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Winter of Red (2nd Ed)


Margery’s end

A história da Guerra Inglesa é uma história de esforços políticos, de liberdades religiosas e, claro, o direito ao governo divino condenado ao ostracismo pela força de um crescente sistema político democrático. Muito se tem falado sobre o poder do governo nesta época e a linha tênue entre o governo autocrático e a escolha das pessoas, mas e as pessoas comuns, aquelas que viviam no dia a dia. Como essa hostilidade, essa batalha descarada por mudanças afetou suas vidas? Não se pode imaginar essas mudanças sem primeiro chegar a um acordo com a vida cotidiana dessas pessoas e as dificuldades e adversidades que enfrentaram.

At this time, most of the English wool was exported abroad to Flanders, Bruges, Ghent and Ypres and the foreigners would pay highly for it and those spinners, weavers and clothiers working it, lived reasonably well. Even the lowliest of poor men and hedge thieves could get a hold of enough rough wool and make a profit. Eventually poor quality and high asking prices plunged the market into despair. As time went by, the wool trade become significantly affected by political unrest, the coming war causing its decreasing popularity and shortage.

Thomas Rushworth and his family tried to earn what coin they could from their spinning and weaving of any course wool they could obtain; this along with seven acres of barley and a small vegetable garden kept the wolves of famine from the door.

William’s twin children, twelve-year-old John and Robert were now old enough to work, and spent their days combing and carding the staple much to their distaste.

For the last eight months the family had also been spinning and weaving wool for the manor steward on put out. Thomas knew that he wasn’t paying them the correct coin for their labours, but there wasn’t much he could do and the fivepence per day they earnt was better than nothing in these desperate times.

Each week Tommy, now a strapping young man, and his father Thomas would make the mile journey to Stanbury and retrieve the mushy wool which, had weathered and worn tips, usually left behind by the broggers and engrossers who didn’t want it. If they were lucky and could get a good price, they would bring it home. Isabel, Tommy’s wife would spend the day, her wimple raised above her knees, stomping out the grease and oil in a barrel of stale urine, which they collected regularly from the local tavern. Thomas, William his brother, and his father in-law John Hargreaves being avid contributors to the barrel.

Lucy, Isabel’s sister, and Agnes, Thomas’ wife, would turn this unsaleable wool, using a contribution from the steward’s wool, into saleable cloth. Lucy would spend many hours at the spinning wheel; Thomas and William, with the shuttle and warp of the hand loom, doing what they had to do.

The political upheaval at the time made good wool hard to come by, as often it was bought in bulk by unscrupulous wool broggers and engrossers, who hid it away and waited for prices to go up. Thomas struggled to get the same coin as he had in the past, as the use and popularity of Spanish wool was on the rise. The introduction of Spanish cloth into Bradford was the last straw and decimated local production.

Thomas’ son Tommy felt sad for his father and mother who weren’t getting any younger and worked from dawn until dark to provide for the family and provide them with basic nourishment to survive. It was all they could do to keep the pangs of hunger away in the trying times brought on by the uncertainty of the coming war.

The manor steward’s power and fortune continued to grow and it was said that his sheep herds and lands had grown significantly, built up over time by the misfortunes of others some would say. Thomas had thought about complaining about the steward’s indiscretions with his payments, to the Justice of the Peace; however, he thought better of it as he knew it would make no difference as the Justice of the Peace was on the side of the rich and powerful. He was well paid by them to keep the peace and dispense with any trivial complaints whether they had foundation or not.

Thomas was tired from the sixteen our day, he sat there on the hard-backed wooden chair beside the hearth. He smoked his white clay, long stemmed, barrel-shaped pipe and looked silently into the flames, blinking trying to keep his eyes open, “What news have ya’ heard in the village?” He asked William.

“Apprentices in London, they’re striking and calling on Parliament for change.” William sat there with him relishing the safety and comfort of their hearth. He liked the feeling of the radiant warmth of the fire while hearing the wind howl and blast the snow around outside.

Tommy sat nearby, Their current circumstances did little to brighten his feelings of destitution, a feeling that grew within him like the root of a large tree. He thought long and hard about how he could lessen his families’ burdens but coming from simple means made this difficult.

Tommy was a good young man, well liked by all in the village and surrounds. He tried hard to make his parents proud of him and they were, even though they would never say so. He wasn’t overly confident but was an example of the quiet, strong charactered type who would progress with age and experience. Tommy’s 16th birthday found him to be a solid but not tall, pale young man but had the spirit and strength of character that his father could see in himself.

When his father had given up the copyholder tenancy they had all thought that becoming freemen, would allow the family more rights and freedoms, as they were no longer required to work the demesne of the lord of the Manor, well unless he paid them. They cherished their newfound freedoms for a short time and thought things would improve; however, these were soon interrupted by the coming war and they still had to pay rent to the lord, tithe to the church and taxes became higher and higher under the new government. Food was scarce and often grain was unavailable, but they made do as best they could buying tainted droppings from the flour mill at the manor.

Due to the labour shortage from the sickness of the plague, Tommy knew that he and his father could move the family elsewhere, but better the devil you know than the devil you don’t he thought to himself.

Tommy, like his father, had the respect and admiration of the locals as a man with a sensible head on his shoulders and one that didn’t make decisions lightly especially when it came to his family. The villagers knew him as the silent type who only spoke when he had something important to say; preferring to think on the subject before deciding. For this reason, they respected his decision and paid him no ill thoughts about remaining at home in these troubling times. His mother and father were starting to get older now, and the sixteen-hour workdays were beginning to take their toll. “Even more reason to stay and look after them as a good son should,” he thought.

