‘HERE YA’ ARE Tommy,’ said Isabel as she brought a much
older Tommy Rushworth out of his daydream by placing
a bowl of pottage and dark bread on the table.
Now a grown man, Tommy had the look of his father, thick dark
brown eyebrows and heavily recessed blue eyes. Whispers of dark brown hair peeked from under his brown felt cap. His wind burnt face, straight nose and chiselled chin gave him the rugged look of a Yorkshire man.
He worked the field from early morning to night and his hands were
rough and calloused like roughly shorn timber. Unlike his father, he
had no wrinkles but had been aged slightly by hardship and the Pennine wind and summer sun. He wore a loose dark brown, sleeveless jerkin
over an open grey dirty tunic with dark brown hose and woollen foot
coverings strapped with leather that had spent far too much time in
‘What wer’ ya in such deep thought about ‘usband?’ Isabel asked as
she sat down on the stool next to the spinning wheel. Isabel knew when
her man was out of sorts and knew to leave him be when something
was troubling him.
He had a quiet strength like his father and the nut didn’t fall far
from the tree, she thought. He wasn’t affectionate, but he was honest
and good to her. He could always be trusted and didn’t spend coin on
whores or the dog fighting at the tavern like some in the village. Their
conversation was never intimate and usually involved the greediness of
the manor steward, the goings on at the manor court and the current
price of wool and wheat. It was only underneath the blanket at night
that his whisperings became quiet and affectionate.
‘Just thinkin’ about me nan,’ He put his head closer to the bowl and
spooned some pottage into his mouth, wiping the excess with the sleeve
of his greyed linen shirt which poked out of the sleeve of his tunic.
A thick woollen, sleeveless jerkin kept the draft and coldness from
his back, and a cloth hood dangled loosely at the back, which when
required, shielded part of his face from the punishing icy wind.
The wind howled outside like a wild beast, and a small line of snow
blew under the door and started to gather into a small mound. The
shutters vibrated stubbornly, keeping the wind and snow outside, but a
steady drip of water melted by the warmth of the fire dripped from the
ledge beneath the shutter.
‘What made ya think of yer nan?’ asked Isabel as she turned to stoke
the fire, knowing not to press him too hard on the subject.
‘Just thinkin’ about father and William and how they were when
Agnes heard her son’s’ melancholy words as she eaves dropped from
the animal quarters at the back corner of the cottage which housed the
ox, the cow, chickens, and several pigs and sheep brought in out of the
The cottage was poorly ventilated except the shutters which they
couldn’t open at night and the two slits in the wall in front of the
animal stalls. Steam from the body heat of the cow and ox rose up
and dissipated amongst the thatched ceiling. The pigs squealed as
they contested the rotting vegetables and the boar grunted as it sifted
through the old peelings and rotten cabbage leaves from the collection
of Autumn leftovers.
Agnes shovelled manure through the hole in the wall designed for
the purpose and closed the hatch to keep the weather outside. She put
her hands together, blew on them, then rubbed them together to get
the circulation back, ‘This draft will be the end of me,’ she grumbled
‘I wonder when yer father will be back.’ Said Agnes as she walked
toward the fire to warm herself lifting her kirtle a little too warm her
‘Where’s he gone mother,’ asked Tommy curiously.
‘Gone into the village with John Hargreaves to talk to the reeve
‘Tommy, ya’ know he tells me nowt about his plans and goings on,
‘ave ya’ not learnt that yet?’
‘Aye, I have,’ knowing that he kept specific details from Isabel in
the same way.
Isabel took some waste yarn around the bobbin, fed it through the
flyer and tied it to a six-inch roving. She pumped the treadle and at the
same time gently fed out the fibres by pulling lightly to keep it taught,
Isabel piped in, ‘And you ‘usband is there any secrets that you should
be tellin’ me?’
Tommy stayed quiet and took another spoonful of pottage; Isabel
knew not to push the subject as she teased more yarn.
