Times were difficult in 1603 and there were shenanigans and skulduggery committed by locals and outsiders alike. Good Queen Bess has died, and King James sits on the throne of England and Scotland. His reign is not without trouble as on the eve of his second Parliament, a Catholic plot against him is discovered. This was to become known as... the Gunpowder Plot.
England erupted with sectarian violence and the promised religious tolerance of King James was finished. The country was in turmoil as the relationship between James and his Parliament deteriorated. The country faced financial pressures and increasing inflation. Among the poorer lot, times were changing. Food was scarce, there was widespread poverty and Catholics were tortured and imprisoned for their beliefs. A Bill was introduced in Parliament which outlawed all English followers of the Catholic Church. Two hundred miles away on the moors of Yorkshire, a family's lives would be forever changed.
The Pennine moors, a beautiful, harsh place close to the sky, rugged and rough, no boundaries except the horizon which in some places went on forever. Green pastures and wayward hills, the colours of ochre, brown and pink heather in the Spring. Green squares divided the land on one side of the lane and on the other. Sheep with thick wool and dark snout dot the hills and dales. One room cruck cottages are scattered, smoke billow from some and not others. Dry stone walls divide and fall, a patchwork of green, green and greener. Long grasses whisper ancient secrets while swaying in the chilled wind, waiting for the summer months. As the sun goes down, the silvery beck glistens amongst the misty, ghost-like trees that line the bank of the beck. The countryside sings its songs to the beat of the day, a chorus of echoes from the undulating hills. Clouds line the horizon and widen the gap between the blue and Haworth moor.
Thomas Rushworth, a man of medium height, a face weathered by the punishing wind and harsh burning summer sun of the Pennine, the boyish good looks hardened by winter months, invigored and alert. Thick dark brown eyebrows crowned honest, deep-set eyes, a straight nose and a broad, chiselled chin.
A tricorn felt hat, sweat-stained and tipped slightly, shadowing his expression. The hat peaked a weathered, leathery countenance and allowed the thickness of his longish locks to reach the nape and cover the top part of his ears. The hat, slightly too big but held down with a worn, sandy coloured string at the base of the crown. A shaven shadow, but with a slight nick on his chin from the old steel straight blade he used. Long white shirt greyed by frequent washing opened at the top to show curly chest hair, speckled with grey, peeking through. It hid his brawny upper arms, born of hours upon hours in the fields, tapering to the wrist and his rough, calloused hands. He wore a red tattered sheepskin tunic frayed at the bottom stretched and secured across his chest with two leather ties. A brown jerkin dyed with madder plant dye and mutton sleeves wide at the top. Tight, dirty, cream coloured hose covered both slender legs from hip to waist, stained from the day’s cultivations. The ‘codpiece patch’, a similar colour to the hose, covered the groin area but Thomas did not find the need to advertise his masculinity unlike some others in the village. Dirtied leather and wool shoes tied at the top gathered loosely around his ankles, and the thin leather soles tried their best to keep out the unfriendly earthen chill. Not a tall man but one of confidence which made him seem taller.
It had been a severe winter, and a ten-week deep freeze had made life intolerable for Thomas and his family. Trees split, birds were frozen to death and travellers told stories of the Thames freezing, stopping river traffic and allowing people to walk across it. Thomas remembered the stories his father told him as a boy about the great drought that had brought king and country to its knees and the memories of the summer of the flooding which spoiled crops and decimated food reserves. Thomas was only a youngster then, but he could still remember the feeling of the pangs of hunger that he had felt when his mother had carefully split what little bread and pottage that they had into small portions for their family of six. ‘Better the pangs of hunger than resorting to eating the unimaginable that others in the village had succumbed to,’ his father said. He sat there on the hard-uncompromising wooden stool warmed by the central fire, smoking his clay barrel-shaped pipe and silently staring into the flames.
The shine of the fire reflected off his face and dried the film of mud that caked his leather and sheepskin foot coverings. The aroma of his manly smells from the day’s labour, made more pungent by the heat of the fire, drifted up his nostrils but was quickly overpowered by the recent release of steamy faeces by the cow that lived in the corner of the one room cottage.
He could feel the breeze sneaking through the gaps in the closed shutters, and it reminded him of the daub and wattle repair needed to the exterior of the far wall. A job for the summer after seeding had been done, he thought. He watched a spark fly out of the fire and briefly ignite a piece of straw, forcing the English Mastiff to reposition itself to a safer distance. The flame was quickly extinguished by the dampness of the trodden straw and the wet earthen floor, which at times flooded with the Spring rains. All the while Bo, a frisky rat terrier situated himself at one corner of the hearth, one eye on his master and one on the hay crib, his favourite hunting spot where he could be assured of a scratch and pat, a reward for the erasure of a pest.
His wife silently stirred the pottage in the cauldron, ensuring that added grain didn't stick to the bottom. The gutted rabbit snared last night added a wealthy protein to the mix, a treasured prize.
The smoke from the fire mixed with the sweet aroma of Thomas’ pipe tobacco, which filled the room that was perpetually smoky. They didn’t have a chimney and it was far too early in the season to open the shutters at night. He wondered one day if he would have a chimney.
Bo, hearing a familiar rustle in the hay, pricked up his ears and focused his full attention on the mound of hay currently consoling the cow and one lamb. He lifted himself slightly from the floor, shifting his weight forward he moved slowly yet purposefully toward the sound, but not giving too much away so as not to frighten his quarry.
‘Pssst, what is it dog?’ He said, with a broad Yorkshire accent.
Bo briefly looked at his master before instinctive focus got the better of him, he wagged his tail in anticipation, lifted his head and bolted towards the slowly moving hump of hay with no thought of the unexpectant lamb who darted clear of the charge to take refuge on the furthest side of the cow who, used to such commotion and unaffected, continued to chew on its cud.
The English Mastiff, a huge dog which lacked the agility of his tiny friend wagged his tail. He watched Bo run and dive snout first into the mound of hay lunging at the rat. It was almost half his size and almost as long with the tail; seizing it by the mid-spine he flung it out of its cover being careful not to get bitten in the first instance by its razor-sharp yellowed teeth. The rat, sensing its demise, landed awkwardly but recovered to flee along the bottom of the wall. Bo bounced out of the hay and pounced again, but this time biting harder through the spine, cracking the vertebrae, and demobilising his prize as it flew to land with a thud. The English Mastiff barked a sign of support and watched on as Bo tended to his prize.
‘REX BEHAVE.’ Yelled Thomas.
Rex excitedly wagged his tail but laid on all fours with his head held high in anticipation. Standing over the wet, limp, bloodstained carcass, Bo watched for signs of life. A sudden twitch sent him into a frenzy. Taking the limp carcass by the neck, he savagely thrashed his head from side to side. He lost his grip at the last moment and watched as the rat slammed against the wall. Rex barked again. Bo pounced once more, not biting but sniffing and nudging with his snout to prompt signs of life. He gave his victim one last deep bite on the neck, released and bit again. Satisfied hat he had completed the task, he stood over the rat and lifted his head for approval.
His master grabbed its long tail and flung it out the door for the village dogs to consume. Bo tried to follow, but Thomas closed the door quickly in anticipation, then scratched him behind the ears as he returned to his stool beside the fire. Rex took up his position at Thomas’ feet, waiting for a pat of acknowledgement for his part in the hunt.
The Mastiff raised his broad skulled head painted with the black mask that was common to the breed. The dog could hear footsteps, but they were recognisable, so he wagged his tail and put his massive head back down on his robust fawn coloured paw. The latch lifted and dropped and lifted again, the door opened sending the smoke from the fire curling and scattering toward the rafters as if to flee the sudden chill in the room. Thomas turned, raising his hand in an impatient gesticulation. ‘PUT THE WOOD IN THE HOLE LAD!’ He yelled angrily.
Wee Tom came running in, quickly followed by his older sister Margaret., who closed the door quickly so as not to acquire the ire of her father.
‘Where have ya’ been lad?’
‘Running on the green.’ Young Tom paused in front of the hearth and looked to find the Mastiff who lifted his head. He let out a slight giggle and ran to where the dog quietly laid. Young Tom sat on the dog’s back and grabbed his ears. The dog lowered his head and patiently grumbled, allowing the young one to have his way. Tom bounced up and down on the dog’s back while a slobbery line of dribble fell from the corner of the dog’s shiny lip and pooled on the dirt floor below him.
‘Leave the poor beast, Tom!’ shouted his father.
Margaret walked over and lifted Tom balancing him on her hip, ‘Come on brother it’s almost suppertime.
It wouldn’t be long before she had one of her own God willing. But who would want ta bring up a child in this world, thought her father. His other daughter had already participated in the naming ceremony and now lived away. He rarely saw her because Haworth wasn’t the most accessible place to get to, especially in winter, but he thought of her often and prayed for her happiness each night.
Agnes spooned some of the three-day-old pottage, to which she had added grain, peas, beans, and onions from the garden. A piece of dark rye bread was placed on top of the bowl and handed over to the master of the house.
‘Ta wife, I could eat the lord’s horse all ta myself,’ he said with a mischievous smile.
‘Husband, I don’t think Lord Birkhead would be happy about his missing horse,’ she replied without a pause smiling cheekily.
‘Well, if he gets any fatter, the horse will be crushed by his girth so better the beast be used for a grander purpose.’ All who heard laughed at the imagined sight of the horse falling foul to the weight of the lord of the manor. All except Grandma Margery, who sat with her back to the far wall, away from the chill emanating from the door. She was fighting hard to keep her eyes open, the relaxation of the muscles in her neck allowing her chin to drop and be jolted back into contraction less she misses the evening meal.
She noticed the rest of the household laughing and leant forward ‘What did you say son, I didn’t hear,’ she said with growing impatience and a curious look.
The poor dear’s hearing is all but gone, thought Agnes, she couldn’t have that much longer left, but she is a wily old wench that one and she sees and hears more than she makes out.
‘It’s alright Margery, Thomas were just enlightening us on the health of the lord o’ the manor.’
The old woman, never backwards in letting her thoughts be known, ‘Lord o’ the manor? That bastard worked thy father to ta grave he did! ‘Without as much as ta muchly for 20 years of service, he couldn’t even pay his respect at his funeral. He knew he had the king’s evil, and he still worked him from dawn to dusk while he wasted away. No royal touch ceremony for him.’ Her face wrinkled in a scowl.
The excitement had taken its toll, and she began to cough, a chesty rasping cough causing her breathing to labour. She finally cleared her throat and spat the phlegm into the fire. It landed on the hearth rock and started to bubble; the circumference of the red-green blot dried as she sat back to gain back her energy expended during her rant.
She wiped the remaining spittle from her chin with her sleeve and watched as Thomas broke bread and dipped it into the bowl, quickly stuffing it into his mouth to ensure that no drips were wasted. He retorted and opened his mouth as the steam emanated and his face went red and contorted from the hotness of his first bite. Thomas quickly waved his hand in front of his mouth, fanning, trying hard to cool the hot morsel of soaked bread which burned the roof of his mouth. He could already feel the loose skin forming and he knew it would be a day before he could jostle the loose dead skin from its place with his tongue.
‘God wife are you trying to kill me it’s hot enough ta start the blacksmiths forge.’ He declared while taking the clay tankard of ale from Margaret who, smiling, had reacted quickly to her father’s dilemma.
He guzzled the ale, soothing the roof of his mouth, but the area still stung when he touched it with his tongue.
‘Maybe you won’t be in such a hurry ta scoff down thy dinner in the future, son,’ Margery whispered.
Unperturbed, Agnes stirred the pot and replied, ‘Well ‘usband what did you expect, it came from a hot place. Would you rather it cold?’
She poured some of the stew into another bowl for wee Tom, blowing on it to cool its intensity.
Tom ran over to climb up on his father’s lap. His father quickly placed his bowl on the stump beside his stool, grabbed him around the waist lifting him to blow raspberries against the skin on his stomach much to his pleasure. He giggled, so his father did it again before sitting him down on his lap, roughing up his hair tenderly. Agnes handed her husband the wooden spoon and the bowl.
Agnes looked on contentedly, smiled and then frowned, remembering his sickness as a baby, and she thanked the Lord for his mercy.
Agnes served young Margaret, who took the bowl to Mother Margery, who had temporarily dozed off. Her hair covering wimple was lying crooked on her forehead as she leaned her head back against the wall. Her Eyes were closed, mouth open as she breathed a deep chesty breath. A deep, guttural vibration emerged from her throat. Her thick woollen kirtle bunched at her feet, holding a collection of straw attachments.
Young Margaret touched her on the shoulder, ‘Grandma, you awake? Here’s thy tea ‘n ale.’
Of course, I’m awake daft lass, did you think I was dead?’ As she tried to nod the grogginess away. ‘Not yet. Soon, but not yet.’ Grandma straightened her wimple, sat up straighter, well as straight as the curve of her back would allow, took the bowl and began to blow on it, coughing again as she did.
She took her first spoonful, ‘Delicious Agnes, even better than yesterday and the day before that.’ She pro claimed while lifting the wooden spoon to her lips to blow on it before placing it in her mouth.
With an utterance that only Agnes and Margaret could hear, she mumbled, ‘Might need to stoke the fire a bit prior to serving. Hot pottage keeps the chill away.’ Looking down at the bowl cheekily to erase suspicion from her son.
Thomas looked over to see Margaret and Agnes smirking at grandma, trying hard to keep a stiff upper lip. He couldn’t hear what she said, but he knew that he was the bane of her muffled colloquy.
‘DON’T GIVE US ANY CHEEK MOTHER OR ELSE I’LL HAVE YA’ SENT TO THE DUCKIN' STOOL!’ Thomas roared in a threatening tone but then became quiet and complacent seeing the humoured sparkle in the eyes of his wife and daughter.
Margery looked at him, grunted a sound of inconsequence and took another spoonful, winking at young Margaret.
‘Dead, she’ll probably outlive us all,’ mumbled Thomas noticing Agnes’ contempt for his lack of respect, judgement and lack of empathy.
Thomas watched his mother through the smokiness of the fire. The lines in her forehead told many a story like the rings of a tree. The Reformation, the Black Death, The War to which she still remarked being always loyal to the House of Lancaster. Her praise for good Queen Bess.
He heard the bell of compline ringing, a reminder of prayers and the coming of night, and it reminded him of the coming day’s work.
Wee Tommy still sat on his father’s lap; his father helped him guide his spoon into his mouth, albeit more liquid dribbling down his chin than making its target.
‘Gew on son get ta ya’ mother.’ He set him down and gave him a pat on his behind, watching him proudly as he walked over to her.
Grandma had finished her pottage and sat there leaning forward, wooden bowl and spoon still in her lap and a tankard of ale still half full dripping its contents because of the angle that she held it.
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 as she could.
Often, he wouldn’t get up again and remained there to battle the growing ache in his chest, coughing to try to get some respite from his clogged airways.
His persistent choking cough was always 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.
Tommy thought back to the times as a youngster. His father and mother had to tend to the fields for the lord from sunrise until sunset, pruning, weeding, 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 and bad, happy times and sad. Around harvest time father would often carry him on his shoulders through the fields on a Sunday after church. He would swing 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 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. One day she got the sickness and passed, leaving him and his elder brother and sister to fend for themselves.
Tommy 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 previous 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. He was completely naked except for a loincloth which covered his more modest parts. 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 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.
His grandmother 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 Saint Michael and All Angels’ chapel arrived to administer last rights and sprinkle holy water.
They would bury him on the grounds of Saint 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 grave site 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 Tommy, or Thomas as he was now called, being the eldest son. Thomas' mother attended the manor court in Haworth with him. All the other freeholders and copyholders 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. This valuable fertilizer had been 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. The manor stood out in all its splendour amongst the nearby cruck houses. They walked up, up, up Sun Street, muddied and slippery underfoot.
The cottage merchants along the road, sold all manner of items from vegetables to wimples, but they were in the process of packing up for they too had to attend the court. They looked over the expanse of open Pennine countryside and moorlands on one side of the road. The sun was going down and cast shadows from trees on the other. The church tower of Saint Michael and All Angels was a continual reminder of the distance and steepness of the climb to the square.
Arriving outside their destination, mother ushered Thomas inside; they were both wet, feet muddied from the road, ‘Go on Thomas, go on inside we don’t wanna get the payne of two shillings for bein’ absent. Let the steward know who you are, and you’re taking your father’s tenure at Hall Green.
Thomas ducked his head going through the doorway and was immediately stunned by the sharpness of the smell, urine-soaked straw and rotting food that had been thrown or dropped on the muddy, manure-covered floor. A man stumbled with a toilet bucket spilling more over the sides than what he was putting in. He tried at drunken modesty when he saw Margery, turning toward the wall to save embarrassment.
Another used a form as a bed, face down, still clinging to the almost empty Jack, lightly held for a future swig before staggering home. The window had no glass and shutters kept out the evening air, which on some nights, depending on the way of the wind, rid the room of the layers of smoke. The shutters also served the purpose of denying the vicar’s representative, that occasionally walked by, to collect notes on the immoral goings on after dark. Three-legged stools and the odd cut barrel were used as a gaming table. Wide, rough planks rested on full size-barrels separating the barkeeper from the clientele and shelves behind housed pewter dishes, leather jacks and the odd pewter tankard for the patron with a more modest income. Most of the light came from the fire in the hearth, but the odd tallow candle chandelier and grease lamp provided enough light for the card games, arguments and political debates. The serving wench tracked backwards and forwards, replacing empty jacks with full ones for the patrons, on occasion disappearing upstairs for more physical pursuits and monetary gain.
One individual sat almost semi-conscious on his stool, head leaning back against the wall, red wollen hat pushed up. A vomit stain donned his tunic and dripped to the earthen floor. Two others looked on, whispering, and sizing him up, no doubt debating percentages of their share of his winnings, Thomas thought.
Both wore a black slouch hat which shadowed their face. No doubt strangers as they were dressed more notably than the rest of the patrons. One had a black eye patch, which made him look more mysterious. He had on a red sheepskin doublet done up with a whole row of buttons lined from neck to waist, and a tan overcoat was placed on the stool beside him. A thick black belt wrapped around a sword leant against the wall near where they were sitting. The other, a slightly bigger man, held his sword, instinctively looking at his partner then around the room to try to gain truths from the expressions on the local’s faces.
They were a ragtag bunch of tinkers, peasants and yeomen in from the weather, hiding from the wrath of their lord and their wives if they knew they weren’t pushing the plough. The steward noticed the young lad and the old wench that walked through the door he assumed they were there to pay the payne, fines or dues.
The drunkard who they had come to know as John Hargreaves, was a mess and the two strangers were annoyed that he had so easily parted them from the steward's coin. They were even more annoyed that the steward had not told them of the demon dog from Stanbury who had killed so many rats. If they were to be working the territory for him, they would need to ensure better disclosure from the steward in the future.
They had met Hargreaves at the rat baiting and although a cheap drunk, had been generous with his celebrations. They watched patiently as he used the steward's coin to purchase half the tavern a round of ale. Fortunately, they were not there to make profit for the steward.
Margery elbowed him, ‘There he is Thomas, the steward, sitting yonder playing the card game. Nip on over and let him know who you are.’
‘No mother not before the manor court,’ replied Thomas nervously not really knowing how to address the situation.
He had been to the manorial court once before with his father, before he died, but that was some time ago when he was only a young lad. His mother had castigated his father for taking him, saying it was a house of ill-repute and her sons would not be subjected to such a place. He remembered his father shrugging his shoulders and arguing the benefits of the excursion and how it would prepare his sons for future responsibility. His father had been greeted with many silent nods. How he had beamed with pride as he introduced his two sons to those nearby.