He looked at his father who sat on his chair opposite, long grey shirt opened at the top to show bristled grey curly chest hair. He still had strong upper arms, born of hours tending to the hide. He wore an ochre-coloured tunic which was open. Dark brown baggy breeches hung down to his knees where a leather garter held his hose in place. His calloused hands whittling a piece of pinewood, making a toy for the next addition to the family. He held the wood in his left hand and braced his thumb against the wood, drawing the blade towards him as if peeling an apple. He made short and controlled strokes and was deep in thought rarely venturing to look up except when the wind blew so loud it sounded as if the shutters would be punched in.

Thomas was a confident, kind man with an adventurous spirit and an amiable personality. He was always the first to help if a family had come on difficult times, well as much as circumstances would allow. In the summer he would be the first to offer his assistance to families left poverty-stricken, harvesting their grain and shearing their sheep if the husband or sons were ill or had been taken by the sickness.

Thomas and his family had lived at Hall Green as far back as he could remember and he liked to tell tales of what it was like in days past under the reign of the king. He liked to tell stories of his father and mother, Margery and he would tell stories of how he and Agnes had met. She would look up from the spinning wheel occasionally and cough correcting him if his story went too far from the truth, then smile and blush if the story entailed specifics of their courting days.

Agnes, his mother, sat on a stool spinning yarn at the wheel humming a pretty tune. Her nimble fingers worked methodologically with the teased fleece, and the wheel spun with a slow mesmerising whirring sound. “Tommy you should sleep now my love.”

Tommy smiled with his boyish like charm, he had spent most of the day mucking out the animal enclosure and repairing the wattle fence at the back of the cottage. He didn’t spend much idle time inside with his mother and father as they were always busy tending to one thing or another. There was always mending to do, baskets to weave and water to collect.

Stopping intermittently to untangle a piece of yarn , Agnes often looked up contentedly and smiled if she caught her son glancing at her. She was proud of her Tommy and the man that he had become. He was strong of character, sensible and never strayed from the things that he held most dear.

Their cottage built some years ago, needed some repair some of the mortar between the stones had started to crack, and rags had been pushed into the gaps between the shutters. There was plaster on the walls, and long branches supported the sides of the thatched roof. When a strong wintery wind rushed over the moors, the cottage shook, and the rafters vibrated.

A thick wooden ladder, at the side of the chimney, led to the loft where they kept the straw and hay for the animals. It was also where twins John and Robert slept preferring the soft hay to the hard stone floor below. The slanting thatch roof leaked in places, but John and Robert had learnt to strategically place their mattresses on the edge, in areas closer to the fire that were not subject to the annoying drip. On occasion, a leak would find another outlet through the thatch and one of them would climb under their blanket only to find their straw pillow soggy and wet. Fixing the roof with new thatch was a job for summer so their nightly complaints would continue until the snow melted and new thatch could be cut.

Isabel sat at the loom, she smiled when she noticed Tommy take a glance in her direction. She was a good wife and tended to his needs. They never fought or disagreed for she knew her place, especially in front of the others. In spring and summer, she only saw Tommy for a couple of hours in the evening usually because he and his father were always out in the fields tending to their ten-acre barley crop and she was always busy spinning the wheel which was like a cog in an engine and rarely ceased turning. In winter after wood was chopped, peat cut, and animals tended to, they could spend more time in each other’s company.

The adults preferred to sleep on a rolled out straw mattress by the low glow of the fire at night-time. Tommy never showed much affection toward Isabel in front of the others, but she knew he loved her. She always looked forward to whispers and giggles that they shared at night as they slept close for warmth under the thick woollen hide. It was often the only time they could be together away from the eyes of the others and it was here that Tommy showed his affection kissing her gently on the neck and shoulders.

Often, in the middle of the night the dark silence would be disturbed and Thomas and Agnes would be awoken to grunting and quiet love sounds. Once finished, all knew that it was time for sleep and the end of another day until the cock crowed to start the next.

The Rushworth’s lived a simple life, they had little choice in their one room stone cottage. There was extraordinarily little room with the loom and even less when the animals had to be brought in out of the weather. Winter on the moors was a time of rest and they worked hard throughout the year working the hide and spinning and weaving the wool to ensure this. There was always a fear of famine in the village but they were luckier than some and usually managed to put enough dried grain, lamb and vegetables away to last them through winter.

A spark flew out of the fire but was quickly extinguished by the dampness of the smashed gravel floor and trodden straw which in spring, with no drainage flooded with the melting snow and ice.

The hearth was the centre point of their lives and the place where they felt most safe against the wintery storms which blew across the moors outside. A large crooked oak beam jutted out above it which held Thomas’ pipe stand and various corked ceramic bottles. To the side was a small stone bread oven recessed into the wall but close enough to the fire to rise and bake it. Leaning against the corner to dry was a hollowed-out tree trunk which Agnes would rest on her knees to wash and cut vegetables for the pottage. On the other side of the hearth sat a large iron candle holder with two fat homemade candles, the hard wax dripping toward the stony floor as if stopped in time. The stone at the back of the chimney was darkened with soot and that night’s supper bubbled away in the large iron cauldron which hung from a metal bar recessed into the walls of the fireplace above the fire.