Agnes smiled at his restraint, just like ‘is bleedin’ father she thought
to herself as she climbed up the steps of the ladder being careful not
to trip on the bottom of her kirtle. She climbed to the loft above the
animal enclosure and dropped half a bale of hay down; the startled
chickens squawked, dodged and fled, flapping their wings in terror,
loose feathers rose and then floated slowly to the ground. Carefully
climbing down, she separated the hay and threw it into the trough in
front of the animals. A rickety, old worn-out structure with vertical
wooden strips of timber denying full access to separate the hay so that
each had their own portion.
She walked out of the animal enclosure and over to the fire, ’ere,
Isabel you take the load off, I’ll do that, ya need to rest and so does ya
babby, said Agnes.
‘Babby’s fine mother Rushworth, kickin’ like a young lamb, she said
as she placed her hands under the bulge and straightened, grimacing
from the dull ache in her lower back.
She sat down at the table opposite Tommy while Agnes placed a
bowl in front of her and Lucy, who was also six months pregnant.
‘I’ve put some extra meat in the pottage for the babby,’ said Agnes.
‘Oooh, there’s no need, Spring is still a long way off, and we need
to make it last.’
‘Never you mind that, if we run out Thomas will just have ta
butcher another pig, baby needs to be strong and healthy.’
Isabel’s dark hair dropped to just above her eyebrows with a fringe,
she had kind, dark eyes which sparkled with the light from the fire. The
continual rosiness of her cheeks gave her a healthy glow. Her blue kirtle
and tan partlet had a plunging neckline which joined with the open
fronted gown which was laced across with leather cord. The shapeless
sleeves were attached to the dress with stringed stitches at the top of the
shoulder. A fawn, linen apron dirtied and stained ballooned out from
her lower abdomen and dropped to the floor. Tommy looked at Isabel
She was a good woman, Tommy thought to himself and had settled
into life at the cottage well. She worked hard and did her share of the
cooking, mending and spinning. It had been some years since they had
met in Stanbury and even though they only saw each other for a couple
of hours in the evening in Summer, he cherished her even though he
would never let on.
Their courtship was short, and her father had refused Tommy’s
advances toward his daughter. A few years earlier, her mother had died
trying to give birth to her younger brother, something that her father
never got over. Now he was alone and although she felt guilty leaving
him, knew it was best. The wedding took place in Stanbury and when
the Rushworth family left, they took Isabel with them.
In the winter there wasn’t much to do on the hide, so their days were
spent combing wool and spinning yarn. It was a tedious, hot process
especially when the fire had to be built larger to heat the combs. It took
them almost a week to make one kersey which was then sold back to
‘Tommy remembered the last pregnancy and the trouble Isabel had
during birth. He wasn’t allowed in the cottage and waited outside in
the dark and drizzle, but he could hear the screams of pain and anguish
and Isabel calling on all the saints for help. He wasn’t used to being in
this situation and now knew why his father trekked into the village. He
had done the same when Lucy had given birth, but this was different,
this was his wife and his boy.
Isabel often thought of that night, what a night, she thought to
herself hoping that it would be easier this time.
It had been almost two years since, she remembered Agnes had
covered the shutters with linen to keep out the humours, blown out the
candles and allowed the fire to die down to just a glow. She remembered
how Agnes had rubbed scented butter on her stomach and rubbed her
back with each growing contraction.
‘There, there Isabel, it won’t be long now.’
Isabel was propped up on pillows against the wall; the straw mattress
already wet from the clear liquid that had gushed from below. She
frowned with the uncomfortable back pain and cramping in her lower
abdomen and closed her eyes, praying to God for the health of her baby.
Agnes felt her stomach; it was hard, and the skin was stretched
tightly over the baby mound as if it would split. Isabel tried to deal with
the growing pressure she could feel her breathing naturally increase, and
she closed her eyes as if it would make the increasing pressure go away.
‘Ah want ta pay eur call.’ said Isabel uncomfortably
‘It’s alright luv, it will pass and besides if ya’ have ta need, do it wer
‘Arghhh,’ Isabel felt the heaviness and pain in her lower back from
‘Breathe deeply lass, ‘tis very close, ‘tis.’
Panting, ‘Aye, but close isn’t…… close enough, Arghhhhhhhh,’
Isabel screamed again and heaved her head and shoulders up off the
straw pillow, holding her position, then flopped back down, panting
deeply trying to catch her breath momentarily.