Impatiently, she led Thomas toward the table, ‘Go on now, make thy self-known before someone else gets in before us ‘n takes our hide.’
The steward, in tight breeches, a short blue waistcoat of desirable fabric with sleeves reaching to just above the elbow. He wore a white ruffled long-sleeved shirt, cravat, and a ribbon dragged over one shoulder. His baggy black coat reached just above the knees and met with the tight stockings and garter. His thick leather shoes were polished and shined in the candlelight. He had an air of dignity, but the hidden importance of his office was not about him as he looked at his cards and the eyes of his companions.
Straight long black hair framed his face, thinned eyebrows, a thin black moustache and a small, triangular nest of hair sat below his bottom lip which brought nobility to his full face. A man of medium build, but those hands, they hadn’t done a day’s work, almost like marble extensions of his arms.
He looked at his cards and tried to read the eyes of his companions but knew of Thomas’ presence and the old wench that accompanied him. He also knew of the drunkard that was going to be left penniless in a ditch that night if he wasn’t careful. He always liked to come to the Kings Arms early to see who was cheating at the games, like these two non-locals were. They probably did the rounds, Keighley, Oakworth, Oxenhope, Stanbury; making a good living from unsuspecting folk who knew no better. They apparently didn’t spend any of their hard-earned winnings on their dress, for they looked ragged and worn, he thought to himself.
The cards depicted the countries of England and Wales, but he knew that the card’s lime complexion hid the distinguishing mark somewhere in the textual description or inner frame. Nobody, he thought, could be that lucky.
His recently hired deputies would meet him at eight o’clock and by that time his companions would have won all of his coin and he would have them. He didn’t like outsiders coming to town to take advantage of his people; he liked that monopoly for himself. The steward organised the rat baiting to coincide with the manor court for just that reason.
The steward had an inkling that the lord knew of his small pastime but allowed him to go unperturbed just as long as it did not cause disharmony among residents of the parish. The steward liked the extra shillings it brought in to supplement his income, primarily when the dog was ‘on’ and the owner, that he brought up from Stanbury, was right in his judgement of the number of rats. Of course, this was all calculated and controlled with the number of dried herbs he put in his feed. He knew that some in the village won and some lost, all that mattered to him was that he was at an advantage.
‘I’m terribly sorry, but gentlemen, you are very fortunate tonight. I’m afraid one’s luck is at an end. You have emptied my pocket.’ Said the steward dropping his head disappointedly.
‘It’s alright your grace we can take cash or goods. What about your pretty gold ring?’ Replied the other player. Another whispered and smiled with a toothless grin having already raised the stakes and bowed out of the game. They were unlikely men, the steward thought, especially Archie, the one with no teeth. He had an enormous nose that was continually running, which he regularly wiped on his sleeve. A faded red baggy cap tilted slightly, and a continual toothless smile added to his peculiarity. His dirty red, straw-like hair bristled from below his cap. He continually licked his lips and swallowed as if he always had too much saliva, spraying some of it when he tried to enunciate certain words. His companion’s shirt attracted most of the spray, which wet the linen and blossomed into small wet patches that dotted his arm and shoulder.
The steward heard the call of the nightwatchmen from down the street, ‘Sleep well ta thy locks, fire ‘n thy leet, ‘n God give theur grand night for now the bell rings eight.’ Which was followed by the customary eight rings of the bell.
It was a chilly spring evening, and the drizzle was constant, keeping the soiled roads muddy and the thatched roofs damp.
The sun was setting, and the only light emanated from the candles in the small cottages down Main Street.
Further away, the night watchmen called out again, then continued down the road. He would be awake most of the night watching for strangers that might carry the sickness from York. If approached, he was under orders to refuse their passage and had the will and the weapons to enforce it. It wouldn’t be the first time that a stranger found himself the lodger of the night watchman and his wife in the lock-up on North Street.
‘You have won many shillings. How about one more hand?’ ‘Goodness me,’ as he took the gold ring from his small finger and placed it on top of the coinage in the middle of the table.
The toothless one quickly picked up the ring and bit it with one of his last remaining teeth at the side of his mouth. He nodded and placed the ring back on top of the pile, snickering with a foul cackle as he peeked at his companion’s hand.
‘Alright then your grace, we will give you one more chance to win thy coin back, but don’t go complaining to the night watchman or the old steward if you lose,’ Archie replied confidently as he looked again at his partner Stuart’s cards.
The steward wiped a small droplet of spittle that had made its way to the back of his hand, with his handkerchief, ‘Indomitably not, one is a gentleman after all!’
The steward placed his cards face up on the top of the half barrel.
The toothless one’s sadistic smile grew, and he let out another foul cackle as Stuart placed the winning hand down on the surface, ‘Well your grace it seems like the night were ours,’ as he reached over to grab the gold ring.
The steward slammed his fist down on the top of the poor old boy’s hand, cracking a finger in the process.
His voice turned deeper, and he stood knocking over his chair, ‘SIMPLETONS, I AM A GENTLEMAN AND THE STEWARD, NOW GET READY TO PAY THY DEBT!’
The toothless one, with fear and shock in his eyes ran toward the door colliding with Thomas, “GET OUT OF THE WAY FOOL!
The culprit was knocked backwards over the sleeping man’s form and into the arms of the steward’s deputy who had been lingering near the bar.
He was a big man and picked his quarry up off the floor by the scruff of the neck. The toothless one’s dirty cloth slippers started running in mid-air, trying to get purchase on the earthen floor. Spittle was firing from his mouth and dribble cascaded down his chin; his hat had fallen off, showing a large bald patch on the top of his head sided by wispy, red hair.
‘LET ME GO YOU SOD, LET ME GO, YOU HAVE NO RIGHT!’ Said the captive as he struggled to remove the deputy’s hands from the back of his tunic.
Thomas, albeit stunned by the goings on, remained unharmed and apologetic, believing he had wronged the stranger. He looked for his mother through the mayhem that had occurred. He saw her, lonesome on a stool near the hearth, warmed by the fire she was oblivious to the goings on and worried about the keeping of the hide.
‘LET ME GO YOU VERMIN! I HAVN’T DONE ANYTHING!’ Archie yelled, trying to hit the deputy with backward swinging arms that missed and slowed as his collar was squeezed tighter. Then his arms went limp beside him like a rag doll.
‘Relax yourself coney-catcher; thy work is done here.’ Said the deputy who had the situation well under control.
He walked him over to a stool and plonked him down, then bound his hands with shackles roughly while his captive tried to struggle out. The toothless one quickly stood and tried to take a step until the deputy put his rather large hand on his shoulder and pushed him back down onto the stool. He tried to stand again, the deputy slowly losing patience, put his hand on the top of his head and forced him back down unapologetically. He sat there with a glum look on his face, wiping his runny nose on the sleeve of his upper arm. He stared at Thomas, lifted his thumb to his neck and dragged it across his throat. Thomas was shocked by his gesture.
Some in the room heard the word coney-catcher and whispered the news until everyone knew that there were tricksters thereabout. The crowd started to gather around pointing and calling out obscenities to the two men who looked glum and disappointed.
The steward sat back down but grabbed Stuart’s wrist as he reached for the winnings, ‘I'll take that, coney-catcher!’
The other deputy grabbed his wrists and shackled them quickly, shoving him over to sit on the stool beside his partner.
The steward scraped the rest of the winnings into his money purse, raising his eyebrows with a look of satisfaction, ‘Seems like the night were mine after all.’
Stuart looked at the steward, hoping for leniency, then down at the ground with a look of despair and regret. Stuart thought of the events that had led to his predicament. He thought of his wife and children back in York and the hardship they had endured these past weeks. He remembered his wife, who had taken ill with the sickness. First there were the pockmarks on the legs, the fever, head pain, and then the lumps in the groin and under the armpits the size of an egg. He didn’t have resources to pay for doctors, then once the body collectors found out, the red ‘X’ was painted on the door, that was the end of it. With sadness in his heart, he covered her with a linen sheet and allowed them to take her away to the mass grave on the outskirts of town. Fearing for his children, he smuggled them out of the house to his brother’s, on the edge of town. Unfortunately, a day later they were bitten with the same symptoms and were also carted away. He knew he wasn’t a bad man, but desperate times called for desperate measures and his toothless acquaintance’s plan to flee the sickness and earn easy coin seemed like a good idea at the time.
As the steward stood, the publican and his helpers placed tables together for the twelve, the apostles that would determine the fate and future of many on the night. The steward sat and the twelve jurors approached and took their seats, led by the reeve of the manor who was the intermediary between the villagers and the lord.
The reeve was from a good family, voted to his position by the villagers each year to represent them and to evenly distribute responsibilities of labour to be carried out on the lord’s demesne.
Yarns about the coney-catching were the topic of the night, especially what punishment the toothless one and his companion would get for their trickery at cards. The two men sat on their stools, hands shackled, faces forlorn, looking to the floor and quietly whispering ideas for their defence.
By this time the room was packed, the light from the tallow candles highlighted the layers of smoke which separated the floor to rafters. All eyes were on the two culprits, who sat nervously awaiting the next stage of their ordeal.
‘HEAR YEE HEAR YEE, THE HAWORTH MANOR COURT IS NOW IN SESSION. ALL WHO HAVE BUSINESS ON THIS NIGHT COME FORWARD AND BE RECOGNISED!’ Yelled the deputy confidently.
Thomas looked at his mother who was sitting near the fire.
Margery gestured for him to walk forward toward the table. Poor lad, having to be burdened with all this at his age. Mmmmm I think he needs a wife to help him, but who? The women in the village...widows or dirty. Although there was that new pretty young lass at the market, she'd do fine, not like the other's in the village. I wonder who she is? I'll ask about.
The steward rose from his chair, an experienced orator, ‘Aye up people of Haworth! The first case involves these cheeky two who thought me a rabbit for their stew. These cony-catchers, these vultures, these fatal harpies that putrefy with their infections in the flourishing estate of England. What say you?’
The occupants of the room, ale in hands and a touch tipsy, jostled for a good vantage point. They were aroused by the steward’s words and started to yell obscenities.
‘He emptied me pockets this evening, he did, HANG THEM!’ Yelled one disgruntled individual who sparked a call-in unison from many of the others.
‘YEA HANG THE BASTARDS!’ They screamed.
‘Hang the bastards and let no citizen of Haworth fall foul to these two again,’ yelled another.
The two sat nervously watching and started to worry about their fate, ‘They can’t hang us, it’s the first time we been caught,’ whispered the toothless one as he wiggled and discreetly tried to free himself from his bonds.
Stuart sitting beside him quietly accepted his fate, ‘OH SHUT UP! We should have left when I said so earlier.’ He exclaimed.
‘How was I to know he was the fuckin' steward?’ ‘We’ll plead insanity that’ll get us off it has before.
’The steward continued, ‘Even though hanging would be a fitting punishment for these putrid two, they still have their ears and have not been scarred by previous misdeeds. What do you say in thy defence?’ The steward pointed towards the two men.
‘Insanity drove us to do it. Times are tough in York and our little ones have no food. PLEASE HAVE MERCY!’ Yelled Archie looking at his companion for support.
‘INSANITY, what say you?’ The steward looked at the twelve jurors who turned to each other and whispered, gesticulating, nodding and shaking their heads in disproval.
As they hushed, one of the twelve, the reeve from the manor stood representing the group, ‘CAUGHT RED HANDED WITH MARKED CARDS, we say a day on the’ pillory and finally to be released into God’s hands with the lopping of the right ear.’
Some patrons cheered as others booed, missing out on a good hanging; however, they knew that even though there would be no hanging, they could still have their retribution while the culprits were on public display.
‘NOOOO, NOOOO, PLEASE ‘AVE MERCY, our wee ones starve if we’re absent!’ Screamed Archie. ‘IT WERE HIS IDEA, NOT MINE TAKE HIM’ He stood and pointed to his companion.
The deputy once again forced his shoulder downward for a seat on the stool. His companion, somewhat shocked, looked up at him silently, then at the crowd who had become even more excited by the thought of the coming punishment.
The steward rose, and the crowd settled for the verdict, ‘THE FOLK OF HAWORTH HAVE SPOKEN! Take them to the pillory and let the locals decide their fate over the next day. Let it be known that the citizens of Haworth will not be the victims of coney- catchers any longer. TAKE THEM AWAY!’
The steward could have hanged them, but he knew the difference between punishment for hanging and punishment for thieving and questions would be asked by the justice of the peace if the sentence did not fit the crime.
The deputies took the scoundrels by their shackles out into the night, followed by the rabble, who lit the way with candles taken from the alehouse, covering them to shield them from the drizzle. They sloshed through the mud of the square to the pillory which was set outside the rocky made steps to Saint Michael and All Angels Church, a reminder to all who might be caught on the wrong side of the law.
Hearing the commotion, the vicar and his offsider appeared with a torch, ‘Who goes there?’ He called out as he lifted the torch to get a glimpse of the crowd that disturbed him.
The mob were not used to seeing the vicar out of his usual Sunday regalia, ‘Putting coney-catchers on the pillory vicar. Caught red-handed they were. Steward has sentenced them to three days,’ said the deputy.
The vicar, not wanting to get involved in the village’s business, lifted his two fingers piously, ‘God save you.’ He turned and hurriedly walked back to the church out of the drizzle.
In the wooden framework with holes for the head and hands, the toothless one and the player were unceremoniously placed. The deputy forcing their head and hands into curves of the frame, closing, latching and replacing the old, rusted lock. Then the other deputy took a large four-inch nail and placed it at the top of the player’s outstretched ear. He took a wooden handled hammer and struck home four times, sending the nail through the ear deeper and deeper into the wood behind. The small crowd cheered in unison each time the hammer struck the nail. The player screamed, his face contorted with the pain, blood dripping down the side of his face and off the bottom of the frame. He whimpered from the sting as the shock took hold.
The toothless one continued to plead his innocence, once again trying to divert blame to his companion and promote sympathy for his young ones that had not been fed.
‘HAVE MERCY! I will leave Haworth and not return. I SWEAR IT! have mercy—’ His last word was cut short as the deputy made the first blow on the nail head, through the ear cartilage into the timber behind.
The crowd cheered ‘AYYYYE… AYYYE… AYYYE’ After each stroke of the hammer and then laughed, some hysterically having never witnessed such exciting entertainment before.
Archie screamed, swallowed and screamed again, tears in his eyes, ‘YOU SON OF A WHORE, I will have all of you one day I swear it. Your wife, your young ones, will never be safe. They will spend their days lookin’ over their shoulder.’ His hands trembled, and his matted, wet hair stuck to his face. Droplets of blood dribbled down the wooden frame and dripped, to be diluted by the constant drizzle on the ground below him.
The deputy smiled wickedly, walked around the back of the frame and placed a well-aimed kick between his legs, ‘Oh SHUTUP you insignificant fopdoodle!’ He bellowed. He then raised his head to the sky and roared with a deep belly laugh, feeling good about his dealings and insult.
The crowd cheered and laughed as the toothless one grimaced in pain and shrieked as he felt the pain in his ear as it ripped a little. The discomfort moved from his ear to between his legs, but it was a different type of pain and his breath was knocked from his chest and felt like his testicles would rise into the cavity of his empty stomach.
Blood mixed with his long dirty reddish coloured hair and started to congeal on the side of his face. ‘COP THAT YOU! That'll teach ya’ not to come diddlin' Haworth grand folk,’ as one of the men stepped forward and spat in his face.
The ale flavoured phlegm clung to his face and slowly dribbled down his cheek to rest in the corner of his open mouth. His lips quivered as he frustratedly tried to squeeze his hands through the holes in the frame.
One of the other onlookers picked up a handful of mud, squashed it into a ball, then threw it at Stuart hitting him square in the side of the face. A small blotch of red emanated from his skin from the concealed stone. The crowd cheered as the rain came down harder. Having their fill of insults, they all returned quickly to the alehouse to warm themselves by the fire and leave the toothless one and his companion to the ravages of the night.
The two were left in the dark to ride the pain and discomfort. The rabble followed the dwindling candles back across the square and back into the Kings Arms to await the next order of business.
Archie groaned, ‘They’ll pay for this, I swear, ‘ALL OF ‘EM WILL PAY! ESPECIALLY THE LAD! I’LL GET ‘IM, I SWEAR, BASTARD!’
While they were away, the steward had dealt with and fined one who allowed his cattle to stray onto the lord’s demesne. He also dealt with and received payment from a freeman who wanted to dispute the erection of a fence by his neighbour. They both accepted and paid the fine. One for erecting the fence without the lord’s blessing and the other for knocking part of the fence down without the lord’s blessing. The steward also took coin from a man and woman who had engaged in pre- marital sex, and as such, were bound together forever. All monies collected of course went to the lord’s coffers to keep him in the luxury that he was used to. Well, all except a small portion that the steward and the clerk skimmed for themselves.
The door opened and Thomas and his mother watched the rabble make their way back into the room. They were quick to report what had occurred outside, especially the treatment of the tooth less one at the hands of the big deputy. The deputies returned to the side of the steward who was ready to call business to an end and return to his ale.
One last time he stood, ‘Is there any more business, if so, say it now or forever hold thy piece.’ Looking around the room he noticed the old wench push Thomas forward through the crowd.
TRUTH OF A BOY
The steward glared at Thomas as he took off his hat, ‘What say theur lad, it is getting late and I must return to the hearth, speak up now or let it hold for three weeks until the next court.’
‘I’m sorry your grace, my mother and I, it is our first court and we don’t rightly know the way of proceedings as it were normally my father who attended,’ Thomas spoke quietly.
‘Speak up lad, where is thy father? Lest he receive a fine for nonappearance’s sake.’ Said the steward.
Thomas and his mother stood nervously with most of the occupants looking at them and whispering words of sadness for the passing of his father, as they all knew to be a man of integrity. They all agreed he was the first to help if anybody was behind with the harvest and leant a hand with the ploughing of destitute families if needed.
Meanwhile, the deputy leaned over and whispered. The steward raised his ear and listened. A short time later he peered at Thomas and his mother showing a hint of sympathy.
While Thomas was waiting for the steward, he looked down at his shoes, covered in mud, a small hole starting to wear at the top near his big toe. His tunic was soaked, and he could feel his undershirt clinging to his back. Thomas fiddled with a piece of straw, trying to remove it from the attached mud on his foot. He could feel the dampness of his hose attached to his legs, sagging and loosened by the weight of the wet.
‘I’m sorry to hear about thy father lad, God rest his soul. You are here ta pay the death payment to Lord Birkhead are you not? Pay the shilling to the clerk and let the night’s business be done lad,’ said the steward growing increasingly anxious and although sympathetic had other things on his mind.
Apologetically, Thomas muttered, ‘We don’t have any coin yer grace, last coin went to pay the church for the funeral.’
Starting to lose his patience, the steward retorted,
‘Neya coin? THEN WHY ARE YOU HERE, BLAST YOU!’
He looked up the deputy hoping for an explanation; the deputy shrugged his shoulders in earnest, not knowing what to say.
The steward turned to his clerk, ‘Make a note clerk, the Rushworth family of Hall Green have not paid for the father’s funeral.’
The clerk sitting on the other side of the table, with a small candle shedding light, took a quill, dipped it in the small jar of ink and wrote on his ledger carefully. He knew how the lord liked to look at his incomings and outgoings on a regular basis and risked a severe scolding if it wasn't legible.
The deputy leaned down again and whispered.
The steward grunted, nodded and peered at Thomas, ‘My deputy tells me you were of some assistance ta him this evenin’ when the culprit, that currently holds up the pillory with his right ear, tried to escape. In that case, we are in debt ta thee lad, what is it you want?’