Agnes watched as Thomas knocked the barrel of his pipe on the stones at the hearth of the fire and proceeded to refill it from the pouch which sat on the small wooden table beside him. He looked up at Agnes as she stood and walked to the cauldron slowly stirring the pottage under the tottering chimney and chunky oak mantelpiece, stained black from the smoke from the continually lit winter fire.

The iron chimney crane with hooks allowed Agnes to swing the iron cauldron into a more easily accessible position. Split logs and dried peat and manure sat in the corner of the fireplace and all manner of wooden skillets hung from the inside wall. Leaning beside the front wall of the chimney there was an iron poker, ash shovel and tongs which she used to stoke and clean the fire, along with a wooden water bucket from which water was used to thin the pottage.

Isabel stood from the loom and hyper flexed her back to counter the added weight from the rather large baby bump extending from her lower abdomen. She was a good woman and new her place among the other women in the household. Younger than the others she lacked their experience but more than made up for it in effort. It wasn’t comfortable moving into your husband’s cottage with his family and it had taken her some time to get used to it but better this than putting up with the rantings of her father.

Agnes welcomed her when she arrived and she liked her. Isabel had worked as a servant girl prior and was well versed in the running of a household. She knew how to bake bread and brew ale and was proficient in making pickles preserves and the jellies that they all loved so much. She also spun wool and linen and sold the extra garments at Haworth markets to earn extra coin. She was very timid and shy to start with but started to feel more at ease with Agnes after a period and they had become good friends.

The smoke from the sweet aroma of Thomas’ pipe tobacco filled the room, a respite from the smell of freshly released animal faeces at the back of the cottage. He felt the mark that his father had engraved, with his knife, in the top of the wooden table beside him. He remembered watching him do it a reminder of times past, but not forgotten.

Like his father, family was important to Tommy and even though he didn’t know much about his father’s folk before he was born, he felt a kinship, a belonging to the hills and dales and didn’t want to leave as he had discussed with William and his son.

Tommy had met Isabel in Stanbury when he and his father had travelled there to get cheaper wool that nobody else wanted from the local farmers. Their eyes had met through the stalls at the market and Isabel would keep an eye out for him each market day. It was some time before Tommy plucked up the courage to walk up to her and talk.

Tommy remembered, as a young lad growing up in the old cruck house with nan Margery and later the stone-walled cottage that uncle William and his father had built for her and his mother Agnes. Labour was in short supply at the time, so they tended more land and the lord permitted improvements to the cottage paying them five shillings a week to work his demesne. It was more significant than the old cruck house he remembered as a child, the walls were made of limestone rubble and rendered with lime and sand mortar which kept the weather out more and there was finally a chimney.

Sadly, nan Margery was gone now she had made her peace with God before she went, confessing and repenting her sins for all to hear. She was such an important part of all their lives and Tommy would often recollect the days before she died.

He was only a youngster then but he remembered vividly how she called him over to her, while she laid in her bed and quietly whispered to him.

“Wee Tommy, you’re a good lad and you have the look of yer father about you,” She placed her hand on his lovingly.

“I luv you Tommy, and you make me so proud, look after thy mother and thy father and let no harm come to them when I’m gone.”

He didn’t know what to say, so he leaned over and rested his head on her bony hand softly and sadly, “Don’t go nan Margery, please don’t go.”

“Ooy there Tommy, tis me time, an’ I’m going to a better place and, besides, I’m tired.” Her breathing was raspy and laboured.

She coughed and took a deep breath, “So very tired,” she closed her eyes and drifted back to sleep.

He turned going back to sit on the stool silently beside his father and uncle William, who lovingly placed his hand on his shoulder to comfort him.

Tommy heard the heavy breathing that night, sitting quietly beside her. She rested with her deep-set, darkened eyes closed, cheekbones lying beneath the loose, saggy skin on her face; her hands clasped together on top of the blanket. The shadow from the small candle flickered on the stone wall, the smoke from the flame rose to be absorbed by the stained thatch ceiling above. Cousin Mary, mother and Mrs Hargreaves knelt at the side of the bed with their hands clasped together saying quiet prayers. Father and uncle William sat on wooden stools, not saying much but consoling each other by their presence. Then suddenly the breathing stopped, and all was quiet. Father stood and placed two coins on Nan-Margery’s eyes to ward off a haunting. Mother wept and Mrs Hargreaves whispered the Lord’s Prayer.

Tommy’s eyes quietly filled with a tear that dripped like the first drops of rain then ran slowly ran down his face. He turned away and quickly wiped it on his sleeve before his father or uncle could notice. He didn’t know how to deal with this feeling of sadness, this grey shadow of grief, so he climbed the loft ladder and slept it away.

The next morning, Tommy awoke to the noise of movement and prayers downstairs, he sat up and picked the sleep from the corners of his eyes. John and Robert were absent from the loft and he remembered the events of the previous evening and looked over to see Nan Margery’s mattress empty. He quickly dressed into his brown, cut hand-me-down breeches and frayed undershirt and climbed down the ladder. The cottage walls, shutters and mirror had been cloaked in black linen and a curtain hung on a piece of rope separated the room.

He peeked behind the curtain and saw Nan Margery’s body; it had been wrapped in a winding sheet and placed on planks sitting on wooden stools on the other side of the curtain. Friends, family and neighbours arrived at the cottage and two members of the parish accompanied by the vicar’s curate, placed her in a black wooden coffin on loan from St Michael and All Angels. The rest of the family walked outside to wait for the vicar; when he arrived, the procession made its way across the farrowed field, up to Sun Street, past the manor, onto Main Street. The residents from the cottages along the road stopped what they were doing and came outside to the road and ducked their heads solemnly, the men removing their felt hats in respect.