It had been some years since Lucy had left her father’s house, married
William and moved in with the Rushworths. Now to be caring for her
younger pregnant sister was even more surreal.
Lucy, sitting on the edge of the bed, wiped her sister’s forehead with
a wet cloth, ‘There sister it’s almost done.’
‘Isabel, I can see it, wit’ ta next pain, I want yer to push with
everything ya’ got left.’
Isabel gritted her teeth as the contraction started to build, she
heaved her head and shoulders forward and screamed one last time then
flopped down, exhausted. Her chest heaved up and down and there
she stayed until she heard the first ‘cry’. Agnes cut the umbilical cord
with the sharpest knife she had, the one she used to cut vegetables. She
picked up the baby and placed it on Isabel’s chest, which continued to
heave in and out.
Agnes wiped the blood and mucous-like covering from the baby’s
face, tying off the cord with a piece of entwined string like her mother
had shown her. The baby continued to howl while Agnes wrapped him
in a linen shawl and then he quietened as he felt his mother’s heartbeat.
‘Why lass, ya’ ’ave a strong lad.’
‘A lad, thank the Lord, Tommy will be sa happy,’ exclaimed Isabel
panting as she started to get her breath back.
Lucy continued to wipe the sweat from Isabel’s forehead, ‘Oh sister,
you have a beautiful boy, he has the most beautiful blue eyes.’
‘They’re always blue when they’re first born,’ said Agnes.
Agnes wrapped up the linen sheet that she had placed underneath
Isabel and gave it to Lucy to dispense with. Lucy walked over to the fire
and put them in. The linen caught quick, and the flame danced toward
the opening of the chimney, higher, higher and higher. The blaze burnt
hot, so Lucy had to turn away, the fire roared.
Agnes turned quickly from the baby when she heard the roar,
‘Lucyyyy, not in the fire!’ screamed Agnes.
Tommy looked toward the cottage, it was silent, he kept looking,
but nothing except a greater brightness emanating from the closed
shutters. Steam started to come off the chimney outside; then he heard
the door open with a thump and Agnes and Lucy supporting Isabel
through the door. Tommy began to run.
‘Tommy,’ Agnes yelled!
Tommy ran as fast as he could, he could see sparks coming out the
top of the chimney contrasted by the blackness of the sky.
‘Ma, what is it?’
‘Fire,’ she coughed, ‘Fire!’
Tommy ran up the hill, soaking wet, ran inside to see the flame
from the hearth touching the top of the mantle. He quickly took the
bucket of toilet water at the bottom of the ladder and threw it on the
fire. A gust of steam erupted and filled the room with a steamy, pungent
smell. The cow, panicked, broke its tie rope, turned and trotted out the
door, the chickens flapped their wings and followed. Lucy, Isabel and
Agnes huddled together under a woollen cloak trying to protect the
baby. They all cowered under the eve of the thatch, trying to keep as
dry as they could from the constant drizzle.
The steam from the chimney still sizzled, but the drizzle had
The baby started to cry, and Tommy heard it, he walked outside to
find them huddled together under the thatched eve.
‘Come in quickly, tis a mess, but better a mess inside than a chill out.’
Agnes helped Isabel, who looked worse for wear and hobbled inside,
the afterbirth running down her leg. The baby continued to cry, she
passed the baby, all wrapped up, to Agnes and climbed back on the bed.
Exhausted, she panted, ‘Never a dull moment ‘usband!’
Agnes passed the baby back to Isabel who cradled it in her arms
now worried that the drafts would harm him, ‘Poor darlin,’ she pulled
the blanket up over her legs so that Tommy couldn’t see the stained
sheet below. Then she pulled the bundling and held the baby close to
her to warm him.
‘I’m sa sorry Isabel, don’t know what I was thinkin’.
‘Tis alright, replied Isabel, ‘No harm done, he’s warm.’
Agnes turned to look at the mess, ‘Ayup Tommy we need to get the
fire started or else we’ all get the chill a’ death.’
