leaned forward confidentially and lowered his voice, "No - not many people see them . . . and tell about it afterwards. But you can see the deep scratches their claws make down the sides of gum trees . . . and from time to time people caught out on their own at night in the bush hear them, loping along behind them just out of sight."
Jemimah shuddered and for a moment Michael wondered if he'd gone too far. Just when he was about to put her mind at ease she straightened up, and threw her shoulders back defiantly.
"I know you're both just trying to scare me, and I'm tempted to drive home right now just to prove I don't believe you," she said boldly as she gathered up the dishes in front of her. "But the truth is that as much I’d like to make the point, I can't resist Nan's offer of one more morning of being spoiled before I go back home on my own."
“Excellent! Now where are the cards?” Michael went over to the dresser and began to hunt in the drawers. By the time he’d unearthed them beneath a book of crosswords, the girls had already cleared the table and Angie was organising the teams.
“Nope, you’re on my team,” Angie brushed aside Jemimah’s protests that she really wasn’t very good. “You can’t be possibly be worse than Gabi, and it’s no fun being on Michael’s team. He’ll just pass rather than take any risks.”
Michael sat down opposite between the two girls and shuffled the worn deck of cards. He found himself wondering whether Jemimah underestimated her ability at cards as she did at other things, and then remembered her earlier question about the Christians and sin.
“You never really got a proper answer about holiness, did you, Jemimah? It all ties back in with what we were talking about this afternoon about the Perseverance of the Saints--"
“Just deal the cards, Michael!” Angie objected, “If you start talking again we’ll never get to play the game.”
“I’ll be brief.” He cut the deck, and began dealing as he spoke. “The main thing to remember, is that if we are saved we are a new creation. We don’t become a new creation by living a holy life, we want to live a holy life because we are a new creation.”
"Not to mention that obeying God is the only path to growth and happiness in the Christian life," added Gabi. “Although we still struggle to do what is right we’re grieved by it when we do sin. We hate sin and simply can’t be happy living in it any longer.”
Michael looked up and smiled at his sister as she took the chair opposite him in readiness for the game. "Very glad to have you on team, Gabi. You're right, our joy as a Christian is in pleasing God, and we hate the idea of bringing dishonour on the name of him who has done so much for us."
He finished dealing and turned to Jemimah where she sat on his left side, her cards untouched. "Is that filling things in for you?"
"Yes. Thank you. And I remember now those passages you mentioned about examining your life and making your calling and election sure. I had always worried about those verses in case I wasn't being a good enough Christian."
"But it is all about the grace of God – and you are either dead or alive. These passages remind us not only of the standards we are to strive for, but that we must examine ourselves - not to see if we can chalk up enough points to be a Christian, but to see if we really have been saved. If you love sin and live in it - you should be afraid, very afraid - and turn to God in repentance and faith. But if you hate sin and mourn over it, placing your complete hope in Christ you can have full and complete assurance, especially as you see the fruit of his work in your growing obedience and sanctification in your life. Our growing in holiness is another aspect in which God sovereignly brings about his perfect purposes through our efforts."
"Enough," said Angie decisively to his right. "You've already talked all afternoon; you're not going to talk all night too! It’s your bid, Jemimah."
Michael smiled, and from his left caught Jemimah's whispered "Thank you". She scooped up her cards and blew out her breath as she stared at them. “Six hearts?”
Michael picked up his own hand as Gabi and then Angie made their bids. He frowned as he fanned them out. It wasn’t a particularly good hand, but he didn’t want pass to his little sister – especially after her earlier crack.
"Eight clubs," he bid, and hoped Gabi really did have a good number of blacks in her hand. He certainly didn’t.
“Eight hearts." Jemimah's voice was confident, and she looked across the table at her partner, clearly more in her element than she’d let on.
Life is good, Michael thought, as play continued around to Gabi. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d enjoyed himself so much - and wished the day would never come to an end.
The next morning after church had finished and while most of the congregation milled around under the gum trees, Jemimah slipped quietly toward her car. Michael was still engrossed in conversation with some of the church family, but his car was packed and any minute now he'd be leaving for Sydney.
Jemimah tried to squint away her melancholic mood. After everything they'd shared - or perhaps more realistically - what she'd shared with him, it was almost too hard to bear that he was disappearing from her life again.
Saying goodbye would be too difficult the way she was feeling. Jemimah wasn't sure that she could manage a casual goodbye, but anything more than that would only expose her for making far more of their friendship than there was.
She couldn't resist one more glance over her shoulder as she reached her car, though. The couple who had been speaking to Michael stepped away as Gabi moved forward to kiss him good bye. Just as Michael's arms went around his sister he glanced up - and across the car park his gaze met Jemimah's.
Jemimah’s breath caught in her chest, and as she tried to read the expression in Michael’s eyes she couldn’t so much as blink. Was he about to call out to her?
She felt heat bathe her skin as a cloud passed away from the sun, and everything was suddenly glowing and vibrant with colour. A willy-wagtail sang above her, its notes sweeter than she’d ever heard, behind her leaves rustled as though in a song of their own, and in the centre of her hyper-awareness was Michael Turnbull and the way he --
"Hi, honey!" Mrs Hart's hug nearly squeezed the air out of Jemimah's lungs. "It's great to have you back. We've missed your sweet face around the place these last few weeks. How are your folks doing?"
Another wispy cloud moved in front of the sun, and the world dimmed just a little again.