The curate led with his bell, followed by the vicar, holding his King James Bible piously in front of him. His father, Uncle William, John Hargreaves and John Pigshells followed, carrying the coffin on two long wooden poles; their heads lowered with respect and with sorrow. It wasn’t heavy, for the sickness had reduced Margery’s body to a skeleton. The rest followed slowly behind including Tommy and his mother who held his hand tightly for comfort beside her.

At St Michael and All Angels cemetery, the coffin was placed on two stools beside the gravesite of her husband, her feet facing east. Each of the men took off their hats and the curate rang the bell six times, then one ring for each of the years of Margery’s life.

The vicar stood in front of the coffin, his black cassock, white gown and dark tippet draped over his shoulders.

He cleared his throat. and raised his hand and with an unemotionally deep voice began,

“I am the resurrection and the life,”

says the Lord. “Those who believe

in me, even though they die, will live,

and everyone who lives and believes

in me will never die.”

The vicar sprinkled holy water on the coffin,

“God of all consolation, your Son

Jesus Christ was moved to tears at

the grave of Lazarus, his friend.

Look with compassion on your

children in their loss; give to troubled

hearts the light of hope and strengthen

in us the gift of faith, in Jesus Christ

our Lord. Amen”

They all repeated, “Amen,

After prayers, her body was carefully lifted from the coffin and placed by the members of the burial guild into the pre-dug hole.

The vicar said one more prayer,

“O God, whose Son Jesus Christ was

laid in a tomb: bless, we pray, this grave

as the place where the body of Margery

Rushworth your servant may rest in

peace, through your Son, who is the

resurrection and the life; who died

and is alive and reigns with you now

and for ever. Amen.”

“Amen,” they all repeated.

Those who were present walked to the mound of dirt beside the shallow grave, picked up a handful of rocky soil and carefully dropped it onto nan Margery’s body. It was a quiet, solemn moment then the heavens opened with a crack of thunder and the rain started to fall as if signalling the end of her days.

After the burial, all the men who were at the funeral retired to the Kings Arms, the women and children to the Rushworth Cottage for black bread, biscuits and ale. Agnes and Tommy started walking back around the horizontally placed tombstones, Tommy turned back around to see his father soaking wet but unperturbed by the rain. He just stood there standing over the mound of her grave. He saw him holding his grandmother’s wimple, but then watched him clutch it tightly to his face. This disturbed him as he had never seen such emotion from his father before. His uncle William, standing beside put his arm on his shoulder to comfort him. He held his black woollen, felt hat in his other hand and solemnly looked downwards at the grave quietly whispering his prayers and goodbyes.

His mother still holding his hand tightly said, “Come Tommy, let thy father and uncle say tarreur to nan Margery in their own way.”

She knew that the two men would not like to be seen expressing their emotions in public and certainly not in front of Tommy, for in Yorkshire that’s not what men did.

It continued to drizzle as they walked out of the graveyard, past the pillory holding the now subdued and forlorn drunkard from the previous night, and down Main street which was muddied and wet. They continued downhill past the manor onto Sun Street, past Woodlands Rise then uphill toward home.

A wave of sadness overcome Agnes and she reminisced, “The first time I had met Margery was when her parents had met with her to discuss the dowry for their betrothal. It seemed like a lifetime ago now. The passing of Margery made her think of her own mortality and it made her feel lonesome and afraid of the future. It dawned on her that she was the mistress of the house now. The feeling that came with it was one of responsibility and obligation and she would call on the wisdom and shrewdness that she had learnt from Margery to safeguard her family.”

A farmer, pulling an ox and cart full of fleece brought her out of her thoughts and as he passed them on the road he doffed his hat, “Condolences Missis,” and continued up Sun Street. The ox having some difficulty getting tread on the muddy road, grunted and groaned in frustration until the farmer gave him a nudge with his shepherd’s hook and he found his tread and moved forward.

Agnes sadly nodded her acceptance and approval, the drizzle continued, and their woollen cloaks became saturated and cold. Tommy began to shiver, his feet frozen from the mud which clung to his thin leather shoes. The recent events were all new to him and he didn’t quite know how to act or what to say to his mother in her state of melancholy, so he said nothing.

The sky was low, grey and bleak, and the weather had set in. They walked through the wattle gate between the stone wall and walked uphill through the hide to the cottage. He clung tightly to his mother’s hand and tried to keep up with her as she hurried up the hill to get out of the weather. Beyond the cottage, Tommy could see their white sheep grazing in the hills, contrasted by the brown heather of the moors. Agnes shivered, there was a chill in the air and she knew winter was on its way.


She will never be forgotten

The villagers had come to accept the sickness and death of its local people and forty years was the normal age of longevity. Margery was not normal and she had far outlived this, although no body really knew how old she was and it was believed she didn’t either. What they did know was that she was a wise, kind and caring woman that in one way or another had touched all their lives.

After the funeral, Thomas and William went to the Kings Arms, a tavern across the square from St Michael and All Angels. Thomas and William ducked their heads as they went through the doorway of the tavern. It seemed darker and quieter than usual and they really didn’t feel like socialising but they had been persuaded by the men inside.