‘Aye, I’ll get some dry peat,’ said Tommy as he marched out the
door, back into the drizzle.
‘Lucy, you stay ’ere with Isabel and the babby.’
Agnes walked over to the shelf and took the tinder from the
tinderbox and placed the char cloth on the hearth, she struck the flint
with the steel until the char cloth started to glow. Once it was glowing,
she transferred it to a bundle of tow and slowly started to blow it into a
Winter of Red D27E
flame. She then carefully placed dried wood shavings onto the flame.
Smaller twigs were added until the small fire was born. Tommy walked
in and placed two more smallish pieces of cut, dried peat beside it.
Tommy knelt and blew on the flame to raise it. Both he and Agnes held
their hands down toward the flame to warm them.
‘Ya right ther’ Isabel,’ whispered Lucy.
Lucy turned to Tommy, ‘Well, ar’ ya’ not gunna meet yer son?’ she
In all the excitement, Tommy had neglected to look, he walked over
to Isabel and leaned over.
‘A son? T’is grand it is,’ he whispered as he lowered the top of the
bundling, so he could see his little face. The frown was slowly replaced
with a proud and relieved smile.
‘Ya did a grand job wife, he’s a bonnie lad, but sa tiny.’
Isabel had never seen Tommy exhibit so much pride and it was one
of the few times that she felt very close to him, ‘Did ya’ want ’im full
Tommy still mesmerised by the bundle didn’t answer.
Isabel looked at Agnes, ‘Full growd, twas ‘ard enough getting this
one out.’ She took a deep breath as the baby started to cry again.
Shocked, he stepped back ‘What I do?’
Nothin’ ‘usband ‘e needs a feed, Isabel readjusted, brought the
baby’s head to her bosom and guided her large brown nipple to his lips,
Lucy helping in the process.
Isabel knew the process and still pined after the daughter that she
had lost in childbirth two years past.
The baby continued to cry, sensing the milk nearby, and became
impatient moving his mouth back and forth erratically to try to find
the nipple and suckle. Finally, latching on, he quietened, and Isabel
grimaced and rolled her eyes toward the heavens.
Isabel opened her eyes for a moment, looked down at the baby with
a tender, doting expression. He was suckling contentedly, and she could
feel the vibrations coming from the bottom of the bundling.
‘Ave ya come up with a name yet son’, asked his mother.
Tommy looked down in thought, ‘William, ‘is name is William.’
‘That’s a grand name ‘usband, a grand name.’
Agnes Smiled, ‘William Rushworth, there ‘tis then named after
Tommy left the women to tend to their business and walked to
the Kings Arms where he knew his father, uncle and grandfather, John
Hargreaves were waiting. When he arrived, he saw them sat at one of the
tables nervously waiting to hear of any news. They looked up worriedly
as Tommy, soaking wet, stepped through the door. The other patrons
in the tavern stopped talking and looked over to eavesdrop on their
conversation. There was an eerie quiet that fell over the room, even
the barkeep stopped polishing the mug he was holding and looked up.
Thomas rose to greet him, ‘Well, spit it out son!’
Tommy smiled, ‘A lad!’
The whole tavern cheered and then stood to walk up to Tommy
and his father and uncle to shake their hands and congratulate them. Pa
Thomas as proud as punch and trying hard to fight back the enormous
gush of emotion he felt inside.
‘Barkeep ales yelled Pa Thomas while patting his son on the back.
‘Isabel and the baby, they okay?’
‘Couldn’t be better father, ‘he said proudly as if he had accomplished
the feat on his own.
‘Babby is as strong as an ox and he is named William,’ Tommy
looked at his uncle proudly.
‘Oh, that’s grand, son, just grand, said Thomas who looked down
for a split second remembering when his first son was born and then
lost to the coop weeks later. A slight tear welled in his eye, but he wiped
it away quickly before anybody noticed to take his tankard in hand.
The patrons in the room had taken their seats again, all ‘cept three
that were retrieving their penny ale from the barkeep.
John Hargreaves stood and slapped Tommy on the back, already
slurring his words he raised his tankard, ‘May your jack be ever full, may
the roof over yer’ head be always strong, and may ya’ be in heaven half an
hour before the devil knows yer dead.’
