Skulduggery Ch2 The Old Woman’s Secrets

Updated: Oct 23, 2020

WHILE AGNES FED the wee one, Thomas sadly reminisced,

he looked over at his mother remembering the difficulty

she had faced in his father’s last days. Weeding the hide through the day, cooking, washing and tending to father through the night. She was much younger then, but firm and of high morals and wished no ill of her husband. As a young lad, he often wondered if they loved each other because they never showed any affection outwardly. The question was answered many years later when his father got the sickness; he could hear his mother quietly weeping in the darkness of the night and his father trying to console her between raptures of coughing and wheezing. By day he continued to work the fields often kneeling in the dirt trying to fight against an uncontrollable fit of coughing. You could hear him trudging home through the mud, a constant drizzle making it difficult for him to see. His cold, wet clothes clamped against his feverish skin. Eyes deep in their sockets darkened by rings of tiredness, foreboding and worry, for he knew not what would become of his family once he was gone.

He would stagger in out of the weather and collapse on the bed,

often spouting delirious ravings as mother undressed him and dried him

as best she could. Often, he wouldn’t get up again and remain there

to battle the growing ache in his chest, coughing to get some respite

from the clogged airways.

The persistent choking cough followed by the splatter of blood in

the rag that mother Margery continually rinsed and gave back to him.

The wakening, delirious ravings and night sweats, the chills, chest pains

and shortness of breath and the irreversible weight loss. His mother

tried to feed him broth, but most times it would end up coughed over

mother and dribbling down his chest. This all ended one night when

the coughing stopped, and the wheezing quietened eventuating in dark,

solemn, peaceful silence.

-Page 9-

He looked back into his memory of the times as a youngster, when

wee Thomas was just a sparkle in his Agnes’ eye; his father and mother

had to tend to the fields for the lord, from sunrise until sunset, pruning,

weeding and scaring birds in Spring, harvesting, and ploughing in

summer and smoking and weaving in Autumn. They had to spread

manure to prepare the fields for the crops, prune branches, harvest the

hay and cut the wheat. Not to mention collecting the brew from the

lord’s favourite cottage to appease his alcoholic tendencies and wash

down the pheasant and imported wine.

They were good times, happy times, at harvest father would often

carry him on his shoulders through the fields on a Sunday after church,

swinging him around by the hands so that his feet acted as a sickle to

cut down the wheat. They would play hide and seek in the long wheat

stalks, he was always able to sneak up on him, but he knew that his

father allowed him to, laughing and acting surprised when he did.

He never spoke much of his family saying that they moved up here

from Mould Greave when he was a very young lad. He said that his

father left for war one day and didn’t return even though his mother

waited and waited until one day she got the sickness and passed leaving

him and his elder brother and sister to fend for themselves.

Thomas was only seventeen when his father passed, but he could

still remember looking through the gap between the black loose-fitting

curtain and the wattle wall, put up to separate the living from the

dead. His last sight was one of sadness, as his mother Margery and her

cousin silently dunked cloths in cold water and gently wiped the soil

of a lifetime from his body. Margery was solemn but did not cry as she

realised the living hell that had tortured her husband for the last three

months and now, she knew he was at peace. He laid there outstretched

on a makeshift bench put together with some locally sourced planks.

Completely naked except for a loincloth which covered his more modest

regions. The once muscular physique had wasted away, and the bones of

his ribs protruded through the pale, loose skin. The muscle in his arms

had deteriorated and now unapologetically sagged loosely to the table.

His unshaven face was turned slightly, and his hair was messed and wet

where his mother had wiped the grime from his forehead. Silently, he

continued to watch as they wound his body in a winding sheet, covering

his face, and tightened by a knot under his chin.

-Page 10-

His mother Margery and her cousin knelt beside the body and clasped

their hands together in unison, later joined by relatives, neighbours and

friends who guarded the corpse throughout the night. Two candles

flickered, the shadows dancing on the black cloth that donned the walls.

There they would remain until the vicar from St Michael and All Angels’

chapel arrived to administer last rights and sprinkle holy water.

He would be buried on the grounds of St Michael and All Angels,

however, as much of the church’s land had been acquired by the noble

right of King Henry VIII, and distributed to the wealthy, ground

space was at a shortage. An older gravesite would be dug up, the bones

removed, and there his father would be placed.

After his father had passed, the copy-hold inheritance of the hide

automatically passed to Thomas being the eldest son; his mother attended

the manor court in Haworth with him. All the other freeholders and

copy-holders tenanted to his lordship would be there also. Here, his

tenancy would be accounted for and recorded on the Haworth manor

court roll of Martin Birkhead, Esquire, as a proof of the right to the

tenancy. He would swear an oath to Lord Birkhead, lord of the manor

of Haworth in exchange for yearly labouring services on his lands to the

south-east of Haworth, a patch of non-arable land called Hall Green.

They left after the day’s work, digging in the horse manure and

human faeces, made harder by the constant drizzle, that they had

collected over the course of the winter. They walked through the

furrowed fields, a dog barked in the distance, past the manor house

at the foot of Main Street with its large cut ashlar gritstone and deeply

recessed mullioned windows, in all its splendour, up, up, up Sun Street,

muddied and slippery underfoot. The cottage merchants along the

road, still plied their trade selling all manner of items from vegetables

to wimples. The expanse of open Pennine countryside and moorlands

on one side, the sun going down casting shadows from trees on the

other. The church tower of St. Michael and All Angels being a continual

reminder of the distance and steepness of the climb to the square.

-Page 11-

Paul Rushworth-Brown is the author of two novels:

Skulduggery- An exciting, mysterious, fictional and historically accurate adventure pulls no punches about the life and hardships of peasant farmers living on the moors of Yorkshire in 1590.

Winter of Red- Come on this historic journey, which twists, turns and surprises until the very end. If you like history, adventure and intrigue with a dash of spirited love, then you will be engrossed by this tale of a peasant family unexpectedly getting caught up in the ravages of the English Civil War in 1642.

Dream of Courage- Coming Soon

First Snow in Haworth Dec 4th
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Peasant Sex and Mariage in 17th Century Yorkshire

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Mick Whitelock

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Novels by Paul Rushworth-Brown


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Mick Whitelock

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