Most of the men had known the family for many years and most were good friends of Margery’s husband who had passed away from consumption sometime before her. As the local matchmaker, Margery was well known to all and had played a major part in most of their banns and hand fasting’s. Often, marriages were arranged and she was usually the one to do it, for a small fee of course.

The ‘Arms’ as they called it wasn’t the most reputable establishment around but it was close and it was theirs. It had a low ceiling and thick wooden rafters that were even lower. The stone floor was covered in straw, damp from the recent rains. There was a fireplace and a set of shutters where most of the light came from. A small wooden unpolished bar spanned half the room; a large barrel with a tap sat length ways on two semicircular wooden supports at one end of it. Another full barrel sat below it on the floor. In front of the large stone hearth were stools and a form set diagonally. On top of the thick wooden mantelpiece sat a hefty iron candle holder.

The reeve noticed them and called out to the publican to pour two more jacks of ale, “Come lads, let us drink to Margery and the life she lived. She was never one to shy away from life’s burdens and always cheerful in the face of life’s ills. She will never die, for those that die are only dead when we have forgotten them and she will never be forgotten I assure you.”

They all lifted their drinks in unison and skulled them, William tried to cough away the lump in his throat, slapping his chest blaming it on some ale that had gone down the wrong way. He didn’t fool his brother who smiled and felt the same knot in his throat.

To distract himself, Thomas looked beyond the reeve’s shoulder and looked toward the back of the room, an old beggar lady walked backwards and forwards from one card table to the next. An old tinker leaned against the wall, allowing a stream of urine to flow into a bucket in the back corner. Thomas tried to put the day’s events out of his mind and listened to a farmer argue with a wool brogger over the price for his fleece.

The farmer held his hand up with the coin he had been given, “Ya’ don’t understand, tis not enough ta feed me, I dunno about me family!”

The brogger knew that by the time he distributed the raw fleece to the spinners and weavers and store some away to increase demand, he would still be left with a tidy profit once sold, “Aye and what you don’t understand is I’m not getting as much as what I was fer cloth with the merchants.”

“Come on now be honest with me ya’ cheatin’ bastard, I know how much you get in York fer the cloth!” The farmer exclaimed angrily.

The brogger put his hands up defensively, “Aye, but there’s a shortage of cloth now, ya’ know that! This war is interrupting” trade and then there’s the king’s levy on exports. There just isn’t the demand for course wool anymore.”

The farmer became more agitated, “A shortage of cloth, they’re getting way more in York for fleece than what you pay us here.”

“Well then take yer wool ta York and sell it yerself!” The brogger was starting to become impatient and became uncomfortable with other farmers looking at him.

The farmer shook his head with frustration, “Ya’ know I can’t do that, I’ve got a herd ta run!”

Thomas and William made a point of not getting involved in the dealings of others but knew that generally the brogger’s played a part in the misfortunes of many. They turned to the bar and ordered another ale but watched on as the voices of the farmer and brogger got louder and louder. Other farmers who had had their fair share of ale started heckling the brogger. He sensed the deteriorating mood in the tavern and made a quick exit to save himself from a hiding.

Thomas whispered, “Tis right what he says, the clothiers and broggers get richer while the poor folk and farmers scratch out a living.”

William looked at him worriedly, “Aye but what are we ta do about it.”

Thomas took a sip of his ale and thought for a moment, “Nothing we can do really, it is what it is.”

The shutters were open and allowed some of the smokiness from the fire and pipe smoke to escape. Three-legged stools and wooden tables were used for the card games. Wide, rough planks of the bar separated the barkeep from the tenants, freemen and yeomen that frequented the place after dark.

A handful of men stood at the bar playing shoffe-grote on a rectangular wooden board. The shelves behind, housed leather jacks, wooden bowls and tankards. The odd tallow candle provided enough light for the card games and arguments about the dissolution of Parliament and King Charles’ right of divine rule. The serving maid walked one way then the next refilling tankards of ale and chastising the occasional patron that couldn’t keep his hands to himself.

The old beggar woman, her left eye whitened by the cataract that had slowly tunnelled her vision then completely erased it, limped from table to table the old stick she held supporting her cracked and painful hip. She wore a dirty, ochre, frayed kirtle and moth-eaten wimple that had lost its true colour years ago.

The old woman held out the wrinkled, worn palm of her hand, begging for a penny from the patrons, “Spare a penny sir, spare a penny to feed the bairns. Spare a penny sir,” she growled with a deep croaky voice?”

One of the patrons, lifted his eyes from his cards, “Be off with you foul old woman before ya’ feel the pointy end of me foot up yer arse.”

She rolled her eyes, grunted in frustration and walked up to the men standing at the bar, “Spare a penny sir, spare a penny to feed the bairns, spare a penny sir?”

The barkeep looked at the poor wretched soul, “Be off with ya’ old woman!”

Thomas placed a penny on the bar, “Ales barkeep”.

He turned around, shocked by the wrinkled face that was bent over before him, her whispery white hair poking through the sides of her wimple. Deep wrinkles in her face spread like a roadmap, her left eye, almost moonlike with its colour and sadness, a reminder of the poor wretches in the world.

He didn’t have much, but he had felt the pangs of hunger and would not wish it on any other, “Here, take this and be off with you, feed yer bairns or more likely yer husband that has no more work left in him.” Thomas placed two pennies in her hand.

She lifted her trembling hand, which was wrapped in a dirty, small woollen mitten with the fingers cut at the knuckles, “Thank you sir, God bless ya.”

