Skulduggery Ch2 The Old Woman’s Secrets

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-

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Ursula Sontheil, the Yorkshire Witch

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Sharon Whitlam Cole

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SkulduggeryTM

Novels by Paul Rushworth-Brown

TALES FROM 16TH CENTURY YORKSHIRE

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Bernard Smith

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