Sheepishly, Thomas looked at his mother then back at the steward ‘Just ta keep our tenancy at Hall Green for his lordship, as did me father, ‘n his father before him.’
The steward peered around the room, which had quietened. He called out to the jurors, ‘Can anybody here provide any reason why this young man should not continue to be the copyholder on his lord’s tenancy? If so, speak now!’
The jurors gazed at one another amd shrugged their shoulders.
The reeve stood... everybody hushed, ‘I have known young Rushworth since he were a baby still at his mother’s breast. He’s a hard worker like his father was. He'll do a grand service to his lordship.’
The reeve looked at Thomas proudly, having known the family for many years and still remembered the support of his father when the voting for his position came around each year.
The steward stood speaking quietly, ‘Reeve, has the family heard the devine service and do they attend regularly?
‘They have yer grace.’
He turned to Thomas, ‘Then it is settled, his lordship will expect a portion of grain from your next harvest and each one after that. As copyholder of Hall Green you swear oath to Lord Birkhead of Haworth Manor in exchange for yearly labouring services. Make thy mark on the court roll as proof of tenancy.’ He pointed to the clerk.
Thomas swore his oath on the Bible and made an X with the quill pen handed to him. He and his mother bowed then turned toward the door sighing in relief. Thomas pushed his way through the watching crowd, making way for his mother. Respectfully, the crowd parted and allowed Mrs Rushworth and Thomas to walk unheeded.
‘Sorry ta hear about ol’ Thomas Mrs,’ called out one man.
‘Yer, sorry to hear. He was a fine bloke.’ Said another.
It was late, Thomas and his mother made their way out into the night with an oil rag torch she had left at the door. They walked across the muddy square and down Sun Street. The drizzle had finally abated and Thomas, protectively holding the arm of his mother, who by this time was feeling the penny ale and found the muddy road even more slippery than usual. Down past the roadside cottages they went, eventually reaching the be-speckled candle lights of the manor. The household dogs barked and growled but were tempered by their handler who patrolled the property.
The dog handler, hearing their footsteps trudging through the mud, called out, ‘WHO GOES THERE? Be you bonnie lad or foe, say thy name, for my dog does not care.’
‘It is Thomas and Margery Rushworth yer grace, tenants of his lord from Hall Green returning home from manor court.’
‘I have heard of the goings on in the court, ‘tis a lousy night. Be careful going home for there’s a foul mist,’ his voice quietened with the parting distance they walked.
A dog barked across the beck and the moon provided some light to guide them. The wind picked up force across the moorlands, the Pennine all but covered in a ghost- like mist. They walked across the fallow field and made their way up the side of the strip of land they tended from dawn to dusk. Sheep, like white marauders, looked up disinterested as they grazed on land that had once been tenanted by other families like theirs, now divided by dry stone walls.
They saw him face down in the ditch at the side of the field, one leg bent awkwardly across the other, his shirt sodden from the earlier drizzle and there was no movement. As they drew closer and lowered the torch, Thomas noticed a bloodied gash on the back of his head matted and congealed with blood. There was no sound except the rustling of the heather and a quiet groan coming from the injured man.
Thomas got closer and lightly placed his hand on the man’s back. Margery warned him not to get involved. How wrong she was.
‘We can’t leave him mother the beasts will have him through the night, he still breathes.’
‘Aye, and if you get the blame for this and end up hanging from a rope, what are we to do?’ She replied worriedly as she looked up at the light coming from their cottage.
‘Come on mother, help me get him up, and we'll take him back to ours.’ Thomas passed the torch to his mother.
'These are dangerous times son, what if he’s Catholic? Leave him be fer God sake’.
Thomas dragged him out of the ditch, lifted one arm and heaved him onto his shoulder; the stranger groaned. Thomas was unsteady on his feet, so he took the first step carefully. He could feel the mud move underneath his feet; he took another, his mother placed her hand in the small of his back to steady him.
‘I can smell spew!’ He exclaimed while grimacing from the smell and the dead weight.
Margery walked slightly ahead, lighting the way grumbling as she went. It wasn’t far now, the light from the fire could be seen through the cracks in the shutters. Margery could see that William had already brought the animals in and was probably in bed half asleep.
‘WILLIAM HELP US!’ yelled Margery.
Groggily, William jumped up from his straw mattress. The dogs barked, causing a commotion inside. As Margery got closer to the cottage, the dogs growled and made for the front door. Growling and barking, they paced the width of the door, trying to look underneath to get a glimpse of the unfamiliar scent.
‘WILLIAM IT’S US OPEN THE DOOR, we need help, hold the dogs back ‘cause we have a guest.’ Margery yelled.
‘GEW WAY DOGS.’ William shooed them away, so they moved to the other side of the hearth. They both stood curious about the scent. One of them started to move closer, the other behind him. They were agitated and alert, tongues protruding, their large black sagging lips drooling in anticipation. Tan, large muscular chest and hindquarters, solidly built with a huge snout and black ears, they were fine specimens. Affectionate and, of course, protective.
As William opened the door, Thomas came bustling in, exhausted by the weight on his shoulder. The dogs barked and sniffed at the dangling hand. As carefully as he could, he laid the stranger down on the floor and straightened to relieve the pain in his back. The dogs nervously sniffed and retreated as the stranger groaned. Then they returned to continue their investigation, sniffing and then licking the vomit stain on his tunic. One sniffed his crotch; the other stood near his face, looking up toward Thomas, drooling. A line of saliva slowly dangled then dropped onto the stranger’s face.
‘Gew way dog,’ Thomas shooed them away to the back of the room.
‘What are you doin’ brother? Bringin’ a corpse to our home,’ said William. ‘Have we not more important things to contend with here.’
‘Quiet William, he's not dead, he fell afoul of the night and needed our help!’
‘Our help? The only help he needed was another ale. Look at the state of him.
’The dog’s inquisitiveness, now half abated by familiarity, started to develop again as they sniffed at the stranger’s nether regions. A release of foul stench emanated from his britches and after one inhale the dogs decided they didn't want another and turned away. Still curious, they decided to watch from further away. A wet, steamy shadow started to appear on his codpiece and spread. A pool grew under the cover of the straw meandering along the troughs and cracks of the earthen floor. Margery, smelling the foulness, reached for the wooden bucket of water needed for the families’ night waste and flung it at the stranger’s crotch.
Thomas turned him on his side and lifted his head, folding a small blanket for it to rest on, while Margery blotted the wound on the back of his head with a wet piece of linen. She washed it so that she could better see the wound. Parting the matted, damp hair, she squeezed the two pieces of skin together. More blood trickled from the wound and meandered its way down through his dark hair onto his neck, discolouring the collar of his undershirt.
When Margery let go of the wound it opened again and more blood escaped, ‘William bring me my box with the thread and a needle.’ She rinsed the cloth in the wooden bowl and once again blotted the wound to try and stop the flow of blood.
‘Give me your knife Thomas.’ She took the knife and cut away at the hair around the wound so that she could see better. She closed one eye and carefully threaded the needle with the thread that she used to mend clothes. She blotted the wound once again and squeezed the two pieces of skin together. Pushing the needle through the skin she trembled with effort as it was resistant. After it pierced, she grabbed the pointed end of the needle, which was halfway through and pulled the thread through tight then repeated the action. Eventually the two pieces of skin started to come together, and the flow of blood slowed. After finishing the last stitch she rinsed the cloth and blotted the wound one last time. Then ripping a strip of linen she tied it around his head.
‘We’ll let him rest here tonight and he can be gone in the morning before any suspicions are raised,’ whispered Margery. Thomas turned, ‘William, make a bed for him on the other side of the hearth. We’ll stoke the fire and leave a candle burning in case he wakes during the night. Tomorra’, I will nip on up and see the reeve.’
‘No Thomas, tomorrow we will see him on his way in case his further presence curses us,’ said Margery worriedly.
‘She’s right Thomas, we could be harbouring a Catholic fugitive fer all we know, said William.’
With empathy in his eyes Thomas whispered, ‘Mother, would you want to see me or William seen off if we were in a similar situation?’
Pausing, Margery looked up, ‘Well son, God forbid, I would hope that you wouldn’t be daft enough ta fall foul of the ale and be found face down in a ditch.’
‘Let us talk no more about it tonight, let us sleep on it and see what the morning brings,’ exclaimed Thomas as he looked down at the stranger.
‘William, help me get him to the mattress.’
Margery and Thomas took the stranger’s shoulders and William took the feet, laying him down on the straw mattress on the other side of the hearth as carefully as they could.
The stranger took shallow breaths and looked pale, his hose muddied and wet, clung to his legs. The dark stain on his tunic from the vomit was still apparent but had started to lighten from the warmth of the fire. The sleeves of his undershirt were wet and soiled.
‘I know something for sure, he’s gonna have a rotten headache in the morning,’ said William, smiling.
The dogs, annoyed by the stranger’s presence at their hearth, took up their positions for the night, head on paws, eyes open, watching for any movement from the stranger.
Thomas and William climbed the ladder to the loft that hung over the far side of the cottage. The waste bucket was half filled with water and left at the bottom of the ladder where it could be easily found in the darkness of the night. Margery lifted her woollen kirtle, squatted and released a steady stream of steamy urine which flowed into the bucket. She smiled with contentment. As she relaxed her bowels, her flatulence escaped in a deep sounding long-running reverberation. The splash of her faeces could be heard. The dogs lifted their heads from their paws in a quizzical fashion and realising what it was, put their heads back down and returned to their half slumber.
‘Better out than in,’ she declared, as she dipped her hand in the clean water bucket beside and wiped the residual. She grabbed the bottom of her kirtle, dried her hands and tiredly ascended the ladder. After she had undressed, she took up her place on the straw mattress between the two boys. William was already reverberating a deep guttural sound from the back of his throat and Thomas was sound asleep.
Thomas and William stirred with the rooster’s call, woke before the birth of the sun and rose to the sound of their mother’s complaining.
Margery had already been awake for an hour; she didn’t sleep much at night these days. Quietly, by the glow of the fading fire, she dressed in the kirtle that she had folded and left neatly at the bottom of the straw mattress and made her way down the ladder until she realised her wimple was missing. She climbed carefully back up to the loft, feeling around in the darkness near her mattress. She smiled touching her head, realising that it was still heir apparent. Feeling somewhat groggy from the previous night’s penny ale, she quickly remembered the events that had transpired and looked sharply for evidence of their guest.
Margery lifted her kirtle and began to squat on the bucket. There he was, hadn’t moved, the dogs still wary and apprehensive about the stranger.
The male and female English Mastiffs, although still puppies, were still a force to be reckoned with if the stranger had woken to take part in any misdeeds. Margery stoked the fire again and put two pieces of peat on the new flames. She stirred the pottage and opened the door for the dogs to go outside. They hesitated, looking at the open door and then back at the stranger.
‘Gew on dogs, he means no harm, go and do thy business.’ She said, shooing them out the door.
While leading the cow toward the door, it lifted its tail and released a stream of excrement which landed on the floor in the shape of a steaming patty. The cow’s udder was full and needed milking, but she would tend to the water and the pottage first.
The two sheep and lamb followed through the opening, happy to nibble at the long grass around the cottage. She took the cow to the common green and pegged its long rope to the ground to keep it from wandering onto his lordship’s demesne.
Thomas was already making his way down the ladder, partly dressed but not ready for the day. Some of his hair stood on end and his eyes were still not fully open. When he got to the bottom, he turned and raised his arms, stretching his muscles and his back to wake and lossen the stiffness. His back cracked, he lowered his arms, reached into his codpiece and gave his right testicle a scratch. He unlatched his codpiece and relieved himself in the bucket, the aroma from Margery’s previous night’s contribution wafting up his nose. He turned his face but too late to save his nostrils from the acrid stench. He gave it a shake and put it back in his codpiece, then called out to William who was still in bed.
‘WILLIAM GET OUT OF BED, the day is born and there is work to be done.’
William, accustomed to being last out of bed, sat up and started rubbing the sleeping grit from his eyes, ‘I was having a dream, a beautiful dream about a lass, hair of gold, eyes as blue as the sky on a bright spring day.’
‘Yer, well dream about your lass later, we ‘ave work to do.’
William, partly dressed, his undershirt a hand-me-down from his brother and way too long, hung to his knees. Annoyed, he stepped down the ladder slowly so as not to step on his shirt. He slowly pulled on his hose and attached his codpiece then he turned, excited to see the stranger still in the same position where they left him the previous night.
‘Do ya’ think he’s alive, brother?’
‘I heard him groan before and he turned his face from the fire.’
‘What if he’s a Recusant Catholic, we could get in all types of shite.’
‘Watch yer tongue in this house William. Save thy father a trip back from the grave ta give you a hiding.’
‘It’s no business of ours William whether he is or he ain't that right ma?
'Aye, but don't be sayin' that too loudly Thomas. Since the failed plot to blow up Parliament, there's less tolerance for tpapists.'
All the time the stranger had been listening with his eyes closed. Who are these people? Where am I? Erggh my head hurts!
Margery went outside, picked up the yoke, the wooden crosspiece that held the buckets, and placed it on her shoulders to make her way to Bridgehouse Beck about half a mile away. She would make three trips during the day to ensure water for the animals, the waste bucket, washing clothes and water for the ale.
Through the wheat fields she went, past the cottages, across Sun Street, through the trees and down the hill. She could hear water cascading down the small waterfall near her favourite collection point. She was careful walking down the bank, still damp from the morning due. The sun had started to rise, and it glistened through the leaves like diamonds. She put the yoke on the ground then rubbed her shoulder where the wood had dug in and made its mark. The pebbles from the beck crunched underfoot as she bent down to fill one bucket, then the other.
Margery hitched the two buckets and straightened her back under the weight of the load, being careful not to spill any. The journey home was slower. She took her time going up the hill and paused halfway up, out of breath.
Thomas walked over to the table in the corner under the loft and filled the wooden basin with fresh water from a bucket. He splashed his face, his chest and under his arms, pushing his wet hands through his dark hair, grimacing from the shock of the cold water. Thomas cupped his hand, held in his stomach and poured some water down the inside front of his hose. He quickly washed the front and back of his nether regions, repeating the routine until he was satisfied that all was cleaner, and he had removed the louse and bed bugs that liked to congregate and leave their mark at night-time.
By this time Margery had returned with the water, she added some corn, wheat and beans to the pottage and stirred and scraped the sides of the cauldron. The aroma filled the room and filled the nostrils of the stranger that started to stir. He groaned, the dogs growled, he lifted his head, opened one eye and collapsed back down onto the straw mattress, the previous night’s events a muddled memory.
William knelt beside him with a leather jack of ale, ‘Sip this my friend, have the hair of the dog that bit thee.’
The stranger leant on his elbow and grimaced in pain as he felt the dried knot of blood on the back of his head, ‘Where am I lad? I know not.’
‘Hall Green, not far from Haworth manor. We found you in a ditch at the bottom of the hide and brought you home ta sleep it off. We didn’t know if you would wake today,’ replied Thomas.
John Hargreaves wasn't to know, but this kind act was to have a profound effect on the rest of his and his family’s future.
William looked over empathising with the stranger while Margery spooned some pottage into bowls, ‘Leave the poor soul son, let him rest and greet the day in a bit.’
The stranger groggily sat up from his straw mattress, clutching the back of his head. The dogs stood and growled.
‘SILENCE DOGS, HEEL!’ Yelled Thomas.
The dogs dropped to the floor once again, but still maintained a vigilance.
Margery handed the stranger a bowl of pottage and a wooden spoon, ‘Get that into ya’, give ya’ strength for the journey home.’
‘Do you remember what happened?’ Enquired Thomas.
'I remember winning at the rat baiting, I remember celebrating and drinking ale with two men. Not locals, I hadn’t seen them before. The alehouse wench kept fetching more and more ale and I kept buying. The last I remember was walking down the street with my companions on the way home.’
‘Do you remember what they looked like?’ asked Thomas.
‘They were dressed different. They had swords and one had a patch on his eye.’ ‘I remember them,’ said Thomas excitedly.
‘I must be on me way, I thank you for your hospitality. My name is John Hargreaves and I live near Moorehouse Lane toward Oxenhope. I better be off before my wife ‘n daughter Agnes believe I've left this mortal world.
‘If there’s anything I can do to repay you, me hide is on the way to Oxenhope. I have neighbours thereabouts and my daughter serves his Lordship at Haworth Manor. I am forever in thy debt, don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t come along.’
‘Take more pottage and ale before you go Mr Hargreaves,’ Margery said while spooning more pottage into his bowl.
Sitting on the stool by the fire, taking a sip from his bowl, Thomas swallowed and looked up, ‘Will you report this to the steward Mr Hargreaves?’
‘That thieving bastard, he'd probably fine me for being drunk hereabouts. Bad enough I must pay the tithe to the church and the tax to the Lord. I don’t want ta fill his pockets more than I have to, excuse the English, mother,’ said John stubbornly.
‘Nothing I haven’t heard before.’ Exclaimed Margery as she took the empty bowls and started to wash them in the bucket of cold water. ‘Right, I must be off then, I have ploughing to start and I’m late. The wife will not be happy, I was only supposed to walk Agnes home from the manor on a wicked night, but got weigh laid by the goings on at manor court.’
‘Next you are in the area, call in, think nothing of it,’ said Thomas, shaking his hand as he stepped toward the door.
‘Aye ‘n next time, fetch your daughter Agnes with ya’ too, let us meet the lass,’ Margery said sheepishly while winking at Thomas.
Thomas opened the bottom half of the cattle door, the sun was rising, ‘Safe journey my friend.’
‘Tarreur Thomas, remember if there's anything you need.’ John, being a bit disorientated, tried to get his bearings for home.
He wiped his forehead and tried to forget about the embarrassment from the previous night.
What a fine family, he thought to himself. He hadn’t been treated so well by their kind before, but he wondered if they would have been so kind if they knew he was Catholic.
He remembered the problems they had faced before moving to Haworth and how he and his family had been persecuted in the last parish. Masses were banned, Catholic priests went missing presumed to be executed, and they were fined twelve pence each Sunday for not attending the king's Church of England. His wife Marg and his daughter Agnes faced a daily struggle of finger pointing, whispering and humiliation. He sometimes wondered if it was all worth it, especially for poor Agnes who back then, didn’t quite know what was going on and why they didn’t go to church anymore. The poor dear couldn’t understand why the other children wouldn’t play with her and the songs they sang about her hurt.
He made his way across the ploughed fields to Sun Street past the broken dry wall, cottages on the left, rising hills dotted with sheep, on the right, up the hill he went where it turned into Marsh Lane. It was tough going, a morning chill, the dew made the muddy lane slippery, he could feel the sweat oozing through his pores as he walked. There were green fields on both sides of the road and the sun was rising over his right shoulder; and the light hurt his eyes. He finally reached the top of the hill and let his wobbly legs carry him down the other side. He went past more cottages, most of the families already up and dragging the plough, some with oxen others without. It seemed to take ages in his current state but he was on the homeward stretch now, left on Moorhouse Lane, across the field and there it was, home at last.
The door was wide open, and his wife Marg was nowhere to be seen. He walked inside and warmed himself by the fire noticing the dark vomited stain on his tunic. His hose was damp, dirty and stained and his head hurt both inside and out. He took his shirt and hose off and left them in a pile near the fire. He walked to the ceramic water bowl and just as he splashed water on his face, she walked in, having just returned with buckets of water from Bridgehouse Beck.
She looked at his nakedness as he was bent over the bowl and smiled at his whiteness and knobby knees.
‘Oh, there you are ‘usband, Agnes was worried about you. Where have you been? Up to no good I suppose,’ said his wife sarcastically.
‘Careful wife, I don’t need cheek this mornin’ my head is split,’ as John turned to show her the back of his head.
