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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.”