She knew the weight of a penny and raised it steadily to her one eye for a closer look to ensure she hadn’t been tricked like times before; she paused then focused her one good eye on Thomas’ face to remember it for the future, “God bless ya’ son.” She hobbled through the door

“ No doubt back to her husband that waited for the homebrew that she would collect from one of the cottages on the way home. Thomas thought.

William looked puzzled, “Why’d ya’ do that Thomas?”

Thomas smiled, “There’s some in the world far worse off than we brother and one good turn deserves another.”

Some men came up to shake the hands of the two brothers and pay their condolences. There was the baker from the manor with his stained, floppy white hat, the reeve, who smoked his pipe and all manner of patrons, free tenants and yeomen that had heard of Margery’s passing. They had come to pay their respects and to tell and hear stories of Margery’s life.

Thomas spoke of the time that he and William arrived home to find a dead man flat on his back, in the old cruck house, his nose hanging to the side of his face after the English Mastiff had attacked him, protecting their mother. This brought back memories of the footpads and coney-catchers that had terrorised the village and surrounds all those years ago.

The reeve reminded them of times gone by “Aye, they were strange times, they were, who’d have thought it was the steward ‘s men takin’ advantage of good folk of Haworth. Seems like just yesterday,” claimed the reeve.

“Anyway, they got their just deserves, probably still chained to a wall in Castle Prison, I’d say,” replied William.

“She was a cunning old girl,” said Thomas. “I was just a boy, if it weren’t for her, Agnes and I wouldn’t be together. She arranged the banns and the hand tying with the vicar, even settled the dowry after me father passed.”

“She was always up ta some sort of shenanigans,” replied William, “What about the time she dragged you off to see the steward about the tenure for the hide.”

Reminiscing, Thomas tried to pep himself up in front of the others, “Aye, seems like a lifetime ago now, plenty of water under the bridge since then brother.”

“And you William, you have another on the way?” The baker from the manor asked sensing the sad demeanour amongst the others.

William was reminded of his pregnant wife at home, “All I have ta do is wave me breeches over the bed and it brings the bairn.”

The men laughed, all except the reeve who was always up on the latest news in the town, “You should be so lucky mate, there’s many young ones with the sickness here bouts, tis gonna be a long hard winter for some. John Pigshells missus lost another to the consumption last week, only four years old. Only two of four of his have made it to their sixth year, bloody sad it is.”

Children in the village were subject to many diseases and physical hardships. They had all encountered the pestilence, smallpox and illnesses such as measles and influenza and the infant mortality rate was extremely high.

Thomas looked at his brother William and watched as he looked down gloomily, “Aye there’s more worse off than we. That bastard steward, he’s been the cause of hardship for many in the village.”

William, the younger, more outspoken of the two brothers had a likeable, spirited personality. Unlike Thomas who thought before he spoke, William was the opposite and spoke his mind whenever and wherever, often getting himself into some sort of strife that his brother had to bail him out of.

The reeve trying to change the subject, “Aye, old Margery wasn’t backwards in coming forwards that’s for sure always kept me on my toes. Came to the manor to borrow a hoe once, refused to pay for it said she was doing me a favour stopping the seeds from weeds spreading onto the lord’s demesne. Just walked off, never saw the hoe again!”

They all smiled including Thomas who knew he still had the hoe back at the cottage, “Treasure she was, hated the old lord with a passion because of the way he mistreated father when he was sick and coughing blood.”

“Aye, I remember, Ma would still be cursing him I’d say,” William declared.

Thomas getting a little tipsy from the stronger ale, preferred to change the subject and stall his feelings of sadness. He raised his tankard, “Oh here’s to other meetings, and merry greetings then; and here’s to those we’ve drunk with, but never can again!”

All the others followed suit, they all lifted their tankards and skulled their ale slamming them down on the bar and in unison called out, “TO MARGERY MAY SHE REST IN PEACE!”

“BARKEEP, MORE ALE,” yelled John Hargreaves. “May as well, if we don’t drink it, some other bastard will,” he called out.

All who heard smiled a little, Thomas reached inside his tunic and felt Margery’s wimple that he carried there. He knew that it would still smell of her and back at home when nobody was looking, he would take it out and reminisce. He would think about the life lessons he had learnt and the wisdom she had taught.

The Kings Arms started to empty, and the barmaid went around busily wiping the spilt ale from the table and blowing out the candles. She tried to wake up the drunk who had momentarily fallen asleep at a table in the corner. His head on his forearms, still holding tightly to his half-finished pewter tankard. The barkeep went around with a bucket collecting any dregs from the jacks left half-empty on the tables to be poured back into the bucket for the more destitute.

The barkeep was a large rotund man his red waistcoat stretched tightly across his protruding abdomen, revealing the dirty grey undershirt beneath. His brown tunic was stained and covered in wet patches from the ale that he slopped from noon till night. His dirty white, ragged apron rested below his waistline, which he continually pulled up and tightened. He wasn’t an overly joyous man but kept the locals coming back by knowing their names and pouring ale quickly with no slops.

After far too many ales, Thomas and William started on their way home, made harder by the constant drizzle. They walked through the fields, a dog barked in the distance, past the manor house at the foot of Main Street with its deeply recessed candlelit mullioned windows, down Sun Street, muddied and slippery underfoot. The cottage merchants quietened their trade and shut up shop to get out of the drizzle. The expanse of open Pennine countryside and moorlands lost their expanse with the encroaching fog and low cloud as if the Lord himself was wiping them out to start colouring in again on the morn. The upper part of the church steeple of St. Michael and All Angels mostly lost to the weather. They walked in silence for a while, contemplating what it would be like without her. Their only solace, the thought that they had to be strong for the rest of the family.