‘Goodness John, what have you done?’ Asked his wife as she hurried to the kitchen and took a wet cloth to the back of John’s head slowly cleaning it.
John grimaced in pain, ‘My God wife, do you want ta open it up again? You don’t know what’ll come spilling out if you do.
'Stupid old fool. This is retribution for not going to church, I knew it would start again. No wife, it was footpads, they must have known that I had a purse full of winnings.”
‘I went to the Kings Arms for an ale, there were rat-baiting in the basement, so I wagered a shillin’ or two and won.’
‘Sounds like you won too much,’ said his wife lifting his tunic from the floor noticing the stain.
She looked at him curiously, ‘And what may I pray have happened to the winnings?’
‘Sorry wife, they are long gone. I woke up in a stranger’s house with an empty money purse. I was found in a ditch on their hide and they took me home ta sleep off the wound.’ He said apologetically, remembering the hospitality the Rushworth’s had shown him.
‘I’d say you were sleeping off more than the wound ‘n besides did you not think it might have been them that took the winnings.’
John condemned her accusation, ‘No wife, it wasn’t them, I was assaulted on the way home. If it wasn’t for young Rushworth ‘n his family, who knows what my fate would have been. They tended to the wound ‘n put me near the fire, let me sleep it off while this morning, fed me pottage ‘n gave me ale to wash it down with, no wasn’t them. They are kind folk like us but not of the faith.’
Margaret looked at him curiously, my goodness, now I’ve 'eard everything!’
John turned to her, ‘They were different, kind and generous the woman had two handsome lads William and her eldest Thomas about Agnes’ age.
They didn’t know I was of the faith, but I get the feeling that it wouldn’t have mattered.’
‘Husband you don't know that. We must be careful; I don’t want our Agnes to go through all that again. We must be silent and keep our prayers to ourselves. If it gets out that we’re recusants, then it will all start again!’ She sat down and put her face in her hands.
‘There, there wife we’ll be careful.’ She’s a good woman and I hate to see her like this, but I must remain steadfast and follow the true faith.
John put his hand on Margaret’s shoulder, ‘It’s alright wife, nobody will ever find us and I'll continue to pay the fine for not attending church, but I refuse to a pray to a false God and that’s that! Come now wipe yer eyes and lets talk no more about it.’
SONS OF HEART
Thomas and William walked the mile to the manor to borrow two oxen and the suhl in exchange for a live chicken.
The reeve tended them out the back. It wasn’t the first time they had been to the manor, but they were always impressed by its magnificence. Crushed stone carriageways, manicured grass and you could smell the fragrance of the roses tended so delicately to by the gardener. It always seemed to be a hive of activity, people coming and going, buying, selling and it was here that the reeve took care of business.
'This is all you have young Thomas, one chicken? The lord will be wanting more than that for your use,’ as the reeve glanced at the oxen. ‘You want me to have to pay thy debts lad? I got me own family to tend to.’ Said the reeve as he busily spoke while attending another visitor.
James had just finished weeding the Lord’s top field and was bringing back the hoe.
'Ayup Jamey boy, do I have to go down and check,’ the reeve called out, ‘Last time you missed half the field.’
James kept walking toward the gate and quickened his pace, waving casually without turning around, obviously in a hurry to get back to his own cottage.
Young Jonathon arrived with the axe that his father used to cut wood in the forest for the lord’s fire. ‘Ayup young Jono, me boy, let me have a look at that blade, if it’s not true you can stay and turn the grinding wheel awhile,’ the reeve said, lifting the axe and looking down the blade to see if there were any imperfections.
Continuing before he could utter a word, ‘And Thomas, I hear theur didn’t pay the death payment at the manor court so you are in debt to his lordship. I’d be careful lad, you don’t want thy family thrown off the hide.’
‘What work do you want done for the lord this week?’ Asked Thomas, knowing that it was customary to work three days for the lord on his demesne.
Thomas and his father, when he was alive, made the most of working for the lord. It was work, but they didn’t toil as hard as they did on their own land. At times they went fishing together to put trout on the lord’s table; on other occasions they went into the forest and found mushrooms. Occasionally, father would hide a couple in his codpiece, and they would have them in the pottage that night. Another time the reeve asked them to pick apples from the orchard. He remembered his father picking one, looking around to see if anybody was about, shining it on his tunic and then telling him to climb up the ladder into the top of the tree to eat it. Of course, if found out his father would have received a flogging for it.
‘Steward wants another dry bap wall built on the old Smithe hide, you can start that,’ the reeve replied, waking young Thomas from his memories.
Thomas looked at the reeve angrily, ‘Another pasture soon there won’t be enough land ta feed any of us!’
‘Well, if folk like you paid their dues, the lord would keep people rather than sheep.’ Said the reeve smartly. ‘Now be off with ya’ and don’t forget the fine next time I see you or else I’ll come looking for ya,’ said the reeve impatiently. He knew that if the lord or steward found out about his generosity, it would come from his own purse.
As Thomas and William turned and walked away toward the oxen, the reeve called out, sympathy in his voice, ‘Thomas, William, sorry about thy father, he were a grand man.’
He lifted the axe again to have another look and left the two lads to tend to the oxen and suhl.
Walking to the barn, Thomas looked across and noticed the steward; he was talking to the two strangers he recognised from the Kings Arms. They were both dressed well, likely men not of this village.
Clean mutton sleeves wide at the top tapering to the wrist. Their hose clean, dry and tied at the knee with a garter. Swords hung in a sheath from the waist with a large black belt diagonally securing it. They wore fine leather shoes with a heel and a buckle.
Thomas looked at their shoes then down at his own leather shoes and hose covered in mud.
Thomas lifted his hand to shade the sun from his eyes, ‘William, I recognise those men standing there, I saw them at the manor court they were there when mother and I arrived. Shady men is my guess.’
‘So, you should brother, they're with the lord’s steward and he's as shady as they come.’
While Thomas looked over, the steward gave one of the men a small leather coin purse.
'How long will you be staying?' The steward asked.
'As long as it takes,' replied the man with the black eyepatch.
The steward grinned, 'Well I can put you to work while you're here and be my guests at the manor. ’He didn’t know them well, but they came with impressive credentials and seemed of high station.
'That's very kind your grace.'
While sharing pleasantries, the steward noticed Thomas and his brother staring.
What are those two looking at, he thought to himself, they should keep out of other's business.
The steward’s smile turned to a frown. He shook hands with the two men, bid them farewell, and started walking toward Thomas and William.
William, worriedly, walked quicker toward the tied-up oxen, ‘Christ, now you’ve done it. The stewards coming over here, let’s get.’
Thomas dropped his head and quickened his pace, ‘Let me do the talking brother,’ as he arrived at the stall and started unhitching the oxen.
The steward approached, ‘Ahh, Rushworth, n what brings you to the manor, dear boy?’ He asked in a demeaning, tone.
The steward rarely spoke to the common folk unless it involved coin or payne at the manor court, preferring to leave that to the reeve.
‘Just getting the oxen for the ploughing, sir,’ Thomas took off his hat in a sign of respect.
Thomas and William dropped their heads in submission, they couldn’t take their eyes off the steward’s polished and buckled shoes.
‘You seemed right interested in my companions before young Thomas. Do you know them? Is there anything you need to tell me?’ Asked the steward.
Thomas looked nervous and William didn’t look. ‘No, your grace, I were just admiring the manor gardens and thinking what a wonderful place it must be to live here,’ he said.
At that point, the reeve came out the back door and came running over shouting, ‘LORD WANTS TO SEE YOU YOUR GRACE!’
The steward turned, ‘What does he want reeve?’
Thomas winked at William and took advantage of the distraction to lead the ox and head for home.
‘STOP!’ Yelled the steward, convincing himself to continue with his questioning. He walked further to take up a position in front of them.
‘Thomas, you did not take care of the payne, fines or dues at the manor court. Your father’s funeral sum is still owing, and I hear you only paid a chicken for use of the oxen and suhl. This is not a charity Rushworth!’
Thomas took off his hat again and dropped his head in submission. He stood there patiently waiting for the steward’s next words. The steward leant forward so that nobody else, including William, could hear.
His breath had the aroma of ale, old port, garlic and onions, no doubt a tasty memory of last night’s dinner with the lord, that from the smell, had been repeating on him all morning.
‘Young Thomas, you should remember how grand Lord Birkhead has been to thee, allowing you to be a copyholder on his lands.
You are lucky, and you should be right careful to not put thy nose in the business of others,’ whispered the steward.
Worriedly, Thomas raised his head and looked at the steward, being sure not to look in his eyes. He had a look of fear, knowing what power the steward had over him and his family.
‘Ah good, hate to see thy mother cast out into the evil of the night. Her old bones couldn’t stand being away from the fire,’ said the steward with a smug, sadistic smile.
The steward, pleased with his demonstration of power, walked away, quickening his pace as he neared the back door, fearful of keeping his lordship waiting too long.
‘Cast out into the evil of the night? Well, that went well,’ said William, looking at Thomas with despair. He led the oxen along the gravel path toward the ten-hour day of ploughing.
‘What was all that about?’
'Nothing,' he realised that he and he alone was responsible for the family’s fortunes, or ill fortune, however God may see fit. Bloody steward, if only da were here.
The deputies returned to the pillory later the next morning; the captives were motionless and filthy from the northern weather. Rotten food and the odd dead rat that had been thrown at them by the locals as they walked by. They opened the lock, and the top of the frame was removed from the pillory. Groggy and semi-unconscious from their ordeal, the two held onto the frame for fear of ripping their ear from its resting place. Their backs stiff, legs trembling, and faces cut from the odd stone thrown at them from playful children that knew of the pillory but not the reason for the punishment. Faeces and urine soaked their putrid hose, and soft leather shoes. The deputy took his knife from the sheath, cutting the ear around the nail leaving a notch. The captives screamed out in pain, which woke them from their comatose state.
Free at last, they sank to their knees clutching the red, mottled perforation that was left. The corner of their ears left on the frame of the pillory for all to see and a reminder to all that passed. Blood trickled down the side of their face and escaped through the gaps between their fingers. Children on the other side of the square watched, whispered and laughed while others walked past paying no attention, more pressing duties on their minds.
‘Let that be a lesson to ya’s. Be gone and don’t come back this way, for if I see ya’, there’ll be a reckoning,’ said the deputy while pointing his knife at them.
The deputies turned and walked away just as the vicar and his assistant came out of the chapel and helped the men to their feet. His assistant scooped water from the bucket and lifted it to the toothless one’s mouth. He grabbed the pewter cup, raised it, his hands shaking and quickly guzzled it without a breath. He lost his balance as the vicar let go of him and tended to his mate, scooping more water and offering it. Stuart tried to stand. His knees were wobblily, so he used the frame of the pillory to steady himself. He winced and held the area where his ear had been notched but said nothing.
‘God be with you, my sons, now that you have paid thy penance go in peace and let the Lord have mercy on thee.’
The Archie and Stuart walked out into the street. They staggered as they walked down the road. Archie lost his balance and fell in the mud; his companion helped him up and put his arm around his shoulder to support him. They walked along Bell Isle Road and then cut across the field to Bridgehouse Beck. Dropping beneath a tree to compose themselves, Archie crawled to the water’s edge to wash the grime and faeces away.
Stuart wiped the congealed blood from his face and tenderly scooped water and poured it over his wound, ‘It’ll take us days to get back to York.’
‘We ain’t going back, not yet anyway; if we can’t make coin in the village, we’ll make coin outside the village. Besides that young bastard needs to be taught a lesson,’ said the toothless one as he removed his hose and codpiece to rinse in the beck.
‘Well, what are we gonna do? We ‘ave nowt. No grub, no lodgin’ and besides if that steward sees us again, we’ll end up swinging from a rope.’
‘Let’s rest here until it gets dark, then we’ll round up some grub. There's a cottage over there in that field.’
They both leant back against the tree and dozed, being careful not to sleep too heavily lest a villager came walking by.
The sun was coming up when Archie woke.
‘Hey wake up.’ Archie kicked him on the foot trying to rouse him. Stuart shook off his grogginess and then grimaced as he lifted his hand to touch his ear. Or what was left of it.
Archie blew the fire to raise it and they consumed the rest of the chicken they had stolen from the cottage in the night.
‘We’ll make our way to Stanbury. Our business here is not finished, we'll come back when things have settled.'
Stuart shook his head, 'Why don't ya' just let sleepin' dogs lie, let's get out of 'ere and not come back.'
'That lad and that bastard who grabbed me, they'll pay! Fodpoodle aye', I'll give 'im bloody fodpoodle! Look at my ear! We'll go to Stanbury then return find out where they live.'
The next afternoon, Margery had emptied the waste bucket onto the mound outside where all the waste was kept, collected the water, washed the clothes, watered the animals and prepared the bread and cheese to take to Thomas and William.
As the sun reached its highest point, she walked down the hill past the ditch where they had found Mr Hargreaves and she noticed something, a red hat. Picking it up, she turned it over and looked at the bloodied inside.
‘What’s this then?’ She exclaimed, ‘The property of Mr John Hargreaves of Moorehouse Lane, Oxenhope, I believe?’ She smiled. This might come in handy, give me an excuse to make a visit.
The hat still had a frayed, hole where he had been struck. Bending down, Margery rinsed it in the ditch water and rung it out as best she could. I’ll pop by the manor and give this to Agnes. Better still, take it to the chapel on Sunday she thought. ‘Nooo, I 've got a better idea.
Margery continued on her way and arrived to find Thomas and William tired, sweaty and overcome with the heat of the day. Only three acres had been ploughed.
‘I’m glad you seem to think that the ploughing will be done by itself Thomas and teaching bad habits to thy brother. You won’t be smiling so much, when the seed is planted late and the harvest is poor, and we have nowt to eat.’
‘Fear not mother, we were kept back entertaining business with the steward.’ Only Thomas and William could see the funny side of this and snickered.
Margery showed her contempt, ‘Oh yes and what would the steward want with you two shakeragg? Unless he found something to fine ya' for. Here is thy lunch bread cheese ‘n ale. Summer is fast approaching; you need ta beat the rains or else we’re finished’
Thomas took out a linen cloth and wiped the sweat from his brow. He and William sat at the side of the suhl and opened the cloth package containing the bread and cheese. They didn’t talk much until it was all gone and washed down with a jug of ale.
‘Best we keep going brother, give ma nothin' ta conplain about,’ said Thomas standing and turning at the waist to loosen his stiffness.
‘By the way, look what I found in the ditch near home,’ Margery pulled the hat out of her basket, ‘John Hargreave’s hat, it seems.’
'Ma what are ya' gonna do with that?' Thomas rolled his eyes, having a feeling his mother was up to something.
'Never you mind son, you just keep to yer ploughing. You to William, come on get on with it. I have an errand to run.'
John stuck his head in the bucket of water and washed, trying to rid himself of the stained memory of the previous night. He started to recall the events…
He remembered waiting for Agnes near the manor and hearing the buzz emanating from the square. It was a chilly night and thought he might climb the hill for a quick ale and warm himself by the fire. She was always late coming from the manor.
He was only going to stay for an ale or two until his two companions convinced him to go to the rat baiting in the cellar. He remembered walking down the creeping, rotten wood stairs into a large stone-walled room which was full of smoke and the stench of dead rats and loud barking dogs whipped into a frenzy by their owners. There was the acidic smell of old urine and stale ale. Oil lamps lit the centre of the room, which was cordoned off with a square of wooden planks set almost chest high. The earthen floor was blood stained at the bottom of the pit, which was home to dog fights, cock fights, and tonight’s entertainment.
Men entertained themselves yelling, and arguing their point, often spraying spittle, trying to get the slightest bit of knowledge about the contestants that could sway their wager. The dog owners rallied support for their dog above any other casting wagers against owners of other dogs, excitedly.
‘That little terrier, I might wager on the rat, yelled one drunken guest.’
All that heard laughed, with one elder who couldn’t quite contain himself, coughing out his ale while trying to laugh and breath at the same time. ‘
Ayup, I’ seen the rats he catches them in the cemetery, some are bigger than a house cat’, Said another.
The rat catcher made his way down the wooden stairs. His hessian bag relentlessly moving with squealing, panicked rats.
He unloaded twenty five rats out of the hessian bag into the pit. They scattered quickly as the crowd roared with excitement. Men filled the wooden bleachers which climbed up the stone walls. The dogs, terrier crosses all of them, barked with excitement, pulling on the rope held by their owners. Hearing the dogs, the rats cornered themselves, climbing over one another to get to the highest point on the wall to escape, only to be knocked lower by another bigger rat. Their six-inch tails trailed behind them, their yellow teeth nipping at the rat beside and long whiskers twitching with nervousness unused to being in the light.
‘Come on, Billy lets show them what you can do,’ said the owner stepping forward for his dog’s turn at the mayhem.
He unroped the dog and picked him up by the scruff of the neck, holding him in mid-air on the inside of the pit. The crowd roared. The men screamed back and forth across the pit, making bets on how many rats Billy could dispense with in a minute.
‘He doesn’t look like much ta me, I’ll wager two shillings, no more ‘n fifteen rats!’ Yelled one patron eagerly.
‘Yer, I’ll take your wager and say more ‘n fifteen!’ Said another.
The dog seeing the rats, barked and tried to struggle free from his owner’s grasp, but he couldn’t break his grip. The owner looked at the referee and waited for the signal. When the referee nodded, he dropped the dog. The timekeeper turned the minute glass as soon as the dog’s paws touched the dirt. Excitedly, Billy growled and looked at the rats, his senses alert and keen. He was highly stimulated by the herbs his owner had given him and ready to do what he had been trained to do. He hit the ground running, feverishly attacking the group of rats in the corner.
The crowd roared, Hargreaves getting caught up in the excitement had placed his wager declaring twenty rats as his number. His companions secretly smiled at each other, knowing that no dog could reach such a milestone. The steward’s money was safe, they thought. Besides that was the least of their worries, they had other plans.
The dog worked in exemplary fashion, a grip, a toss, and it was all over for the rat. Billy was very skillful and at one point bit into two rats at the same time, shaking them both in a frenzied fashion then releasing his grip and running at the corner to latch onto others. They scattered as he approached, but he was too quick and knew their habits, running close to the wall as tight as they could.
The marshal, who tried to keep some order to proceedings, called out the number of rats killed, ‘One rat, two, three, four, five…’ Some lay motionless, others bloodied with their entrails following them, but still alive, tried to crawl away.
‘Seventeen... eighteen... nineteen… twenty... TIME.’ Yelled the marshal, who wrestled a dead rat from the dogs’ mouth and lifted Billy by the scruff of the neck, out and back to his owner. Billy wasn’t finished yet and tried to fight his way out of the marshal's grip to continue.
‘AYEUP THAT ONES NOT DEAD,’ yelled another who had wagered on nineteen.
The marshal stepped in, ‘Right, local rats, local rules. If t’ rat manages to get to the outside of the pit in a minute, then he is considered still alive, and the count will be nineteen.’ The timekeeper turned over the minute glass as the referee marked a large circle with a stick on the inside circumference of the pit.
Excited, the crowd yelled at the rat, some wishing it ill health and good riddance and others wishing it a healthy recovery.
‘Ayup, it’s movin, COME ON, GET CRACKIN,’ said one man.
The rat suffered from a lack of blood, and its two back legs were shattered. It rose up on its front paws, face smashed, and blood was oozing from its mouth and an eye socket that was missing an eye. It continued to move, and the crowd cheered as more wagers were placed on the result. The rat looked behind and tried to sniff its back legs, numbed by the crushed nerves. It pushed up on its front paws again and some of the crowd cheered. Others started to insult the owner of Billy who they said, did not do enough to kill the rat. The rat took one more step and then keeled over in exhaustion.