"Oh -- um --" Jemimah tried to think while the image of Michael's deep brown eyes blurred into Mrs Hart's smiling face. "Good -- my family are good." And, then realising she must sound utterly vacant she added, "I'm going to be an Aunty. My sister is expecting twins."
"Really! That's wonderful!"
As she hoped, it was exactly the kind of news to capture Mrs Hart's interest. While Jemimah answered her questions about weeks and due dates with half her attention, she refocused on the knot of people under the tree where Michael had been standing.
He was gone.
Despite her earlier determination to slip away and not be there to watch him leave, Jemimah felt bereft. She scanned the thinning groups of people again, but there was no sign of him.
Pastor Turnbull and Nan were moving toward the carpark and as a car horn tooted behind Jemimah, they raised their arms to wave. Jemimah turned around - but it was too late. She saw only a flash of white before the back of Michael's car was swallowed from sight by the trees that lined the curve of the road.
" . . . and I know one young man in particular who is very glad to have you home," Mrs Hart was saying.
Jemimah turned to her in guilty confusion.
"Surely you’re not unaware that my son has a mighty big crush on you?"
Jack? Jemimah's stomach dropped like lead. Surely not! He only thought of her as a friend – and a very pitiful one at that.
Yet . . . there was no denying he'd spent an awful lot of time teaching her to drive the manual ute over the last few months. And this morning when he'd come into the row behind her during the first hymn he'd given her hair a sharp tug and under the cover of the singing had whispered: "Welcome back, Sparky."
She'd thought he was just trying to be annoying - but had she completely misunderstood?
"I . . . I . . . ." Jemimah blinked at Mrs Hart, but the woman didn't seem to have noticed her discomfort.
"It's been ‘Jemimah this, Jemimah that’ since the first day you arrived in the Plains and these last two weeks he’s been moping about the place like his dog had died or something. I've never seen anything like it."
Jack - moping?
"Here he comes now - the boy's ears must have been burning." Mrs Hart's voice dropped suddenly. "I'd best be off - he'd die of embarrassment if he thought I'd been talking about him. Remember, come right on over to our place anytime you like, honey."
She huffed away, leaving Jemimah in a cold sweat. What would she do?
"Jemimah! Welcome back."
Jemimah turned to see Jamie striding toward her, a beaming grin on his face. Jack was nowhere in sight.
"Jamie, it's great to see you," she replied with warmth borne of genuine relief that Mrs Hart hadn’t been talking about Jack at all. "Have you had a good holiday?"
He shrugged, and seemed at a loss with what to do with his awkwardly long arms. "Yeah, I suppose. We were going to go spotlighting last weekend but I got 'em to wait until you were back - you know how you like trying new stuff and everything."
Jemimah looked at him blankly. She liked trying new things?
"You'll come along won't you?" His sweet young face creased with concern. "David will still be here, and Ash'll come along too, and Mitch. Jack, of course - only he reckon's you'd be too girly to give it go. But you wouldn't be would you? Marlene even went along with Rowan before they had kids."
"I'm sorry - what it is? I don't quite understand."
"Spotlighting. You know, when you go out in a ute with spotlights at night and see what you can find. You'll come, won't you - next Saturday night?"
Jemimah still had no idea what he was talking about, but seeing the eager expectation in his expression, she couldn't possibly refuse. After all, it must be okay if Marlene went along with it, and Ashley was the most level headed of all the Hart boys.
"Sure. It sounds like an adventure. Thanks for thinking of including me."
"Great. Great! I can't wait to tell Mitch," he reached forward and gripped her arm with pleasure - and stepped back just as quickly, blushing bright red.
Jemimah watched him run over to Jack's waiting ute, ducking as his brother beeped the air-horn at him.
Of course she'd known Jamie had had a crush on her from the start, but she'd never taken it too seriously, expecting it would just settle down to a comfortable friendship over time. But perhaps it wasn't going to be that simple.
Still, it was nice to be welcomed back so warmly - and perhaps the coming term wouldn’t be as anywhere near as bleak as she’d been thinking. Michael Turnbull had so utterly filled her thoughts the past few days and his departure had left her so empty, that she’d almost forgotten about the other people at church, her students and their families – and the young people who had become so close to her heart, like Jamie, Mitch and Jarrah.
The desire to be with Michael might be a longing that ached all the way to her bones, but there were people here in the Plains whom God had given her to share his love with right here and now. Jarrah for one, thought Jemimah, as she climbed into her car. She’d been praying for her friend constantly since the ‘truckie’ social night and had wondered many times how she had been through the holidays.
It had continued to worry her that she’d perhaps given Jarrah a wrong understanding of the gospel, but as the Apostle Paul had written in Philippians, Jemimah was trying to ‘forget what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead’ and trust that God would use her – with all her faults and weaknesses – to bring her young friend to know the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
Jemimah drove home toward her cottage at Hart’s Desire without even giving the directions a second thought, her mind already occupied with the week to come. Her first term as a new teacher was over and the town and its people were no longer strange and daunting, and if her dreams regarding Michael Turnbull were impossible - at least she was assured of his friendship.
Surely the hardest trials were far behind her now.
If you would like to further explore the Biblical doctrines that Michael and Jemimah have been discussing over the last several chapters, I have prepared a Resources Page with links to many online and offline resources for further reading, listening and watching.
© R. L. Brown 2008