i 57926919a60851a7 (2 page)

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If she intended to keep them together, and she did intend to do so, where was she going to get the money for food? The thought, forcing itself up from the depth of her mind into the open, caused her to jerk her head to the side and answer it by saying.

"Me da said they were never to go down the pit."

She walked abruptly over the road, past the end cottage, and on to the fells towards the river, and as she went she thought, William's afraid of the dark. Jimmy is an' all, and she knew that the mine represented to them, as it did to all the children. Parson Hedley's hell. This had no doubt come about by her mother telling them of how she was taken down first when she was seven and helped her da to fill the bogies, and some days she was down for fourteen hours.

When she came in sight of the children sitting quietly on the bank of the bum that ran into the river, a spot where they usually played and pledged, she stopped and, looking helplessly about her, muttered aloud,

"What am I goin' to do?" Of a sudden she had the desire to drop on to the heather and cry her heart out. But her da had always said that tears were a waste. Tears, he was fond of saying, were a woman's weak kidney. Cry and you'll have the whole house crying; laugh and they'll be with you. He was right, he had always been right; they had laughed a lot in the house. He had a way of making people laugh, seeing the funny side of things. He had even e made her mother laugh, and her as bad as could be. But oh, at this moment she wanted to cry.

Jimmy turned and, seeing her coming, got to his feet, and the others followed him. Another time, when they came up with her, they would have yelled and shouted and danced round her, demanding, "Come on, our Cissie, have a game," but today they just looked at her for reassurance.

Seeing to them, organizing them, would be nothing, she had done that for years; it was where to get the money to feed them that was the problem. She looked at Bella, who was staring at her unblinking.

Bella was almost herself in miniature, at least outwardly. She said to her, "Take Sarah, Charlotte, Joe, and Annie and go to the wood and gather as much kindling as you can."

"Ar^you going to bake, our Cissie?"

SSSiooked down at Joe. Joe was always hungry, his devilishness seemed to give him an appetite.

"Perhaps, later," she said; then turning to Jimmy, Mary, and William, she added, "You come back with me." And so they split up, the smaller children going across the fell in the direction of the wood while the older ones, walking docilely behind Cissie, returned to the hamlet.

It was as they came round the hump and in sight of the cottages that they saw the carriage outside the door, and they all stopped and looked at each other, but didn't speak. Then they made their way down to the road, Cissie still keeping a step ahead.

When she reached the door it was to see four men standing just inside it. One was the carpenter who was seeing to the coffins, and another was Parson Hedley, but the other two men she hadn't seen before, and the sight of them filled her with apprehension.

It was Parson Hedley who spoke.

"Ah, Cissie," he said.

"Ah, well now."

Following this, he bent his tall, thin figure slightly side wards and looked back into the room in the direction of the bed. Then joining his hands, the fingers of one hand overlapping the palm of the other, he pressed them together, and this created a sucking sound. He now brought his length bending towards Cissie, saying in an undertone as if conveying a secret, "This is Mr. Riper." He slanted his eyes towards the smaller of the two men.

"And this, his clerk, Mr. Fuller. Mr. Riper is a ... well, sort of representative, Cissie, if you know what I mean." He paused here as if to give her time to take in this statement.

"He ... he has come to help you about the matter of the children."

Cissie now stared at the plump figure of Mr. Riper, thinking the while that he was very much like his name, ready to burst out of his skin.

Mr. Riper returned Cissie's look. His eyes had already taken in her thin body. But then that was nothing to go by, the thin ones, like racehorses, were often the stayers. But there were another nine of them, four up to five, he understood, and one, as he saw, still in arms. Well, they'd better get on with it. He said in a thin voice that was in contrast to his plump body, "Give us the names and ages of the children."


"Whyl" He glanced from his clerk, who had a pencil poised above a thick sheaf of papers, and, looking at Cissie again, he screwed up his small eyes and repeated, "Why?" then went on swiftly, "Because, girl, they are to be put in care of the Poor Law."