‘TWENTY!’ Yelled the referee. John looked up at his companions shocked, ‘I WON, TWENTY RATS!’ He laughed ecstatically, ‘I WON! I WON!’
The two men looked at each other angrily and tried to come to terms with what had eventuated as they had given him odds.
‘Grand Billy, well done, lad.’ The owner said, wiping the blood and left-over entrails from his chin.
He placed Billy on the floor and poured water from a bowl into his hand and continued to wash his face, being sure to allow Billy his fill to feed his thirst.
‘Twenty rats killed in a minute, who’d have thought,’ said one of John’s companions while giving him the steward's shillings. Bastard, nobody could be that lucky!
John held out his hand and smiled, then placed the coins in the leather purse which hung from his belt,
‘Come on lads rounds on me!’
The steward wouldn't be happy, knowing they lost his money. But the dog, how were they to know? It wasn’t until later they heard the dog had a reputation in other parts of Keighley.
‘Come on, to the barrel we go, pleasure is mine,’ as John gestured for them to follow him up the stairs for a celebratory ale.
The drinks were on him; he went upstairs with his companions. They showed him much kindness and so did the barmaid ensuring their jacks were kept full. She knew the drill.
He didn’t notice the steward on the far side of the tavern and the shrewd nod he gave to the strangers through the crowd when their eyes met his. One of them frowned with disappointment and shook his head slightly. The steward wasn’t amused.
The following evening, sitting at home in Stanbury, the steward thought about the events of the previous night. He was angry his companions lost his wager; he didn’t like common folk winning at the rat baiting he organised to coincide with each manor court. On a good night, he could win money from the locals, who managed to scrounge for the payne, fines and dues. Without money they would need to pay more the next time, some shillings for the lord and some for him. He always stayed one step ahead, knowing if the lord’s coffers were low and he lost his temper, he would pay it out of his own purse.
It was quite a lucrative setup. He paid a shilling to the rat catcher, a shilling to the dog owner and a portion of the winnings to his recently acquired partners. That coupled with his skimming of the fines and dues paid, provided a lucrative income on top of the stipend which his lordship paid him to tend to manor business. That night, he thought, was supposed to be unique. He had arranged for a dog to come up from Bradford after seeing him in action down there a few weeks past. He had never seen a dog so ferocious, so cunning and quick. He lost some money on him in Bradford but expected to get it all back, and more, that evening.
The evening was even better than expected, having charmed his way into a card game with a couple of out-of-town coney-catchers. He watched them take coin from several locals before he approached the table. He felt contempt for any outsiders who tried to cash in. These two were from outside the parish, likely doing their regular rounds through the local villages. It was apparent they were good at it for the two of them still had both ears. They allowed him to win the first three hands, one of them raising the bet each time then bowing out to let his friend lay down cards which were always just good enough to win the hand. They were clever enough to let him win a hand occasionally, to keep his interest, but slowly gained more and more of his purse. That was, until the watchman rang the bell for a count of eight.
WAY OF A WOMAN
After giving Thomas and William their lunch, Margery started back home. She continued across the ploughed fields to Sun Street,
past the broken drywall, up the hill she went where it turned into Marsh Lane. It was tough going in the heat of the day, the sun starting to get to its highest point. She finally reached the top of the hill and started down the other side. Down she went, past more cottages. She asked one of the women salting some fish, where the Hargreaves lived.
She pointed, ‘Hargreaves cottage, across yonder field to Moorhouse Lane, just up the hill.’
Margery walked across the field and down the hill; and noticed the smoke coming out the chimney. The chickens scattered and squawked as she approached.
‘AYEUP, ARE YOU THERE, MRS HARGREAVES?’ She said walking up to the door of the stone walled cottage.
‘I AM, ‘n who might you be? She asked, 'I haven’t seen thee in these parts before, but I’ve seen you at the market in Haworth.’
‘Aye, and I’ve seen you there... and thy lovely daughter.’
‘What brings you down the hill?’ Asked Mrs Hargreaves as she continued to push the plunger in and out of the butter churner.
‘This hat, I found it in the field in our ditch, thought it might be your husband’s.‘
'Aye it’s his. You must be Mrs Rushworth, you tended ta John the night before last. You better come inside. Do ya' want a brew?’
‘That would be fine,’ said Margery, ‘The walk has made me a bit parched.’
‘John won’t be home for ages, he’s ploughing a field for the lord’s grace,’ said Mrs Hargreaves as she poured more ale into Margery’s jack.
‘Well, that’s just it, I didn’t come ta see John, I came ta see you,’ Margery said, smiling.
Mrs Hargreaves laughed a deep belly laugh, leaning back, raising her head to the rafters, then back at Margery. ‘My goodness, here to see me, what in God’s name for?’
Margery smiled cunningly, ‘Well, when your John were convalescing at our hearth, he mentioned your daughter Agnes who worked at the manor. Our Thomas needs a grand woman to come home to, and I was thinking…’
There’s no way on earth my husband will allow Agnes to marry outside the faith, ‘Our Agnes? Mmm, not sure if me husband will allow it.’
Margery took another sip of ale. ‘I seen her at the market with thee on many occasion, seems like a grand lass.’
‘Aye she is, we’re proud of her and the woman she’s become. Why her though, there’s plenty of other lasses in the village.’
‘Aye, there is, but widows or spoiled the lot of 'em.
You being new to the Parish, I thought it might make a good match.’
I’ll have to speak to me husband when he gets back from the fields. Agnes’ wage from the manor comes in right handy, I will speak to my husband.’ I’ll not speak to him because I know what the answer will be.
She dropped her head with the disappointment; however, the interest of a matchmaker was exciting.
‘Me son Thomas is a tenant at Hall Green, but a grand lad and bound fer better,’ claimed Margery proudly. 'Just needs a good woman to push 'im in the right direction.' Margery spoke convincingly, ‘Not many good lads around here, most like the drink and whores at the taverns. Besides, do you want thy daughter to be a spinster her whole life?’
Worriedly Mrs Hargreaves paused before answering, ‘No course not, but this is all so sudden.’ Heavens above she's a pushy woman, she thought.
‘She would have a grand life with my Thomas, ‘n God willing a baby or three.’ ‘Right you are then, let’s talk again at Saint Michael and All Angels on Sunday, after prayers.’ Stated Margery with the over confidence and pushiness that she was renowned for.
‘Yes let’s do that Mrs Rushworth. There’s no chance of that ‘cause we won’t be there! Poor Agnes, the fist suitor that comes calling and I must turn them away. What is to become or our Agnes? There's no way her father will let her marry outside the true faith.
Mrs Hargreaves thought back to the time when she and John first noticed each other in church. He was a handsome man, and his father was a freeman and owned land. They were very comfortable for a long while until it all started. Most had pledged their oath to Queen Bess, but John and his father refused to. They said their prayers in secret and held Communion under the cover of darkness; a Jesuit priest coming to their cottage in the middle of the night. They stopped going to church, and paid the penalty, losing much to the manor court because of shillings that they had to forfeit each week.
The Hargreaves had been hoping for more religious tolerance when James came to the throne. Things got worse, and they were chastised in the village. A short time later they left in fear of retribution, disappeared, gave up everything they had except the ox and a few trinkets, which they sold.
Labour was in short supply because of the ‘black death’, so it didn’t take long for John to get the lord’s favour and buy a small patch of land on the outskirts of Haworth. It wasn't enough to sustain them but John still had coin left over and his paid work for the lord kept them going.
‘I’ll not promise anything, but should John wish it, you can call again.’ Said Mrs Hargreaves. She'll soon lose interest when we don't show up at church.
It was getting late, and Margery realised that she still had to walk up the hill home, ‘Goodness me, the sun is getting low in the sky and I haven’t prepared the supper for me boys or got the cow in. Best I nip on quickly like.’
Mrs Hargreaves came out of deep thought, ‘I need to get a move on, my John will surely know somethin’s amiss if things aren’t orderly ‘n well when he gets home. Go on, love, be off with ya’ before we both have ta line up for the ducking stool.’
Margery took the last swig of the ale and handed the jack back to Mrs Hargreaves. ‘Right, I will see thee Sunday then.’ Margery left and quickened her pace to beat the night watchman’s bell.
John arrived home in the light of the moon. She heard him and felt ashamed of all that had gone on in his absence. He walked in the door, the hinges creaked, exhausted from the day’s labour in the lord’s field. He felt for his hat but realised that he had lost it. John walked to the bench silently, almost staggering from the ten-hour overexertion. He lifted the bucket and poured water into the large wooden bowl sticking his head in it for what seemed like an eternity. Only when he couldn’t hold his breath any longer did he lift his head and release the ache in his lungs. He gasped for air and splashed his face two more times, running his hands through his sweaty dark hair. He took off his wet shirt, exposing his wiry but muscular arms and chest and continued to wash under his arm pits.
He removed his codpiece and his soiled hose, his wife picking them up in an instant and folding them ready for the next day.
Mrs Hargreaves held a linen towel silently while he splashed water under his arms and between his legs, making sure he washed away the sweat. He dried them properly to keep away the chafe. His wife gave him a clean undershirt to put on. It dangled almost to his knees, but it was fresh with the smells of a springtime day and it pleased him. He sat on his stool near the hearth, smoked from his clay pipe and thought about the events of the day. He wasn’t the only one doing the lord’s bidding and at least he got payed. He enjoyed the comradery with the other men. There was Richard Bins, Anthony Pigshells and Robert Deane, all tenanted to the lord except for him. He enjoyed the banter; it wasn’t often that there was time for laughter during the day, especially at the lord’s pleasure.
Shall I tell him, nooo best left for another time. Margery was silent, not knowing how to breach the subject with her husband. She stirred the pottage in the cauldron and brought him ale to help him clear the dust from his throat.
‘You are quiet wife, have you got something to say ta me?’ He said in a relaxed but curious tone.
‘No husband, hold on, when you’ve had thy fill of ale then we'll chat,’ she said, trying not to give too much away about her earlier meeting with Margery Rushworth.
Mrs Hargreaves handed him the bowl. He devoured the contents and a second helping, gulping ale to wash it down. He paused and stilled himself.
‘Tell us wife, does our chat have anything ta do with me hat sitting there on the table?’
John asked, mesmerised by the fire.
Mrs Hargreaves realised that Margery had left the hat so she walked over and hung it on the nail near the door.
‘So, it seems you had the pleasure of a visit from Mrs Rushworth today,’ said John as he took a puff of his pipe. ‘And what did you discuss wife?’
‘Nothing except the time a’ day husband. She brought yer hat back, that's orl.’
‘Seems a long walk just ta talk about the time a’ day.’
Mrs Hargreaves looked at John curiously, ‘We had a chat while I was churning the butter.’ His wife stood to stoke the fire and stir the pottage because she hadn’t eaten yet.
She’s holding something back, I can feel it. John was fixated on her discussion with Margery and waited patiently for her to disclose more.
‘Oh husband, what conversations women have while churning butter, would you be interested in?’ She replied, wanting to keep women’s business to the women, knowing that now was not the time to complicate things.
‘Come now, don’t let the events of the day worry you and what of the ploughing?’ She asked, changing the subject while pouring him more ale.
‘One field is finished, I must go back tomorra’ with Richard, Anthony and Robert Deane, to finish t’other.’
He sat back against the wall, exhausted, re-filling his clay pipe. He knew not to push too hard, for his wife’s secrets always made their way to his ears at some point, either by her mouth or by others. He was well known in the village and knew that if it were anything serious, she would confide in him sooner.
Some things are best left unsaid, especially when it’s women’s business. Best kept for another day, he thought to himself.
He took a puff of his pipe, watching the embers in the bowl redden, then he slowly blew out, watching the smoke mingle with the smoke from the fire and drift toward the rafters.
WAY OF A WOMAN
Margery had gotten used to hearing services in English and not Latin. She could understand what the minister was saying, and it wasn’t just the scriptures. She especially liked sermons with tid bits of notices and news, the king’s news. Now, the congregation was urged to read the Bible, but most of them were illiterate, so relied on the vicar to inform them of God’s will.
From the pulpit the vicar sermonised the Homily on Marriage.
'The woman is a weak creature not endowed with the like
strength and constancy of mind as men. Therefore, they be
the sooner disquieted and they be the more prone to weak affections
and dispositions of the mind more than men be.’
Margery liked coming to Saint Michael and All Angels. She thought it was a magnificent building and remembered coming here as a child when all was in Latin and the Catholic Holy Communion was the order of the day. It was only thirty paces from door to alter; the thick stone walls kept it relatively cool inside on the hottest of summer days. The large circular patterns adorning the walls displayed faded bible scenes, saints’ apostles, angels and Christ, all painted in reds, ochres yellows. The barrel-vaulted ceiling rose to the heavens from the plain, wooden pews below. The chapel entrance was embellished with ornate stone carving. The large wooden cross was crowned by a small opening in the wall which held the oil lamp shedding its dim light over the alter.
Margery heard the door vibrate with the wind. She looked around, paused, then faced the front, listening to the end of the lengthy sermon from the vicar.
‘The goodman or master of the family is a person in whom
resteth the private and proper government of the whole
household: and he comes to it not by election… but by
the ordinance of God, settled even in the course of nature.’
‘—The goodwife of the house is a person which yieldeth
help and assistance in government to the master of the
family. For he is, as it were, the prince and chief ruler;
she is the associate.’
She wondered why Mrs Hargreaves, John and Agnes were absent from church. These were not times to be absent and surely, they would face the two-shilling fine, she thought.
The vicar finished his sermon then asked his congregation to remain seated. Several wives and daughters remained looking at their husbands and fathers with contempt as they quickly rose to make a quick exit. The men received particular attention from the warden who was responsible for order in the church.
The vicar repeated, ‘Dearest folk, please remain seated, I have news from London, a bill has been passed by Parliament outlawing Catholicism. Jesuit priests are being rounded up and imprisoned. Any found harbouring them will feel the full brunt of the law.
The congregation were shocked, as King James had promised a more religious tolerance. Some started to whimper, others sat there motionless.
The vicar went on, 'God save the King.’
‘God save the King! God save the King!’ The congregation repeated together following the vicar’s lead.
They then recited the Lord’s Prayer.
Wee father whoa art in’ heaven, allowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day daily bread; ‘n forgive our trespasses, as we
forgive them who trespass against us; lead us not into temptation,
bur deliver wee from evil.’
The congregation stood and started filing out of the pews towards the door at the back of the church. Margery was still looking for the Hargreaves as she strolled through the big oak door out into the day.
She was followed by William and Thomas, ‘What’s wrong mother, you look distracted?’ Asked William with a concerned look on his face.
‘I’m fine son, just thankin’ God for the day,’ Sunday was always a good day, she thought, a rest from the routine work and chores. She also felt a sadness for the minority of recusant Catholics that lived in the village and the Keighley surrounds.
‘William, mother is just feeling full of the sermon,’ said Thomas smiling, and thinking about the upcoming ‘ball’ and ale.
‘William don’t show disrespect ta the Lord ‘n saviour, less you want ta fetch damnation on the family,’ said Margery, looking back and frowning in contempt. We’ll see how smart you are when I reveal my little secret my son.
William escorted Margery toward home while Thomas met with the other village men in preparation for ‘ball’ against East’ards. Ball was always a fiery affair and Thomas enjoyed the comradery that it generated. Every man in Haworth that could walk was expected to participate, and the game would be celebrated and discussed for weeks afterwards.
Two upright poles were placed in the paddock just east of Moorhouse Lane and another set just west of Haworth Road, about one and a half miles away. The two groups of men numbered about three hundred, but nobody knew for sure.
The game would start on the eastern side of Bridgehouse Beck, where the ball would be thrown into the crowd of men vying for a touch. The ball, a leather-bound sheep’s bladder, was thrown into the melee. Many reached for it and it bounced away westerly on the sea of grasping hands. It disappeared below the crush only to resurface after a fiery encounter below.
One came up throwing the ball west, another clutching his broken nose. Movement of the ball was stalled by many a hand, then it disappeared again. The crowd moved into the Bridgehouse Beck waters, but they were halted on the bank by a huge oak tree. One of the players of the East’ards climbed the tree on the other side and perched on a limb. The ball was thrown up to him and two from the West’ards climbed up after him, trying to free the ball from his clasp. The three of them fell from the tree onto the waiting crowd below. Two of them got up again to continue, but the third who fell didn’t move. The crowd, a moving, clutching sea of bodies moving over him indiscriminately kicking and pushing, not sparing their weight or number.
As the melee continued slowly westward, four men were left behind, one was clutching his dislocated shoulder. The other was bleeding profusely from a cut in his head and the other two laid quiet and still curled in an awkward position on the damp ground.
At the centre of the crowd two men tussled for possession of the ball, three others grabbed at their tunics trying to pull them away. Four of the East’ards pushed, and gradually the ball moved further until it popped up at the top of the crowd. All in proximity tried to hit it and for a time it did move easterly. It sunk into the sea of bodies once again, one man holding it with eight of his folk pushing in front.
Two West’ards men, seeing what they were doing, managed to grab the ball carriers’ arm but as the crowd surged forward, his arm was caught and angled backwards the opposite way of movement. There was an almighty scream from him as his arm was caught. The West’ards men still had hold of it until they heard the ‘pop’ and consequent scream, the bone coming from its socket. He dropped the ball and clung to his shoulder, and the ball hung in limbo for a while possessed by neither team but supported by the numerous bodies.
That was until Thomas happened on it. He bent his head down and cradled the ball. Some were pulling his doublet eastward, others pulling westward. His tunic ripped, but he held onto the ball. One of the East’ards jumped up and over two men and latched onto his hair. He dropped the ball and wrestled his hair from the man’s grasp. The ball continued to move in a westerly direction through valley and vale, over dry-stone walls, through a blackberry bramble and at one point, through a vegetable garden. The wife and mother screamed blue murder from inside the cottage, fearful of going outside.
It wasn’t until sunset when the ball had finally been maneuvered through the poles just east of Moorhouse Lane and the East’ards celebrated their victory with cheers of celebration. They shook hands with those closest to them. Tired and tattered they made their way home for a celebratory ale at their favourite alehouse. Some limped, others had minor cuts and abrasions from the day’s play.
Thomas made his way home, ripped tunic, scratched, bruised sore and sorry for himself, they had lost the day.
Earlier, while Thomas was off playing ‘ball’, William escorted Margery home. As they approached, Margery continued to walk down the hill past the cottage. ‘Where are you going mother, have you lost your mind?’
‘William be silent, I have business to tend to, now nip on home ‘n stoke the fire,’ she said as she made her way down the hill.
Down she went, past more cottages, across the field and there it was the Hargreaves stone cottage. There was smoke coming from the chimney and the cattle door was open. There was no sign of John in the field, but she remembered it was Sunday as she noticed Mrs Hargreaves walk past the door.
She walked up to the cottage timidly, not wanting to surprise and scare her out of her wits, ‘Ayup, Mrs Hargreaves are you there?’ She called out. There was no answer.
‘Mrs Hargreaves? It's me, Margery Rushworth, I missed you at church. I thought I’d come by,’ she yelled while sticking her head in the door.
Suddenly, Mrs Hargreaves just appeared, ‘WHY DON'T YOU JUST LEAVE US ALONE?' She exclaimed angrily.
Margery was shocked by the outburst, ‘Oh I am so sorry Mrs Hargreaves, I missed you at church and wondered if something were wrong.’
Disappointed, Margery turned away, ‘I’m sorry ta have disturbed you so I’ll be on my way, good day ta thee Mrs Hargreaves.’