The patrons in the tavern, those that were listening, laughed at his
attempt at comedy and raised their tankards.
William and the others raised theirs and they all skulled the ale
chugging it down until every drop was gone. The rest of the patrons
stood, some yelled in support others cheered and others finished skulling
their tankards ready for a refill.
There was a feeling of merriment in the air and the bar wench
started to sing:
‘Bring us in no brown bread ‘cause that is made of bran…
‘Bring us in no whitbread ‘cause there in is no game…’
The rest of the patrons joined in with deep baritone voices.
‘But bring us in good ale,
Bring us in good ale, for our blessed legacy,
Bring us in good ale,
Bring us in no mutton, that is often lean,
Bring us no tripe, ‘cause they be seldom clean,
Bring us in good ale,
Bring us in good ale, for our blessed leagacy,
Bring us in good ale.’
The patrons cheered, and another started singing another song as
the bar wench continued making her rounds of the tables ensuring
that jacks and tankards were full. She was a buxom lady with a strong,
likeable character. Her confident smile brought a warmness to the
establishment and the men knew not to mess with her lest they receive
a flogging like the last chap who tried his luck.
William, John, Thomas and his son continued to sing and drink
the night away. It wasn’t often that they spent times like this for most
of their time together was working the hide and the wool and tending
to the animals. Tommy was finally starting to feel like one of the men
and even though he had the respect of all, he still felt they regarded him
as a boy under the shadow of his father. However, Tommy had ambition
and now with a family of his own, felt it was his duty to make life more
tolerable for them all if he could.
Slowly, the Kings Arms started to empty, the patrons once again
congratulating Tommy and his father on the way out. It was well into
the night by the time they walked up the hill toward the cottage. It was
dark and quiet all except the glow from the fire through the cracks in
the shutters. Tommy stumbled but his father helped him recover as he
reached the door. They tiptoed inside being sure not to wake anybody
and receive a verbal flogging from Agnes.
William immediately climbed into the loft and climbed into bed
beside Lucy snuggling into her back. Lucy didn’t mind the affection if
it was up in the loft away from the others. Usually, William waited for
the rest of the household to fall asleep before he snuggled closer to her.
She would always hear the movements from below and then feel the
bulge sticking into her lower back. She knew this was the time to turn
so that he could position himself between her legs, well that was if the
brewer’s droop didn’t have other ideas. She tried to keep the rustling of
the straw mattress to a minimum and luckily, his thrusting and heavy
breathing didn’t last long and once finished he turned over and went
to sleep, leaving her to stare up into the darkness.
Pa Thomas tiptoed over to his wooden chair near the fire, sat and
took out his clay pipe, stuffing the barrel full of the aromatic tobacco
that he liked so much. He stared into the flame of the fire recounting
the milestones of his life, now a grandfather he thought to himself.
Once again, a tear started to pool in the lower lid of his eye, which he
quickly wiped away before Tommy could see.
Tommy joined him, a proud grin most pronounced on his face,
‘Father, tell me about yer father, what sort of man was he?’ he whispered.
Pa Thomas puffed on his pipe and paused and thought for a
moment, ‘A good man, had the respect of the people hereabouts and the
heather was seeded by the blood from his hands. He spoke ill of none
and none spoke ill of him. He was the first to give and the last to take.’
Tommy looked up to see a faint tear slowly flood his father’s bottom
eyelid as he choked back his memories of times gone by. This emotion
was new to him and he felt that the birth of his son had brought back
memories. Tommy could see that his father was uncomfortable talking
and remembering, so he did not broach the subject any further.
Pa Thomas looked at Tommy and reservedly started recounting
stories of his father. He spoke of times and how his father would take
him with him when he tended to the lord’s Demesne. How they would
fish for the lord’s table and play hide and seek in the long wheat stalks
and sneak apples from the manor orchards. Then his demeanour turned
as he started to think about how he worked from dawn till night
scratching a living out of the rocky ground. Pa Thomas paused and
swallowed, then spoke of his father’s sickness and how the consumption
had finally taken him.
Tommy never asked him the same question again.
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