The drizzle turned to rain and then it started to pour, soaking their felt wide-brimmed hats, cloaks and tunics and drenching them through and through. They continued to trudge home then Thomas stopped, taking off his hat which had lost part of its shape, to push his slick hair back and wipe the droplets of wet from his eyelashes. William was staggering and finding it quite challenging to keep his balance. Both were not quite as nimble as they once were, especially Thomas, who laboured more under the uphill journey while trying to balance his brother.

“Do ya’ think she’s with father?” asked William.

“Aye, I think she’s with father William, God rest her soul.”

Tommy and the English Mastiff heard the ramblings of Thomas and William coming up the hill. The dog stood quickly and went to the door sniffing underneath it to try and get a scent of who approached. It was familiar, so he waited for the latch to lift and the door to open. The two men staggered in disregarding the dog, who sniffed and looked up at them. With no affection directed her way she turned and walked back to the hearth, slumping down with a groan and a grumble.

It was pitch black outside and the rain was relentless beating down with anger and no respite. Tommy looked up at his uncle William who was loud, drunk and filthy where he had fallen over in the mud. He rarely saw his father and uncle in this state, and it disturbed him as he knew that with this came anger and chastisement from his mother who had no patience for men who couldn’t handle their drink.

“Look at you two,” exclaimed Agnes, while shepherding them in quickly through the door to keep the downpour at bay.

Father and Uncle William were soaking wet and chilled through to the bone, shivering. Their tunics and breeches were caked in mud and a distinct aroma of fresh manure wafted through the cottage joining with the animal smells already present.

Father had one hand around Uncle William’s waist, and he had his arm around father’s shoulder, but he found it difficult to stand upright and couldn’t focus. Father leant him down carefully, on the form by the door, where he closed his eyes and leant his head back, mumbling something that nobody could understand. Father sat down beside him, taking off his muddied tunic, giving it to ma. His thin leather and woollen shoes were saturated and muddy so he took them off and put them under the form.

Suddenly, Uncle William opened his eyes and bolted upright; he stood there swaying still trying to focus, “More ale,” he hollered. William was always a bit more confident in the household when he had a belly full of ale.

“I think you’ve had quite enough William,” said Agnes trying to take off his tunic.

She was the only woman in the household who had the courage and the tenacity to scold the men. She knew Thomas wouldn’t retort, lest he sleep with the animals in the cold and consume cold pottage in the morning. When he carried on like this, she knew he was only trying to reassert himself in front of his watching son and the others, who had enough sense to ignore his rantings and ravings.

Agnes had a stern look on her face, “Come on husband get yer gear off and don’t embarrass yerself in front of wee Tommy.”

She was a wise woman and the years of hard work, sacrifice and lost young ones had taken their toll. She had a tough, unemotional demeanour, but all could sense her quiet, sensitive side that she tried so hard to hide unless she was dealing with the young ones. Tommy was the love of her life and she doted on him often protecting him from the wrath of his father if he dropped the eggs or forgot to put the wood in the hole on a cold night.

Agnes lifted Thomas’ arm up and pulled his sleeve to get his tunic off, “Come on you two off with those mucky clothes before ya’ get the chill a’ death into ya!”

Lucy walked over to help William, she lifted his arm to take off his unbuttoned tunic, but he wouldn’t have it and shakily stood to his feet, “MORE ALE, WOMAN BRING MORE ALE!”

Lucy rolled her eyes and put her hands on her hips impatiently, “Da ya’ think you’ve not had enough? You’ll feel like a dog’s breakfast in the morn’ if ya’ don’t sleep it off,”

She tried to lift his arm, but he shook away her grasp, stood and put his arms around roughly to embrace her.

Unaccustomed to such displays of affection, Lucy pushed him away, “What’s got in ta ya’ William Rushworth?” I’m not one of your floozy’s from up the road!”

William stood there swaying, “Floozy’s, there’s no floozy’s!” He tried to keep a hold of her but lost his balance and plonked himself back down on the form in front of her.

William stood again and staggered and almost lost his balance until Thomas grabbed and steadied him, “William, what’s got into ya,’ behave yourself!”

Father slowly and steadily walked over to the clay jug, covered with a linen cloth, and poured two tankards of ale. He walked back and gave one to Uncle William and downed the other.

Uncle William taking his, took an awkward step to steady himself, recovered, spilt some of it while taking it to his lips and then skulled the rest.

“William, I havn’t got time fer your shenanigans, I’ve got work ta do this stein isn’t gonna spin itself!” Lucy declared with impatience walking back to the spinning wheel.

“MORE!” William yelled as he lifted his empty tankard into the air as if he was offering it to the Gods.

Father once again filled their tankards and uncle took a step forward, still unsteady on his feet, ma held him upright. He took the tankard and brought it to his lips, taking a large gulp.

“William ya’ need ta’ get ta bed, its late and there’s work ta be done in the morning,” Agnes proclaimed with increasing impatience.

“We’ll never get him up that ladder,” remarked Agnes, so they walked him over to the animal enclosure.

They dropped Uncle William down on a mound of clean straw, used for the animals bedding, He leaned backwards, his eyes rolling upwards so that you could see the whites of his eyes until they closed. He took one deep breath and went limp, passing out mumbling something incoherently. They took his muddy leg warmers, strappings and breeches off and left the wet undershirt.