As she turned and started walking back through the field, she heard a soft whimpering coming from the cottage. She turned and went back, stuck her head once again in the cattle door. Allowing time for her eyes to adjust, she saw Mrs Hargreaves seated at a stool, face in hands sobbing. She undid the latch and went in.
Margery walked up to Mrs Hargreaves and put her hand on her shoulder, ‘There there pet, what's troubling you ta make you so sad on this beautiful day? Has t’ ‘husband’ beaten you? Av you lost a calf. Pray Lord, tell me!’
Looking up at Margery through tears, ‘I’m so sorry for bein’ rude to you, I don’t know what ta do,’ she broke down again sobbing into her hands.
‘There, there pet. Whatever it is we can help.’ claimed Margery in a soft empathetic tone.
Mrs Hargreaves stopped sobbing and wiped her eyes with her apron. Then she peered up and explained why they hadn’t been at church. ‘Mrs Rushworth, I was so pleased when we last spoke, but I must tell you a secret but you must swear not to tell a soul. We are recusant Catholics.’ She cupped her face in her hands and began to sob once again.
‘There, there pet.’ Putting her hand on Mrs Hargreaves shoulder, she reassured her. ‘I have no ill feelings towards you or yours, but sadly, I feel the union between our families can't go ahead. We have no wish to suffer the ire of the king or his church.’
Mrs Hargreaves sobbed again, 'Please, please help us, I fear for my daughter Agnes.'
‘Shuush now pet, no more tears, of course I'll help! Don't you worry yerself now. Remember we were all of the faith at one time. One God now another, it is what it is.’
Mrs Hargreaves could have never dreamed that a poor peasant woman from the moors would have such a profound effect on the future of her family.
‘Come now let me get you a brew,’ Margery walked over to the wooden barrel and poured, handing the leather jack to Mrs Hargreaves.
‘John is a stubborn man like his father before him and has refused to take the oath of allegiance to the English church these past two years.’
She then recounted how difficult it had been in their previous parish and how John gave up his land to leave and take up residence where they were not known. She told of how careful they had been to leave in the darkness of the night, without even as much as a goodbye to their family and friends.
Worriedly, Margery whispered, ‘You must conform or else receive the penalties and forfeitures, you could lose your land. Have you not heard about the magistrate in York who hanged a priest and another Catholic for no other offence other than their beliefs and secret prayers?’
Mrs Hargreaves gazed up at her, ‘We were in expectation that the laws would be more tolerant under King James, but since they tried to blow up Parliament, the laws have been set against us. So much so, that we live in constant fear for our own Agnes and the repercussions that would be directed at her if his lordship were to find out.’
‘Mrs Hargreaves, at the church the vicar told us of the king’s solemn decree. You have forty days to hear the divine service or risk conviction and lose thy land or worse. If you go to the church and hear the divine service like others, all is well,’ said Margery in a sympathetic tone.
‘That decision is not mine, but my husband’s,’ claimed Mrs Hargreaves looking at her in despair.
‘You must tell him, convince him for Agnes’ sake, for his and for your own. If not, then you must register with the justice of the peace and thou cannot travel out. You will be fined each Sunday service. Then…they will come looking fer ya’ and if they catch you, you’ll be imprisoned. You’ll lose yer land and who knows what else.’
Mrs Hargreaves broke down again whimpering, ‘My friend... in the last parish... was pressed to death because she wouldn't give up her faith. I know not what to do.’
At that point, the door opened and John walked in, surprised to see that his wife had company and was distraught, 'Mrs Rushworth, what brings you to these parts?'
He bent over in pain and groaned, ‘What’s going on?’ He grumbled assuming their secret had been exposed.
Moaning he held his forearm up against his chest grimacing in pain.
‘Are you okay Mr Hargreaves? Have you done harm to yourself?’ Margery asked.
Mrs Hargreaves, with puffy, red eyes, wiped the tears and stood to tend to her husband, ‘What’s wrong husband?’
He was bent over, his arm dangling loosely toward the floor.
‘Can I help you?’ Margery asked, waiting for reassurance from the couple.
She had seen this before. His arm looked as if it had come loose from the shoulder. Through his shirt, she could see a lump, a bone protruding from his upper arm.
The two women helped him over to the wooden form where they carefully sat him down. Mrs Rushworth lightly held his arm, ‘Hold him Mrs.’ She directed Mrs Hargreaves to hold him around the chest.
She then put her foot on his ribs under his arm and held tightly. She started to straighten her knee, and slowly pulled. He groaned, she pulled harder, he groaned louder and then with one last effort she pulled with all her might. They all heard a clunk. Mr Hargreaves frowned face turned instantly to one of relief; he stood clutching his shoulder, amazed by the absence of pain.
Mr Hargreaves, receiving a mug of ale from his wife, went on to explain how when playing ball, the crowd had surged forward, and his arm had been wrestled behind him. It was then that his disfigurement had occurred. He explained how he had dropped the ball, but it was too late, the damage had been done.
‘Mrs Rushworth, it is the second time in as many weeks that you have come to my aid and I don’t know how to repay you,’ he said, rubbing his shoulder.
Margery walked toward the door, peered at Mrs Hargreaves, not letting on, but silently encouraging her to discuss with her husband what they had discussed. He noticed their eyes connect and turned to look at his wife. What are these two up to? He asked himself.
‘I best be going, leave you two to your business, tarreur then,’ she said while lifting the latch and closing the cattle door behind her. Recusant Catholics 'ey? I was right that night! Pressing? Terrible way to go, errgh! Layin there bound to the four corners of a room while they place heavier and heavier stones on you until you either repent or die.
‘Husband, we must talk, there’s trouble brewing in the village. We have forty days ta visit divine service or else risk retribution from the justice. We will lose the land and Agnes will lose her duties at the manor. We'll be done for husband.’
‘Not if we leave for London Town,’ replied John, still rubbing his shoulder. ‘We could disappear again.’
‘Lose all that we’ve worked for again?’ Asked his wife sadly, 'I'm gettin' too old to be traipsing around the countryside husband. Then there’s the sickness about in London. What of poor Agnes? She doesn’t deserve a life like this.’
'Margaret! You know my thoughts on the subject! NOW GIVE ME SOME PEACE WOMAN!'
He only called her Margaret when he was angry. Mrs Hargreaves knew not to push him too far.
She gazed at him sadly. There’s nothing I can do, we’re done for.
Seeing her melancholy, he knew he should make things right, ‘Let us sleep on it wife, my heart is saddened ‘n my mind is muddled,’ he whispered tiredly, slowly standing.
He walked to his chair and sat, took out his clay pipe while looking to the hearth.
She watched him gazing through the flames in deep thought.
Later that night she heard and felt him climb into bed, much later than usual, with the rustle of the straw mattress. She could tell he wasn’t sleeping. He didn’t move, but she knew his eyes were open staring into the darkness.
It was a long night, and she didn’t sleep much either; she put another log on the fire to warm the room. She lpeered at Agnes; her long dark hair glistened from the glow of the fire. Her cheeks were rosey and her expression angelic.
Margaret thought about when her parents arranged her marriage to John. They had only met weeks before the wedding, and now 25 years later. Neither of them would say it was marital bliss, but he was a good man and she had heard stories of worse.
Agnes stirred as the fire got warmer and brighter. She would have to wake soon to dress and make her way to the manor before the cock crowed. She could have stayed there with the other servants but chose to stay at home helping her mother when she could.
Agnes always started early enough to tend the fire under the three-legged pot where the lord’s porridge simmered; and collected the eggs from the chicken coup before the cook and the three others arrived from their servant’s quarters upstairs.
Agnes and the other kitchen maids feared not only the chastisement from the cook but also the birch whip which she kept in the corner as a continual reminder of the need for humbleness and hard work. It had taken her a while to get used to the efficiency of the kitchen but was now an expert at simmering the sauces, roasting on the spit and ensuring there were enough utensils and clean pots.
John dressed and moved toward the hearth to warm himself. His shoulder hurt, but there was ploughing to be done.
‘Did you sleep well husband?’ Asked his wife as she handed him a bowl of oats.
‘I think you know the answer to that question, wife,’ he remembered their discussion from the previous evening.
Well, I may as well tell him. ‘There is one other thing I need to discuss with you husband. Mrs Rushworth has spoken of a union, her son Thomas and our Agnes.’ She felt guilty about not mentioning it earlier and prepared for the angry rhetoric that would come.
John paused, but the scathing words that Mrs Hargreaves expected didn’t eventuate.
He took a deep breath and blew out in frustration ‘So wife, I am to lose my God and now our daughter?’ He whispered sadly.
Mrs Hargreaves whispered to keep the news from Agnes who was sleeping nearby, ‘So, you have decided then?’
‘Best to do so than risk the justices’ rack, we cannot continually hide our thoughts and feelings, for Agnes’ sake. She will be wanting to make her own way in the world soon and we shouldn’t make this journey harder for her than it needs to be.’
‘They seem like a good family; you best arrange to meet with Mrs Rushworth again wife. It is time Agnes became a woman. Sunday.’ He said, then abruptly finished the last spoonful of oats, last gulp of ale and left walking out the door into the darkness.
Agnes had heard all this while lying there pretending to be asleep. She raised herself on her forearms with a quizzical look.
‘Mother,’ she whispered. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’
She sat up, her hair cascading over the side of her face. Realising her father had gone, she knew there was no reason to whisper.
‘This is business for your father, not for you daughter,’ her mother said sternly as she took John’s bowl and cup to the wash bucket in the kitchen.
‘I don’t want to get married; I want to stay here with you,’ she said while placing her linen smock over her head followed by the sleeveless kirtle. She put on her partlet, which covered her arms and upper torso, tied back her hair and finished off the ensemble with a wimple that she tightened.
Agnes was a pure country beauty, she had large confident green eyes crowned with dark, thickish, eyebrows, high cheekbones and long eyelashes. Her nose was straight with a cute button tip giving her an angelic look, her lips naturally red and plump, and her smile warmed the hearts of whoever spoke to her. Her face was framed by wisps of dark hair that had escaped from her wimple. Her skin was pale from working such long hours in the kitchen at the manor, but there was an adventurous, outgoing and strong-willed air about her.
‘Mother, do I not have a say in the matter at all? What if he’s a brute that beats me?’ She asked alarmingly, ‘Or even worse sends me to the ducking stool to be dunked like a washed linen shirt.’
‘No, you don’t have a say in it. The decision is your father’s to make,’ she said with a wise sentiment.
‘Best you tend to the goings and comings of the household with care girl.’ She said smiling, knowing that by all accounts from the people she had approached on the subject, Thomas was liked and well respected.
‘Mother, who is he?’
‘Thomas Rushworth of Hall Green, tenant to Lord Birkhead.
‘Tenant to Lord Birkhead, mother, he’s a peasant and not of the faith! Father won't allow it!’
‘ Yes well, at present beggars can’t be choosers.’
‘MOTHER I WON’T DO IT!’
‘ Lower your voice Agnes, you will do what your father asks and that's that. He knows the family and I have asked about him in the village. The family are well respected. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a fine man like your father and have many strong young ‘uns to help you sow and harvest the fields. If not, at least you’ll have a roof over your head and food in your stomach after we’re gone.’
Further up the hill, Margery walked through the half-ploughed field. She could see William chopping wood in the distance. She wondered how to approach the subject of Agnes with Thomas. Margery heard that she was a pleasant child but was she for him she pondered. Two-thirds of the women in the village were either unfit or widows, but Agnes was young, healthy and unspoilt. The fact they were Recusant Catholics was an issue, but that was not the fault of Agnes and besides they were freeholders. Best to wait before telling him anything, she thought.
When Thomas got back, Margery was impatiently waiting for him, ‘My goodness Thomas, where have you been? I’ve been worried sick,’ said Margery.
William piped in, ‘He’s been playin’ ball mother and they lost so he's grumpy, ahaha.’
‘QUIET WILLIAM.’ Yelled Thomas in an angry and disgruntled tone.
‘And look at thy tunic ripped, take it off straight away ‘n I’ll mend it for the morning,’ Margery took hold of her mending box she kept on the shelf.
Sunday came around quickly both Thomas, William and Margery woke early to the bell of Saint Michael's, dressed in their Sunday best they marched the half mile to the church. It was a glorious morning and summer was painting her best day of blues and greens.
They strolled into the chapel and through the great oak door, taking a pew mid- way down the aisle. Margery gazed around for the Hargreaves, but they were absent again. My God, do they not heed my advice? It wouldn’t be long before the wardens made a note of their absences after checking attendance against the manor court roll.
The vicar, newly appointed by the church council, had been commissioned to preach and instruct the people of Keighley in true doctrine of the Gospel of Christ. Yet he was unprepared and theologically illiterate; his saving grace was the people of Haworth didn’t know that and looked to him for guidance in the new ways of the church.
The parishioners were responding well and repeating each line of the prayer, after the vicar. When the door opened again; John, Mrs Hargreaves and Agnes walked in. Everybody in the church turned then whispered to the person sitting beside them.
Margery turned, smiled and turned back around, thank goodness for that she convinced him.
Thomas recognised John, his gaze lingered briefly looking at the young woman. That must be his daughter Agnes, a stranger to Sunday service he thought.
With a stubborn but apologetic look on his face, John took off his hat and directed his family to one of the rows in the back of the church. He noticed Margery, William and Thomas sitting in the pew a few rows down from them.
The vicar recited from the Book of Common Prayer,
‘Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who settest the solitary in families: We commend to thy continual care the homes in which thy people dwell. Put far from them, we beseech thee, every root of bitterness, the desire of vainglory, and the pride of life. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness. Knit together in constant affection those who, in holy wedlock, have been made one flesh. Turn the hearts of the parents to the children, and the hearts of the children to the parents; and so, enkindle fervent charity among us all, that we may evermore be kindly affectioned one to another; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’
The congregation repeated ‘Amen.’
John stood up, ‘Begging your pardon, vicar.’
‘Yes, my son, what is it?’
‘I have something to say…’
The congregation turned and looked at John whispering excitedly to the person closest to them.
The vicar hearing this raised his voice, ‘Please, please, this is the house of the Lord, please show patience and mercy to this family.’
He had spoken to John previously and explained to him what was required. John, unable to read or write, practiced what was meant to be said by reciting the words after the vicar. They sat on a bench outside the church and practiced until John could recite it word for word.
The vicar knew what was going to transpire. He hushed the crowd, ‘People of Haworth please be silent so that we can hear this man speak. PLEASE, PLEASE, please be quiet.’
This was the cue for the two wardens, members of the church council to stand and hush the crowd as they walked down the aisle. The congregation went silent in expectation.
John still standing, was joined by his wife and Agnes who embarrassed, looked toward the vicar pretending that there was nobody else in the room. Agnes could feel all eyes on her and briefly looked up to see Thomas glance at her with a nod of support; she looked down again quickly, not wanting their eyes to meet.
‘I, Johnathon Hargreaves…’ John stopped and looked at the vicar and he smiled back with a nod of encouragement to continue.
‘Do humbly confess and acknowledge, that I have grievously offended God in condemning his majesty’s Godly and lawful government and authority, by being absent from church and from hearing divine service, contrary to the Godly laws and statutes of this realm…’ John stopped again.
The vicar mouthed the words which helped him remember.
‘I am heartily sorry for the same and do acknowledge and testify in my conscience, that the bishop or see of Rome has not, nor ought to have, any power or authority over his majesty, or within any of his majesty’s realms or dominions and I do promise and protest, without any dissimulation, or any colour or means of any dispensation, that from henceforth I will from time to time obey and perform his majesty’s laws and statutes, in repairing to the church, and hearing divine service, and do my utmost endeavour to maintain and defend the same.’ John, Agnes and Mrs Hargreaves took their seats, looking timid and also relieved.
The church was silent, ‘Thank you Mr Hargreaves,’ Said the vicar, ‘We will look forward to your company each week for the service, now let us pray.
‘O God our King, by the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ on the first day of the week, you conquered sin, put death to flight, and gave us the hope of everlasting life: Redeem all our days by this victory; forgive our sins, banish our fears, make us bold to praise you and to do your will; and steel us to wait for the consummation of your kingdom on the last great Day; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’
The congregation repeated ‘Amen.’ As did John Hargreaves. Forgive me father he thought to himself.
The vicar waited for the congregation to settle, ‘It is with great sorrow that I inform you that the ‘Black Death’ has once again spread its net over London and York. Punishment prepared of the Lord, for consuming a people that have sinned against him no doubt. Dear people of Haworth stay vigilant and report any sickness to the steward and late-night travellers to the night watchman. Most importantly, repent, pray and ask our Lord and Saviour for forgiveness from your sins. God bless you all.’
The two wardens walked down the aisle, opened the large oak door just in time for the vicar to walk through to wait for the congregation outside.
The Hargreaves were the first to leave, not wasting any time, save embarrassment and condemnation from the parishioners; they walked quickly across the square and made their way to Sun Street for the walk down the hill. Mrs Hargreaves, however, took her time shuffling along, head down, deep in thought.
The Beginning’s Bride
William, Thomas and Margery walked out into the sun shielding their eyes; Margery looked hoping to see the Hargreaves outside but there was no sign of them. She was disappointed but understood considering the circumstances of the morning. They walked across the square and made their way to Sun Street for the walk home, William and Thomas walking ahead. ‘Mrs Rushworth… Mrs Rushworth!’
Margery looked around.
The vicar was holding up his cloth, so he didn’t trip on it, running to catch up to her distraught with his overexertion.
‘One of the parishioners asked me to give you this.’ He bent over to catch his breath and secretively placed something in her hand.
'She said you would know who it was from.'
‘Thank you, vicar,’ she took whatever it was that the vicar had given her over to the shade of a tree.
He, meanwhile, still trying to catch his breath, walked awkwardly back toward the church, stopping for a moment to turn and look towards the tree where Margery was standing.
She stood there for a moment and watched Thomas and William saunter down Sun Street. She was proud of her sons and the way they had matured since the passing of their father. She opened her hand and in it was a small piece of woven cloth which she unfolded. On it was a charcoal etching, a rudimentary drawing of a man and a woman holding hands. In the middle was a setting sun, at the bottom was a cottage. She smiled and continued walking down Sun Street after the boys.
By this time William and Thomas were out of sight, Margery ambled home enjoying the peace and quiet of the moors. A contrast to the vivid green farms, the thick, pink, bushy carpet of bell heather was just starting to flower and played out its drama as far as the eye could see. She could hear the songs of the red grouse and golden plover, and the clouds climbing over the hills cast moving shadows with the breeze. Margery thought about the possible union between Thomas and the Hargreaves girl. Now that John Hargreaves had converted, the union was appropriate, right age, similar backgrounds and financial circumstances. Another positive attribute was that she had an income and having worked at the manor could run a household well she hoped. Margery thought of Mrs Hargreaves, always working, could make her own ale, worked in the fields, mended clothes, surely this would have rubbed off on Agnes she thought to herself. The only question that remained was could she have children.
Margery briefly thought about the two boys that she had lost to whooping cough, ‘God rest their souls,’ she said quietly to herself feeling the pangs of sadness.
Arriving back at the cottage, Agnes was distraught with the idea of leaving her parents and her home. Her father was outside, and she dare not say much to him in fear. But she approached her mother. ‘Mother, I don’t want ta go, please,’ she whispered fearing her father may hear her objections.
Turning from the cauldron, Mrs Hargreaves reached up and placed both hands gently on Agnes’ face and she responded in an empathetic tone, ‘Now, you listen here lass this is not thy decision ‘n besides your father has already made up his mind. There is nowt I can do about it.’
‘You can convince him, tell him we need the coin from the manor.’
‘You must be joking, I’ll do no such thing!’