"NO! Oh no, they're noti" She pushed past Parson Hedley and the carpenter and, the child clutched tightly against her, she backed towards the table until her buttocks were resting against it, and from there. she stared at one face after another before exclaiming,

"They're not! You'll not. They're not goin' into the house."

"Now, Cissie. Cissie." It was Parson Hedley coming forward.

"You cannot hope to look after the family now your father is gone. It is happening all about us;

all the families who have lost their men folk are going into care, that is unless they have relatives willing to take them. Have . have you got any relatives you could go to? " He asked the question but he already knew the answer.

Her mind racing, she searched for relatives, but there were none. Her father's people had died of the typhoid when he was eighteen. Her mother hadn't seen any one of her family since she had left her home all those years ago, and anyway they were in West Riding at the other end of the world. But if they had lived across the road, would they have taken nine of them, ten with herself?

"Well, there now, what can you do, child?" Parson Hedley's voice was soft. His hands were joined together again as if he were suffering, as indeed he was, for this was the fourteenth family he had been to today in the three villages and five hamlets that made up his parish. But of all of them, he had dreaded coming here most, because this family had always been different, inasmuch as they were united and loving and clean, as far as it lay in their power to be so, and if they could have stayed together he was sure that this girl would have seen that nothing was altered, because she was of the same mold as her father.

"I'll work; Jimmy, Mary, and William, they can work an' all," she was gabbling now.

"And Bella, she's seven, she can start. We're all work, but we're not going to the house. I'm tellin' you we're not goin' to the house. Me da wouldn't rest if he thought we were going there." She turned towards the bed and looked towards her father's face, stiff, white, and more clean looking than she had ever seen it before, although he was always washing himself in the river.

"Ungrateful. Ungrateful." The thin voice brought her head round to the fat man. He was wagging his finger at her now, saying, "You should be thankful that the town is willing to take on the responsibility of feeding and housing your family. It you change your mind it might not be so easy for you to get in, I'm warning you. Come." He jerked his head at his clerk; then, turning to Parson Hedley, he said, "I'll leave this to you; I've three more to see in Brockdale. Are you coming?"

Parson Hedley nodded, then turned and looked sadly at Cissie and said softly, "My dear, we must talk about this. If I can't come back tonight I'll see you tomorrow after the funeral. Wait ... wait for me then."

She looked now at the coffin-maker. He was still standing within the doorway, his face turned towards the three men entering the coach, and not until it moved off did he look at her. Her face was even whiter than before, if that was possible; she looked all eyes and hair. He found her gaze disturbing, as if she were blaming him for the situation. There was fear in her eyes besides defiance.

He had made coffins over the past two weeks for a number of families who had lost their men, and he had seen that fat pig. Riper, dispose of the children with less feeling than a man sending sheep to market.

Riper was a draper with aspirations. As was the rule, he held the term of office as Custodian to the Poor Law for a year, and any money he issued for relief was rarely spent at his shop since food was the first necessity, and this disgruntled him, and he had been known to give only two shillings in cash and a shilling ticket for draperies.

He blinked his eyes twice when she said loudly, "They'll not do it, I'll not let them."

"How will you manage?"

"Somehow. The boys'll get work. Do you know anybody?"

He thought a moment, then shook his head. He'd had no need to think, the question had been asked of him dozens of times lately.

"Do you want anybody yourself? Jimmy's small, but he's ten and strong;

he'd be good at carpentry. "

He moved his tongue over his full lips then drooped his head slightly to the side before saying, "I'm sorry, but ours is a small concern, we're not carpenters, we're wheelwrights. There's only the two of us.

Another man, he came in when my dad got hurt. We can just keep going.


His voice trailed away and he looked down towards the floor. He didn't know why he was standing here explaining things to her. He should be on his way and getting on with the job else those boxes would never be ready for the morrow morning. He moved uneasily from one foot to the other; then, glancing towards the mantelpiece, he said, "Don't worry about the money, I'll take the clock."