Agnes placed a blanket over him as the cow mooed with dissatisfaction having him occupying her corner of the room. The ox continued to chew its cud and unceremoniously watched what was going on with his blank stare. The sheep scattered to the other side of the enclosure and the chickens squawked and flapped their wings. The pig grunted, and the sow stood, neglecting the piglets that had not finished feeding and started to squeal being unfastened from the teat.

Tommy watched his father as he tentatively walked back to his high-backed wooden chair near the fire; he took out his clay pipe and lit it with a piece of straw, puffing on it efficiently until he was happy with the state of the ember in the barrel.

Tommy had never seen his uncle in such a state and his father had a quiet solemness that filled the room like a dense fog. Not much was said after that and the women continued their evening chores. Lucy stayed with her spinning wheel and Agnes pounded dough for bread for the morning.

When the cock crowed, William started to stir, father having not slept had already left to visit nan Margery’s grave, so Tommy was spared helping his father pluck rocks and stones from the earth to prepare for the Spring sowing.

William started to come around, he felt the heavy tiredness and pain behind his eyes, and he tried hard to fall back to sleep but couldn’t. He slowly tried to open his eyes and then, squinting at the light from the open shutters, immediately closed them again and groaned. He tried to swallow away the bad taste in his mouth, but it was too dry, and the surface of his tongue had a woolly feel to it. He squinted, trying to let his eyes adjust to the light slowly then rolled over kneeling on all fours in the mound of straw. Pieces of straw protruded from his hair and stuck to his undershirt and he groaned when he smelt the fresh manure and droppings plop on the ground beside him which reminded him that he still had to take the animals out.

“You better get those animals over to the common green William, the day tis half over,” said Agnes shaking her head.

He pulled himself up from the straw pile and crawled over to the animal’s half water barrel, he dunked his head in it and blue bubbles trying to rid himself of the pain behind his eyes. He splashed his face pushing his wet hands through his hair, grimacing from the shock of the cold water, his head feeling heavy and uncooperative. He cupped his hands and splashed his face a few more times and then tried slowly to open his eyes fully. He looked around, trying to get his bearings and make sense of the previous evening.

Agnes ignored him and did not pay him any attention whatsoever while she was tending to the vegetables that she had collected from the patch. She stepped around William to collect eggs from the chickens who squawked their disapproval.

William, still on all fours looked around, Lucy was spinning and saw wee Tommy looking at him suspiciously, scrutinising his every move with interest warily.

William raised his head, “WHAT ARE YA’ LOOKING AT BOY, BE OFF WITH YA’ HELP YA MOTHER,” he bellowed.

Then realising his mistake, held onto the side of his head coughing up the phlegm that had collected through the night. He felt the pain and frowned with each cough and continued to moan and grumble.

Tommy ran across the room and stood behind his mother as she placed the eggs on the table; he peeked out from behind her kirtle and continued to watch his uncle with a quiet fascination.

Agnes smiled, “There, there Tommy, pay no mind to yer uncle swill-belly, he swallowed a hair and will have barrel fever fer the rest a’ the day. You go outside an’ play now my love.”

Tommy watched his uncle as he tried to stand too quickly and lost his balance, dropping back to his knees on the stone floor head down in shame. He then slowly looked up squinting, his eyes were red, he blinked trying to focus in the light. William reached out with his hand, “Help me boy.” He moaned.

William’s head was muddled and his memory of the previous evening cloudy like the beck after a good rain.

Tommy hesitantly walked over to him and slowly tried to lift him up like he had seen his father do the night before, but he was heavy and couldn’t quite reach around his waist. William put his open hand on the top of Tommy’s head and used it for balance to steady himself and walk to the door. He opened the door and was taken back by the cold wind; he staggered outside into the chill to try and revive himself with the wind in his face, but it was too much and staggered back inside to take up a place in his brother’s chair beside the fire.

Lucy said nothing but watched his every movement while the spinning wheel whirred in front of her. She frowned then smiled at his uncovered knobbly knees. She provided no sympathy as she slowly teased the thread and pushed the peddle to spin the wheel. She loved the whirring of the wheel; it was almost mesmerising, and often it took her to another place away from the hardships of her own simple life. She missed her father and her sister but was still very hurt by his wrongdoings. Putting it out of her mind, she glimpsed over at William and shook her head. “Is this the man I left home for?” She thought then smiled as she loved him dearly and had patience for his odd indiscretions.

Agnes bent down and scooped some steaming oats into a wooden bowl from the cauldron under the chimney and passed it to him with a jack of ale. He accepted it without gesture and then, feeling a queasy feeling starting to rise in his stomach, staggered to the door, lifted the latch and dropped to his knees outside. Tommy watched on as he saw his uncle’s back arch followed by a steady stream of oats and liquid which poured from his gaping mouth. He coughed then arched his back again and a further stream of clear liquid splashed to the ground. His back arched again but there was no more, so he dryly coughed trying to rid his throat of the distasteful acidic phlegm that now presided there.

When he eventually stood, he staggered back inside holding onto the door jamb for balance. Lucy and Agnes looked at him but said nothing and continued their spinning and weaving. He stopped for a moment expecting some comment to be made, but the women knew that silence was their best insult. William staggered back over to the fire and sat down again, he stirred his oats and spooned it from the bowl, hoping it would help silence the pounding of the blacksmith working behind his eyes.

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