She thought about when their union had been arranged, they respected each other. Even liked each other, but as time went on, there was a quiet love that John would never admit to. He showed his love in different ways by bringing her the odd bunch of Spring flowers picked at the side of the road. A slight touch on her shoulder as he walked by while she sat on the stool milking the cow. A small piece of linen purchased on her birthday. She smiled thinking how lucky she was and hoped that Agnes could feel a similar affection one day.
Deep down, she knew that the union between Agnes and Thomas was a good match and wanted to see her daughter married and taken care of. The idea of her left alone after they were gone made her melancholy. What would she do? They had no other family in the area and their previous parish was far away. Besides who knows if their kin were still there or worse, taken ill of the sickness. No, their life was here, she thought to herself.
Agnes raised her voice, ‘MOTHER PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME DO THIS!’ Her eyes started to water.
At that point, the wooden door opened and John, ducking his head, walked in bringing dried peat for the fire which he dropped by the hearth.
‘Wife best cut some salted meat for pottage this evening. Make sure there’s plenty of ale and keep on thy Sunday best,’ he demanded.
‘There, there, daughter, it’s the best for all of us,’ dry thy eyes go put on your best, we are having visitors this evening,’ she said ushering Agnes away to the box where they kept their most precious things.
Mrs Hargreaves didn’t look up at John but looked behind to see the state of Agnes who had her back to her. John noticed the quiet uneasiness in the room, leaving woman’s business to the women.
Sitting down on the stool, he took out his pipe and lit it slowly puffing to get a good ember going. He paused and finally relented, ‘What is it wife? This quiet is deathly. Is there something troubling you?’ He asked in a dismissive tone, trying hard to be disinterested while re-lighting his pipe with a piece of straw.
Looking over at Agnes who still had her back to the room, ‘Daughter, we have visitors tonight so look thy best ‘n hurry up, help thy mother lay clean straw ‘n clean the mess.’
John walked outside and tended to the animals. He moved the ox and cow into the enclosure at the end of the cottage and shepherded the sheep in so that they were safe for the night. He topped the hay crib and filled the water tank.
Mrs Hargreaves moved position in the room, so that she could see him through the doorway, but he couldn’t see her because of the contrasting light. He stood leaning his foot on the top of the wood chopping block, elbow on knee, he was deep in thought, not showing an inkling of emotion. However, she knew this was a very sad time for him. He loved his princess more than life itself and would do anything to ensure her future.
While standing there, he thought about the loss of his two young sons to sickness, but quickly dismissed it from his mind, fearful of the pain it brought.
Meanwhile, Thomas and William had arrived back at the cruck house; they were inquisitive about why she had lagged so far behind until Thomas looked back and noticed her talking with the vicar at the top of the hill.
They each helped themselves to a jack of ale and a piece of dark bread that Margery had baked that morning. The Mastiff pups, realising that they were home, came in the open door and laid at their feet.
‘I felt sorry for poor young lass who stood beside her father at the chapel,’ said Thomas.
Swallowing his mouthful of ale, William replied arrogantly, ‘Bloody Recusant Catholics!’ William echoed the general will of the people in the parish who had become quite beloved of Queen Bess and the English church she represented and fought for.
‘Don’t say that William, times are changing ‘n we have ta change with ‘em,’ replied Thomas. 'We 'ave to be more tolerant.'
Margery walked in through the door, ‘Ayup you two, don’t get too comfortable, it might be Sunday but there’s still work ta be done, animals need sorting. Besides, we have an errand’ ta run this night, so no ball today!
‘What were you talking to the vicar about mother?’ Asked Thomas.
‘Church business Thomas, just church business, nothing to worry yourself about,’ replied Margery, before adding ‘Cousin Mary is coming with us this evening.’
‘Mother, in God’s name where are we going?’ Enquired Thomas, all the while William looked on quizzically awaiting an answer.
Well, I might as well tell ‘im.‘ You remember John Hargreaves, well… you are going to meet Mrs Hargreaves and Agnes Hargreaves tonight.’
‘What fer?’ ‘Well, no point in holding it back anymore. If everything goes according to plan, you are going to court her and marry her and that’s that,’ said Margery.
‘Mother, what have you done?’ Exclaimed Thomas. ‘SHE’S CATHOLIC!’
‘NOT ANYMORE SHE’S NOT! You’ll do as yer told and that’s that!’
‘I have no need to get married yet,’ he said in a rebellious tone.
Smiling, looking at his brother, William hesitated, ‘There, there, brother. Mother, he were soft on her at the church. Couldn’t take his eyes off her, he couldn’t. Lookin' at her bits and pieces he wer.'
Punching William in the arm, Thomas became angry at his suggestion then stood up, ‘Shut- up William before I give you a hiding.’
Lamenting, ‘Mother, I said I just felt sorry for her having ta stand up in front of the village, that’s orl.’
‘Well,’ said Margery, ‘You’ll get a chance to tell her yourself this evening. Now, go pick some spring flowers and bring them back so that I can make a posy for you to give to her.’
‘MOTHER! Am I not master of the house now? How could ya’ arrange all this without as much as a word?’
‘When you are married and have young ones, then you can be master of the house, for now BE OFF WITH YA’!,’ she said, raising her voice in that way she did just before she brought out the whipping stick.
The two young men slowly walked out the door to tend to the animals for the night and to do as their mother asked. They were not fearful of the lash but fearful of the loss of dignity represented by the whipping stick, something they remembered painfully, but usually imparted by their father.
‘Quickly, Agnes, help me move the table to the centre of the room near the fire,’ instructed Mrs Hargreaves.
Agnes placed a clay jug of ale on the table with several wooden bowls and spoons. Mrs Hargreaves placed a wooden platter of fresh rye bread that she baked for the occasion.
Agnes spread the new straw on the floor. She nervously stirred the pottage simmering in the cauldron under the chimney. Her face was flushed, partly because of the radiant heat from the fire and partly because of the blush when she thought back to seeing Thomas looking at her in church. She hadn’t much to do with menfolk. Well, except Johnny Nutter, the baker who occasionally tried to steal a kiss in the bake room at the manor.
She was urgently brought out of her thoughts by her mother, who had a panicked voice. ‘Ask your father to come in, they'll be here soon, the sun is starting to set, and the moon will rise swiftly tonight.’
Agnes went outside to find her father pottering around the vegetable patch scratching at the dirt with his hoe.
‘Father, mother asked if you could come inside now.’
‘Tell her I’ll be in soon,’ he leant the hoe against the wattle fence. ‘AGNES wait, come here daughter. I know you're not happy about this, but it is for the best I assure you.
Agnes shook her head, ‘Father, I dread it!’
‘With no sons of my own, when I and your mother go, the land will pass to you and then to your husband. Thomas Rushworth may not be a freeman, but he knows the way of the land and how to work it. Furthermore, having a husband not of the faith will protect you.
She still wasn’t convinced, ‘I do this for you father and no other.’ She turned and walked toward the door of the cottage.
John looked down at the ground hoping he was doing the right thing. He started to walk toward the lightness emanating from the open door. As he did, he heard the dogs bark and the voices of people near.
They walked up the hill along Marsh Lane, ‘Mr Hargreaves, it's Mrs Rushworth and family coming,’ she called out, so as not to alarm him.
Thomas held the torch aloft so that John could see their faces.
‘Mother Rushworth,’ he paused, ‘Thomas,’ he walked up to him and shook his hand. ‘A pleasure to see you again. Maybe I can repay your hospitality. Please come in,’ he directed them toward the cottage door. 'It's not much, but it's home and the acre of wheat comes in handy. We mill it ourselves, saves giving that steward anymore than we have to. Wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him!'
Mrs Hargreaves responded to her husband’s greetings and stood at the door smiling, ‘Hello Mrs Rushworth and a hearty welcome to you and your family; please come in, let us wet your whistle and fill yer tummy.’
John waited, as they approached, he ushered them into the cottage, putting his hand against the door to provide a wider entrance. ‘The wife has added meat to the pottage just for you, Agnes brought it home from the manor yesterday.’
They each stepped through the door, ducking as they went into the cottage that was lit by the fire and impromptu oil burners placed in positions of advantageous illumination. The cottage was warm and inviting and more significant than their cruck house.
A layered stone and mud structure with a thatch roof, the chimney was the focal point of discussion allowing the smoke, from the fire, to escape.
'Always wanted a chimney,' said Margery as she stood there walming her hands.
The hay crib was at the end of the cottage but cordoned off by a small wall, the ox, three lambs and a cow helped themselves to the hay on offer. A large half barrel, filled with water, was close by for the animals to drink and often for John to dunk his head in after too many ales. The chickens and the rooster were in for the night and spent their time scratching at the fresh straw on the floor for any maggots that they were lucky enough to find. In the centre of the room was the bed and at its foot the dowry chest, an exceptionally large one full of all manner of collectables to make married life more comfortable.
Agnes and her mother were very proud of the things contained in the chest; they had been collecting and making since she was a little girl, even before she knew its purpose.
The inner roof was a patchwork of thick wooden trellis holding the thatch, keeping out most of the weather but not the sparrows who loved to nest in it. The product of their nesting often spotted the earthen floor and furniture unless John could get up there and ring the necks of the chicks in Spring. They did make a tasty addition to the pottage once undressed and gutted.
‘Mrs Hargreaves let me introduce my Cousin Mary and my youngest son William and of course, my eldest Thomas.’
Agnes came forward out of the shadows, ‘And this is my Agnes,’ Agnes looked up and smiled, feeling awkward with all of them gawking at her.
William couldn't wipe the cheezy grin from his face.
‘Please have a seat at the table near the fire, Agnes pour ale,’ demanded John sitting down at the head of the table.
Agnes keen to be kept busy started placing the leather jacks in front of the guests, then started pouring.
When she got to Thomas, he looked up at her and she didn’t know where to look. She blushed, nervously spilling some of it on the table.
‘Don’t waste it, Agnes, it’s one of your mother’s best,’ John exclaimed while laughing loudly trying to ease the tension.
‘Try it Thomas, tis good ale,’ he said while slapping him on the back.
Thomas and William lifted the jack and took a swig, John’s was almost gone by that time and gestured to Agnes for a refill. Agnes walked over and topped up the jack, then went around the other end of the table to top up the boys.
Thomas, once again looked up at her and smiled, ‘Ta,’ he whispered, realising that it wasn’t loud enough for her to hear, coughed and thanked her again. She turned and walked over to her mother, holding the bowls for her to spoon the pottage.
‘Mother, make sure Thomas gets some of that meat,’ said John, demonstrating his seniority over the women in his life. Agnes looked at her mother’s facial expression as she rolled her eyes. Is this what I am supposed to endure, erggh! She asked herself. Agnes looked at her mother sympathetically, wondering why her father had to treat her like that when others were about.
Margaret was used to it in the company of others and didn’t pay it another thought, quietly ensuring that everybody received a piece of meat in their bowl.
They all sat, Agnes opposite Thomas and William, Margery opposite Mrs Hargreaves, John and Cousin Mary at the opposite ends of the table.
‘We should say grace,’ said John, ‘Thomas, would you mind?’ John saw it as an opportunity to pass some seniority over to Thomas. He also didn't know prayers of the Church of England.
Mrs Hargreaves and Agnes were curious because they knew he always said grace at the dinner table.
They all bowed their heads and closed their eyes except for Thomas. He kept his eyes half shut and slyly looked at Agnes. She could feel his eyes on her.
William’s eyes were also half-closed, wanting to have a good look at Agnes to identify any imperfections, but there were none besides small breasts, well, smaller than Lucy at the Kings Arms. She had a sweet face though he thought.
Thomas began, ‘Give us grateful hearts, our Father, for all thy mercies, and make us mindful of the needs of others, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’
They all repeated, ‘Amen,’ John making an extra effort so as not to offend and to keep his pledge made earlier that day. He was glad to have Thomas say grace, saving any embarrassment from the version that he usually used.
After they had finished the meal, Margery looked at Thomas, frowned and directed her eyes in Agnes’ direction. Thomas rolled his eyes and then stood up, took a step towards Agnes who was pouring more ale. He said her name, but it didn’t come out right, so he coughed and repeated it but a bit louder than was required, ‘Agnes, this is for you,’ he took a step forward awkwardly, taking the posy of flowers that had wilted somewhat from behind his back and held them up to her.’
Agnes had a startled blush, not used to hearing her name coming from him. She slowly placed the tankard on the table and reached out to take the flowers which bent over her wrist. Embarrassed by the gesture, she looked around at a room fool of silent spectators watching to see her reaction. She couldn’t find the words to express herself and before she could, her mother interjected.
‘How lovely, Thomas. Let’s put them into some water straight away and we will dry them tomorrow as a keepsake,’ said Mrs Hargreaves.
‘Oh, that reminds me, I have this for you,’ said Margery while placing the sweet bread, she had baked on the table.
‘Oh, that’s grand,’ said Mrs Hargreaves as she cut pieces and placed them in the bowls which had been licked clean.
Agnes took polite bites, trying not to make eyes with Thomas. Thomas ate slowly, playing with his pie even though he was hungry. He felt uncomfortable in John’s cottage and tried to mask his nervousness with interest and questions about the chimney. After they finished the pie, there was an uneasy silence, none of them knowing how to commence with the business at hand.
‘Agnes, take Thomas out and show him the vegetable patch, take one of those oil lamps with you,’ ordered John.
Cousin Mary followed the two out the door to leave Margery and the Hargreaves to their discussion. William had another piece of sweet bread and listened to the discussion.
Agnes walked ahead around the corner of the cottage past the animal enclosure, Thomas followed, and Mary kept about ten paces behind them. ‘It’s a grand night the stars are bright,’ said Thomas as he looked up clumsily trying to break the silence.
‘Aye, a grand night indeed and here’s the vegetable patch, carrots and the beans,’ she paused, lifted the oil lantern and looked at Thomas who smiled at the absurdity and they both laughed.
She felt more comfortable and more in control away from her father and mother, it pleased her. It was the first time she'd seen Thomas laugh and she liked it. She thought, maybe this won't be so bad after all. He's quite likeable...and handsome in a rough sort of way. She still had her reservations.
‘What on earth do ya’ think they're talking about in there?’ Agnes gazed at Thomas, becoming increasingly impatient.
‘There’s still the dowry and the lord’s coin to be arranged,’ he whispered shyly, knowing the order of things after quizzing his mother on the way over.
‘And you, is there not a young lass in the village that you’re sweet on?’ asked Agnes inquisitively.
He noticed how confident Agnes was away from her mother and father and he was a little intimidated. Her green eyes sparkled in the light of the oil lamp. He noticed her high cheekbones that had a bit of colour from the chilly night breeze and long eyelashes. Her skin was smooth, and her face framed by wisps of dark hair that escaped from her linen caul.
‘Nooo,’ he smiled, ‘Not at all, too busy working the lord’s fields for such things. I saw you in the church this morning. It were brave standing up in front of the whole village,’ uttered Thomas, feeling more at ease.
‘Times are changing ‘n we must all change with them’ she said wisely. Grandad is probably turning in his grave right now.
Thomas gazed at her and whispered,‘Will you remain a Recusant Catholic and say yer payers in secret if we are to be married?’
She smiled, ‘Nooo, I will pray to the God my husband prays to, of course, and so will our children.
‘Anyway, enough about that, ‘And you, is there not a fine handsome prince that comes visiting the manor that might take your fancy?’
Agnes turned away, ‘Well maybe there is and I’m just keeping my options open,’ she said coyly.
‘Well, Ms Hargreaves?’ Thomas smiled and bowed, ‘Please don’t let me stand in your way.’
Back in the cottage, all manner of discussions and debates were occurring between Margery and John, Mrs Hargreaves preferring to stay out of it.
‘So, the way I see it, there are three or four things that we need ta discuss before a union: Impediments, integrity, dowry ‘n payment for the lord for marriage,’ stated John in a very businesslike manner.
Margery respectfully agreed, ‘Now that nasty issue with the church is out the way is there any other reason why our Thomas and your Agnes shouldn't be together? Prior young ones, former betrothal, sickness of the mind?
‘No she's as fit as a fiddle and should produce many young ’uns,’ said John confidently. I will provide two sheep, twenty shillings, glory box and the ox for the dowry. Thomas, to make payment to the lord with the shillings, agreed?
Margery paused and thought for a moment, ‘Agreed,’ replied Margery.
Also, she earns 7 pennies a day at the manor, don’t forget. Out of my purse into yours,’ assured John. ‘Oh, then there’s the land, it’s not much only two acres. Having no sons, this will pass to Agnes and then to Thomas by betrothal.
Margery smiled, ‘then it is agreed.’
Cousin Mary noticed John standing in the lit doorway of the cottage and interrupted their banter; she whispered, ‘Come we must go back.' She started walking toward the door, looking back to ensure they were on their way.
Thomas followed whispering and quickly declared, ‘If this does happen just know we can be friends, you, me and your Prince ‘n if anything else transpires then so be it.’
Agnes turned toward the door, leaving Thomas to walk behind her. She smiled at his comment, saying nothing but knowing inside that she felt more at ease. He is nice, 'friends', I think not.
When the three of them walked in, Cousin Mary took her seat, Thomas and Agnes remained standing, both blushing and both feeling uncomfortable, a similar feeling they remembered from childhood when their parents found them doing wrong.
Margery stood and approached. John Hargreaves commenced, ‘Thomas Rushworth do you agree ta have the banns read, to court Agnes for a period of one month, announce thy names and intent ta wed—on three successive Sundays at church and undergo handfasting one month from now?’
Thomas looked at Agnes who looked away, wondering what he would say.
Stuttering, ‘Aye, aye, I agree,’ he answered.
Looking up she turned to look at him but said nothing. His face was chiselled and weathered, his boyish good looks hardened, but still invigored and alert. Thick dark brown eyebrows crowned dark, honest, deep-set eyes. He is handsome and pleasant. He'll make a grand husband with a little bit of pruning.'
'Hope yer prince won’t mind,’ he whispered under his breath so that only Agnes could hear.
She turned, blushing, feeling slightly embarrassed about what she had said earlier. She gazed at her father.
‘Right then, you can court my daughter,’ stated John proudly.
They all clapped and cheered, John walked toward Thomas, shaking his hand and slapping him on his back.
Margery put her hands on Agnes’ upper arms and whispered, ‘He’s a grand bloke ‘n will make a fine husband.’
Margery took a step toward Thomas, grabbed him about the sides of the face, pulling his head down toward her and standing up on the tips of her toes, kissed Thomas on the forehead.
She felt sad that her dear husband wasn’t there to take part but then thought, knew, that he was probably watching from a better place. He'd be so proud, she thought.
William, never backwards in coming forwards, stood from the table walked up to Agnes and gave her a peck on the back of the hand. ‘Welcome to the family Agnes, and if you ever get sick of him take me, the better of the brothers,’ he said smirking and looking at Thomas for a reaction.
Thomas glared at William, grinned and whispered under his breath to Agnes, ‘Well he better stand in line.’
Agnes, even more embarrassed, smiled falsely, looked to see if anybody was watching, lifted her elbow to nudge Thomas for his remark. Thomas smiled and looked ahead, giving nothing away.
The atmosphere immediately turned to one of celebration ‘Wife, Agnes, pour ale ‘n cut that pie WE'VE SOMETHING TO CELEBRATE,’ yelled John somewhat relieved that the serious part of the evening was over.
Others from around Oxenhope heard the celebrations and revelry.
John took out his pipe and walked to the hearth of the fire, beckoning for Thomas to join him. He stuffed his pipe and lit a piece of straw in the fire, lifting it and shielding the flame with the palm of his hand. He placed the flame delicately at the top of the bowl of his pipe and puffed, paused to look at the ember and puffed again knowing that the ember was a worthy one.