She didn't thank him but just stared at him, and after nodding twice at her he went out and closed the door behind him. She remained standing stiffly for a moment. Then, going to the side of the fireplace, she put the sleeping child into the wash basket on rockers, which formed a cradle, and when she straightened up she stood with her toe working the rocker and all the while staring at her parents. And now again she wanted to cry, and she could because there was nobody to see her.

When she sat down at the table, her face in her hands, the tears didn't come--the pain in her chest which was swelling and swelling seemed to be blocking their escape--yet her mind was not dwelling on the loss of parents now but was ranging widely around the word "work."

If she could only find work, somewhere where she could have Nellie with her. But that cut out factories such as the Rope Works and the Pipe Works. In any case, they were in Shields and that was too far away, about four miles, and she'd never be able to walk there and back each day and see to the rest of them. If only she could be set up in some big house, or farmhouse roundabout, but she knew there was little chance of that. Dilly Taggart down the Row had been trying for such a position tor over three months now with no luck; everybody was sitting tight, nobody was changing. The only hope of jumping into anybody's shoes was if they took the fever or the cholera and died.

Things had gotten worse over the last year. Everybody put it down to the Jarrow pit strike, and Tommy Hepburn. Tommy Hepburn they said was a great man, but she herself couldn't see anything great about a man who organized strikes, because strikes to her mind meant less food and not only for pit men But she remembered it as an awful time for the miners for the troops had come from London and turned them out of their cottages, and, because anybody who took them in was letting themselves in for the sack, there was no place for them to go except the fells.

Even when the strike was over some of them were never set on again, and these took to the open road with their families. The few who braved the winter on the fells were less in number when the spring came. The farmers, too, roundabout had taken a high hand at the time; her father had said that some of them were more uppish than Lord Fischel himself. They were controllers of food and such men could act like God. Farmers Woolley and Thornton were like that, she thought, but not Farmer Hetherington. Tomorrow, when it was all over, she would go to him; if anyone would help her he would.

But now she must think of a meal for them. She had only those two loaves left. She looked towards the open cupboard. She would get twelve slices out of each if she cut them thin; but one must be left for the morrow. She would also keep the bit of pig's fat for the morrow. Tonight she would boil the turnips and spread them on the bread. That should fill them. Another thing she must do as soon as the boys came back was to get the mattresses out of here and into e the other room. It wouldn't do to let the young ones sleep in here tonight, for the smell now was really turning into a stench.

The two coffins were on the dung cart. The high sides had been left on but the back had been taken off. The women of the hamlet stood at their doors in respectful silence while the Brodie family took their places behind the cart. Jimmy and William first, Mary and Bella next;

behind them Sarah and Charlotte; and lastly Cissie, and by her side Mr.

Snell, the only man, besides the driver, present. He was there only because he was recovering from the fever and wasn't strong enough as yet to return to work; the other men in the hamlet couldn't lose a day's work to go to a funeral unless it was someone in the immediate family; and it wasn't proper that women should attend. Mrs. Patterson and Mrs. Taggart had both voiced their disapproval to Cissie for allowing the girls to go. Charlotte, at the ripe age of five, had been left to take charge of Joe and Annie; Mrs. Robinson had taken the baby.

"Gee-upl" The old horse moved and the cart swayed and the funeral procession began.

The road from the hamlet lay straight for about a quarter of a mile with open fells on one side and low-walled farmland on the other. When the farm cart rounded the first bend in the road there lay ahead a long slow rise, and it was ten minutes later when they reached the top of it. The road on the high ground was rougher and the cart rocked and the coffins moved from side to side in the foot leeway they had, and the children slipped and stumbled and broke the orderly formation of the procession until Cissie's outstretched hand pushed them into place again.

BOOK: i 57926919a60851a7
2.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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