Thomas stood by the fire, warming himself but feeling a cold discomfort. He watched Mr Hargreaves light his pipe and was impressed by his dignity, trying to forget his indignity weeks past when they had found him. Thomas thought to himself, who would have thought that one day we would be carrying a drunkard home and the next saying the banns for his daughter.
‘Tis a funny world we live in,’ Thomas whispered to himself.
‘Aye it is,’ said John looking down, appreciating the fire and relishing a quiet moment among friends.
Thomas looked into the flames then back at the ladies who were keeping themselves busy with their whispers, giggles and pretense at cleaning the mess.
Meanwhile, William was finishing the last of his pie, looking up at his big brother and Mr Hargreaves, he felt out of place and awkward being the youngest. I wonder how this will change things at home. They can’t move here, two acers isn’t going to support the family.
‘William have you had enough?’ Asked John slightly louder than was necessary but reaffirming his right as master of the house.
‘It’s never full John he could eat the horse from under his lordship’s saddle, Thomas quipped.
William heard the conversation and joined in the laughter, he left his empty bowl, stood and reached out to the fire to warm his hands.
It wasn’t until very late that they said their goodbyes and started on their way home, lighting the way with an oil lit rag wrapped around a branch. Thomas was happy with how things had gone but he wondered if he would always feel like this. Things in his life always seem to have a way of becoming… complicated. She is a lovely lass, but so much more responsibility, then children. It's hard enough feeding us.
On their way, Thomas thought back to the discussion with John about his layered stone and mud house with the chimney. John told him about the labour shortage from the sickness in York and now was the perfect time to talk to the steward about building a new cottage for his mother and Agnes.
His mother wasn’t getting any younger and a warmer cottage that kept the drafts away would better her journey into old age. It wasn’t often that a parent was alive to see the marriage of their son, but he hoped it might be different this time.
William walked along a bit merry from the strong ale, ‘So brother have you thought about yer weddin’ night yet?’
Thomas remembered what William had said to Agnes and went to grab him, but William was too fast and stepped just out of his reach. Thomas left somewhat off balance regained his footing.
‘William, I am going to thump you ‘till your black and blue!’ He yelled while trying to intercept his brother’s run.
‘You’ve got ta catch me first, Tommy boy,’ William smiled and stayed just out of arms reach.
Thomas was angered and put on a burst of speed that William wasn’t expecting, caught him and had him in a headlock, knocking him on the top of the head with his knuckles.
‘THAT'S ENOUGH YOU TWO,’ yelled Margery laughing at their antics but getting weary from the walk and the lateness of the hour.
'THOMAS LET HIM GO!'
‘That’ll teach yer Willy boy. I can still catch ya’ and give you a hidin’.’
As they walked along Moorehouse Lane the quiet was disturbed by rustling in the bushes so Thomas investigated, holding the torch high.
Two men jumped out, their faces hidden by cloth masks and shielded by the darkness. Cousin Mary shrieked raised her hands to her face in fright and took a step backwards. Thomas and William stepped in front of them protectively.
‘Who do we have here then? Seems you’ve been celebratin’,’ said one of the men, his voice muffled by the mask he wore on his face. He was brandishing a sword.
‘STAND AND DELIVER AND NOBODY WILL BE HURT,’ yelled the other masked man holding a knife and a club, nervously moving the blade back and forth.
‘WE 'AVE NO COIN,’ Margery raised her voice in the hope that somebody else might hear the commotion. At that point, William ran at the masked footpad, trying to tackle him to the ground.
‘NO WILLIAM!’ screamed Margery as he lunged forward.
The footpad stepped, lifted his arm and brought his club down on the back of William’s neck. William thudded to the ground, groaning. Cousin Mary sobbed. The robber grabbed William by the scruff of the neck, lifted him and pushed him roughly back towards the others.
‘Now then, there were no need for that. If you give us yer coin you can be on your way.’ ‘If not, the situation can be quite different.’
Margery stepped from behind Thomas, ‘WHY DON'T THEUR LEAVE POOR FOLK ALONE?,’ She yelled.
'QUIET WOMAN, before I cut out your tongue! Come now you've been celebrating, surely you have coin for the dowry.’The footpad moved the sword from Thomas to Margery, ‘Well then, if you have no thought for yourself you might have for the old wench.'
‘ALRIGHT, alright leave her be,’ Thomas reached into his purse and brought out the three shillings John given him to ask for the lord’s blessing of the banns.
The second footpad took the coins, ‘There there, that wasn’t so hard now was it, not as poor an destitute as the old wench makes out. Right you are, all of you turn around ‘n say the Lord’s prayer and don't turn back until you finish. Why risk it on this fine evening?’
By the time they turned around, the footpads had vanished into the darkness. Thomas turned quickly and ran toward the edge of the trees to see if he could see them, but it was too dark, and the torch could shed light only so far.
William sat by the side of the road groaning and rubbing the tender part of his neck.
Thomas approached him, ‘Are you okay brother?’
‘Let’s get him home. Come on Cousin Mary, the night is a devilish one with evil creatures lurking, let’s get home quickly,’ said Margery worriedly.
They continued to walk home mostly in silence, except for poor William who continued to rub the back of his neck." I almost had him, didn't I ma?'
'Yes my son, you did, now less talk about that, lets get you home.'
Thomas thought about the bandit his voice sounded, well, familiar, but couldn't place it. Who were they ? Locals? No couldn't be?
When they got home, Thomas helped William to a stool, sitting him down so that Margery could have a look. She helped him take his shirt off and dabbed the red and blue that was starting to appear, on his back, with a wet cloth.
‘Where did you get the shillings Thomas?’ Margery asked inquisitively.
‘John gave them to me earlier ta pay for the lord’s permission for the banns.'
‘Why'd ya' fetch it with thee tonight? You know there’s been footpads working here abouts,’ claimed Margery angrily.
‘Well, ta get the lord’s permission this week before next Sunday or else cop the fine for him not knowin,’ pleaded Thomas.
‘God help us. Where are we gonna get twenty shillings to make up the lost dowry?’
Thomas looked down, almost ready to kick himself then he looked up ‘Did you say twenty shillings, he only gave us three shillings.’ They both looked at each other with relief.
‘I will visit John tomorra night,’ said Thomas. 'He should be told what happened.'
‘Aye and you can pay a visit ta thy new young lass,’ Margery went to the chest and pulled out a linen sewn handkerchief she made. ‘Give this as a gift.’
After sewing the seed all day, Margery and William, still aching from the previous night, were tired from weeding and scaring the birds so they went back to the cottage.
Thomas continued to Sun Street past the broken drywall, cottages on the left, rising hills dotted with sheep on the right. Up the hill he went where it turned into Marsh Lane. The setting sun over his left shoulder, lighting the way. Thomas finally reached the top of the hill and let his legs carry him down the other side. Down he went past more cottages, Moorhouse Lane, across the field and there it was. The Hargreaves stone cottage, cattle door open; the light of the fire escaping through the shutter.
The dogs barked, ‘John are you there? It is I Thomas,’ he called out. Agnes appeared in the light of the door.
‘Father is away, but mother is here, it is grand ta see thee,’ said Agnes and pleased with his visit.
Thomas had noticed that she had taken off her Sunday best, but she still looked pretty in the working clothes that she wore. He could see the gravy stain on her apron where she had been mixing and the flour still in her hair from the manor kitchen. He had never seen her with her hair out and he was impressed, long and dark with a slight wave which added to the shine.
‘I must speak to your father; we were robbed last night on the way home, William was hurt, two footpads brandishing swords and bludgeons. They threatened mother and stole shillings your father gave me.’ Mrs Hargreaves looked over,
‘Is William alright? John is out tending to the crop but your welcome to stay and wait for him, sit by the fire. Agnes pour Thomas an ale.’
Thomas sat at the form near the fire as Mrs Hargreaves had instructed. Agnes poured ale and walked over handing it to Thomas who looked up at her.
Agnes blushed, ‘Would you like something to eat? We have the pottage from last night and some good dark bread, that I made this morning, I brought it back from the manor.’
‘Will you sit with me for a while?’ Asked Thomas, shuffling over to make room for her.
Agnes looked over at her mother for approval, who looked away, letting Agnes make her own decision.
She sat feeling far more comfortable than last night. They didn’t say a thing, just enjoyed each other’s company. Staring into the fire, they both seemed mesmerised by the dancing flames. That was until the dogs started barking and Agnes could hear her father approaching. She immediately stood up feeling self-conscious and trying to overcompensate by walking toward the door, ‘Farther, Thomas is here, he has bad news.’
‘So I can see,’ said John, not used to having other men in his house when he arrived home.
He took off his hat and hung it on the nail, ‘So what is this bad news Thomas?’ He enquired.
‘We were robbed by two footpads on the way home last night. They belted William and made off with the three shillings that you gave me.’
‘Sard’, exclaimed John with an angry contempt, not for Thomas, but the brutes who got away with the three shillings. ‘That’s the second time!’
Both Mrs Hargreaves and Agnes were taken back by this because they rarely heard their father swear, ‘Please husband sit and have your tea, what is done is done,’ pleaded his wife sympathetically.
‘Tomorrow we will both go to the manor to ask for an audience with the steward and report these brutes!’ Exclaimed John.
‘Tonight, you can stay here; we will go first thing in the mornin’.’ Agnes brought over a bowl of pottage and tankard of ale for her father at the table and a tankard of ale for Thomas.
Agnes sat down beside him, ‘Are you okay Thomas?’ She enquired.
‘Times are hard enough without all this,’ Thomas said sadly.
‘No use in crying over spilt milk at least William is okay,’ she whispered wisely. ‘Are you still in the frame of mind that you were last night? Any doubts?’ She looked at him inquisitively.
‘No doubts at all,’ said Thomas confidently. ‘And you and your prince?’
She smiled and lightly elbowed him.
Then he remembered, ‘Oh, I have something for you.’ Standing he reached into his tunic and handed Agnes the linen handkerchief, ‘I hope you like it.’
‘Oh, nobody has ever given me anything so beautiful before,’ said Agnes, blushing.
‘The pattern is fine, such intricate work and the colour of that rose, so beautiful,’ she held it up to the fire to inspect the stitching.
‘Are you nervous about saying the banns on Sunday?’ she asked worriedly.
‘It's my duty,’ said Thomas. ‘I will build us a house made of mud and layered stone, with a chimney and a thatch roof. When you are ready, we will have children, many children,’ stated Thomas in a mature, demanding tone.
Agnes looked at him, raising her eyebrows, ‘Will we now? Do I not get a say in these plans of yours?’ she asked cheekily.
Embarrassed, Thomas realised he had overstepped the mark, ‘Please forgive me, I have insulted you,’ he looked down and shuffled his feet.
‘Not at all,’ claimed Agnes, ‘I was just wondering whether you wanted my help or if I was to just lie there in the mud and layered stone house,’ she grinned, enjoying toying with him.
Feeling guilty and looking defensive, Thomas started to try to explain himself, ‘Agnes, I only meant….’
Agnes liked his naivety, she smiled, then he realised she was goading him. He shook his head, ‘That was mean.
‘Why was it mean?’ she asked, still smiling.
‘Because I thought I’d insulted you,’ he claimed, looking down at the gravel floor, shuffling his feet. He felt inexperienced in the ways of women.
John and his wife were sitting at the table facing away from them, John looked back to see Agnes smiling and Thomas saddened for some reason, ‘What is going on?’
‘Well, Agnes is smiling so I wouldn’t worry,’ grumbled Mrs Hargreaves.
‘Ayup, how do ya’ know she’s smiling wife? You haven’t turned around to look since the last bells.’
‘I don’t need ta turn around husband, I see things perfectly well.’
‘Wife don’t say things like that or else thee will be labelled a witch,’ John whispered.
Mrs Hargreaves looked down at the table and tapped the knife that she used to gut fish and smiled. Holding it up at an angle with the blade’s edge resting on the table, she could see the reflection of Agnes and Thomas by the fire.
‘Wife, sometimes you are too cunning for thy own good,’ John laughed that laugh when he was really amused. The laugh where his head rolled back and his stomach pumped in and out, and the holes of his missing teeth were visible for all to see.
Agnes noticed his peculiar jocularity, ‘Father, what is it?’ It was rare that she saw him in such good spirits, especially after a full day in the fields. It pleased her.
‘Agnes, I just remarked to your mother how good she is with the blade, you know, gutting fish and all that.’
Mrs Hargreaves stood up from the table, ‘Right you two it’s time for bed, Agnes get out the mattress.’
Thomas stood up from the bench and started to walk toward the animal fixture at the back of the cottage.
‘And where do you think you’re going Master Thomas?’ Mrs Hargreaves called out stubbornly 'You get right back here, you will not be sleeping with the animals tonight,’ she said confidently as she reached for her sewing kit.
Agnes threw down the straw-filled mattress and disappeared into the corner of the cottage to disrobe and brush the flour from her hair, a nightly ritual.
Mrs Hargreaves threw a linen blanket on the bed, ‘Lie down here Thomas,’ she instructed.
Thomas felt awkward, ‘Mrs Hargreaves,’ he muddled his words, ‘I don’t think this is, well, right and proper,’ he claimed.
Embarrassed, he looked over at Mr Hargreaves who had poured himself another ale and sat there smiling his gummy grin.
‘Now, doff thy hose and tunic,’ she demanded, helping him untie. Thomas looked around for Agnes; she was absent. Thank goodness, he thought.
Mr Hargreaves continued to drink his ale in front of the fire and watched the commotion. He tried not to laugh.
‘Mrs Hargreaves, this is right peculiar,’ said Thomas as she helped him undress, pulling his hose by the bottom, lifting his buttocks right off the mattress.
Thomas grabbed for his undershirt, ensuring it covered his nether regions.
‘Don’t you be too concerned about that Thomas Rushworth, seen it all, nothing you got that me two sons didn’t have.’
Mrs Hargreaves was saddened by the thought but relished the idea of having another young male in the house. It brought back golden memories and disturbing ones that she pushed from her mind.
When Agnes returned, she looked like an angel. She had a pure white linen undershirt on that hung to her knees. Her long hair had been brushed, the flour was gone, and it shone like silk. She had washed her face with cold water that had brought a rosy colour back to her cheeks. Her nipples were erect from the draught, slightly visible through the linen because of the light of the fire.
She laid down beside Thomas, not saying a thing but smirking seeing him there in the light of the fire, bundled up in a linen sheet. Mrs Hargreaves had sewn the outer two edges together with thick string at the front and folded up the bottom and sewn it shut. The front had been neatly sewn to the edge of material at the back over his shoulders. The only thing visible was Thomas' head sticking out of the cocoon-like garment.
He could barely move and had a look of resentment on his face. He dared not say anything, but he could feel the tiny creatures starting to move about his crotch. He tried to scratch but didn’t want to arouse any suspicion about what he was doing under the cover.
A minute later, Agnes lying beside him eyes open, stared up into the darkness and moved her hand closer to feel Thomas’ hand through the linen. Thomas opened his eyes staring up into the darkness too reciprocated. They both laid there in silence for a while until Mr Hargreaves belched, passed wind and then started snoring.
Agnes giggled and whispered, ‘Welcome to the family.’ She rolled over and tried to go to sleep.
Thomas, feeling the bedbugs running over his chest and the fleas itching his crotch, smiled in contentment, closed his eyes and laid there all night not sleeping a wink. Agnes didn’t move at all for some time, and he could hear her slow, relaxed breaths. When she did turn over, he could only see the outline of her face in the darkness, wisps of breath touched the side of his face and he wished it was lighter so he could see her rosy complexion up close.
The next morning, Agnes got up, went to the back of the cottage, dressed and went outside while Thomas was released from his bundling by John using his wife’s gutting knife. Mr Hargreaves approaching with a knife was not a pleasant experience, especially after spending the night lying beside his only daughter.
Mrs Hargreaves was already up and completing the morning chores. The sun was not up yet, but the household was in full swing. Mr Hargreaves led the cow and ox out to the common green. Mrs Hargreaves ushered the four sheep out of their keep attached to the back of the cottage. Thomas donned his hose, tunic and jerkin and adjusted his codpiece quickly before they came back inside.
A few minutes later Mr Hargreaves returned and walked through the door wet from the Yorkshire drizzle that had just started. ‘Did theur sleep well Thomas?’
‘Aye John, warm as a bug in the rug,’ he said thinking about the bed bug bite marks on his chest and the itch from the fleas that were imprisoned with him for the night. He scratched.
Mrs Hargreaves smiled at the pun knowing that he was referring to the sleeping attire that she had provided.
Mr Hargreaves looked at Thomas with a serious look on his face, ‘I’m going to do some weeding ‘till sun is fully risen, then I’ll meet you at your cottage, we can go to the manor together.’
‘Ahl be off then, sithee later. Where is Agnes?’ enquired Thomas.
‘Oh, she's long gone to the manor lest she be fined or whipped for being late,’ answered Mrs Hargreaves.
‘You can come back around t’night if theur like. We can make you as warm as a bug in a rug again.’
Thomas grinned, realising she had picked up on his attempt at humour, ‘Right, tarreur then,’ said Thomas as he opened the cattle door and walked through.
On his way home, he thought about last night and he felt warm and content as if a large weight had been removed from his shoulders. He remembered how Agnes had touched his hand affectionately through the linen bundling and smiled; then he frowned thinking about the new responsibility that he had to care and support her. His mind started to get all jumbled up with worries. What if she wasn’t a good wife? What if they couldn’t have children? What if there was a drought and he couldn’t provide for her and the young ones? He tried hard to dismiss the thoughts and concentrate on the job at hand, weeding the field and going to the manor.
When he arrived home, Margery and William were already out in the fields. They were both wet and miserable from the continued drizzle but were happy to see Thomas lend a hand. Weeding and looking for pests on ten acres was a challenge.
‘And where have you been young Thomas?’ asked Margery, ‘Is your own family not good enough for you anymore that you must stay out to all hours?’
William, less sore from his argument with the truncheon added, ‘He’s been kanoodling with Agnus mother, I wouldn’t expect much effort from him thereabouts.’
‘Shut up William!’ Shouted Thomas as the drizzle started to turn into larger droplets and run down his face.
Thomas picked up a hessian bag laying on the ground, walked along the valley beside the seedlings pulling the chickweed and charlock from the ground.
‘William, you must accompany Mr Hargreaves and I to the manor later, we are going to report last night’s happenings to the steward.’
‘And a lot it will do too,’ grumbled William. ‘They are long gone by now!’
‘I’m not so sure about that.’
It doesn’t matter William, still has to be reported for the good of the village,’ said Margery, getting a cold shiver down her back from the coldness of her soaked kirtle.
The three of them remained silent as they trudged along in the relentless rain, occasionally stopping, standing upright to ease the stiffness in their back.
A ribbon of bright orange was the only indication of the start of sunrise. It burst through the dense cloud, trying hard not to be swallowed up by the sky. The birds started to make their morning song, silhouettes against the grey curtain of cloud. Some of them flew down to the field to get an early morning feed of worms that had ventured out of the damp ground. The Pennine moors shone under the enlarging orange beam of light that started to creep up the sky.
Margery, Thomas and William made their way back up the hill, hessian bags full and thrown over their shoulder, their woollen clothes soaked through as they shivered. Their woollen and hide foot coverings were caked with mud and slippery underfoot, forcing Thomas to lend a hand to his mother.
They opened the door and walked in, William shivered and sneezed. Thomas walked straight to the hearth and put another log on the fire, then stood there holding his hands out to the radiant heat. They all undressed, taking everything off except their undershirts. Margery hung their cloth