CHARLEY O’ MARY’S O’ MALLEYS
O’ TH’ HEIGHTS
WHEN I next met
with old Harry our conversation turned on the interview which I have
just narrated with Mary o’ Malleys o’ th’ Heights. ‘Well,’
asked the engineer, ‘hoo’s a gradely owd soul, isn’t hoo; a bit o’
burnished gowd, though hoo is poor; one o’ th’ elect, yo’ know, as
waits for her craan i’ t’other shop, an’ hoo’s earned it an’ all.
Rich i’ faith, as th’ parsons say, an’ one who’s done aboon her
share o’ good works. But that young’st o’ hers has welly broke
her heart; but hoo lives i’ hope, an’ mak’s her prayers for him
every day. An’ th’ owd lass believes they’ll be answered an’
all. But it’s a dry job when yo’ pray for th’ undoin’ o’ yore
own foolishness; an’ it were Mary’s folly ’at set Charley wrong.’
‘She indulged him, I suppose,’ I said.
‘Yi, an’ aw durnd wonder. He were a lad as had a way o’
gettin’ raand yo’, an’ th’ better end took to him. He were
nobbud a weyver like Blunt Tummis, but one o’ th’ young maisters
geet him into th’ office, an’ like as soon as he dropped th’ shuttle
an’ took up th’ pen there were th’ dule to play. Aw’ll tell yo’
what it is, there’s aboon a few as cornd stand corn. Porritch
is a gradely dish for most o’ us, an’ if Charley had stuck to’t he’d
ha’ been all reet. But he geet on th’ meat diet, an’ it
poisoned him, it did for sure. Aw seed it long afore it come;
but there were no tellin’ oather th’ owd woman or th’ lad.
Honest friends is noan welcome i’ these parts, an’ it’s mony a year
sin’ naa aw learnt to keep a quiet tongue i’ my head, where other
folk’s childer were consarned. Yo’ll never hear aught wrang
agen yore own, will yo’?’ And Harry looked quissically into my
face for the assenting nod which from time to time so inspired him
in his stories.
‘You’ve learnt in a hard school,’ I replied, ‘but your
lessons are none the less true. But what of Charley?’
‘First o’ all he started wi’ his line talkin’, an’ th’ lad
forgeet th’ speech he were born to. Then he took to dressin’
aboon his station, an’ he left th’ owd tailor i’ th’ village for a
swagger chap i’ Manchester. After that he began to drop his
owd cronies, nobbud noddin’ where he used to meet ’em, an’ that not
often. Yo’ know what followed? He began o’ knockin’ them
balls abaat as they co’ billyyards, an’ suppin’ summat stronger nor
ale. Aw’ll tell yo’ what, a chap hasn’t to go far to find his
road to th’ dule. He con geet to him onywhere, an’ Charley
geet to him fro’ where he were bred an’ born.
‘One momin’ he were missin’, an’ noabry seemed to know where
he’d gone. They dragged th’ lodge, an’ searched th’ pits, an’
advertised i’ th’ papers, but there were no Charley, an’ th’ lad’s
never been heard on sin’. It fotched th’ white into his
mother’s yure, but hoo bore up like th’ woman as hoo were.
There were as went to her to sympathise wi’ her aat o’ curiosity
like; but they couldn’t catch th’ owd woman. Hoo said naught
an’ kept her sorrow to hersel’. Hoo said more to yo’ yesterdo’
nor aw ever heard her say afore. But then yo’ see yo’ geet
howd o’ th’ photograph an’ axed her whose it were.
‘As yo’d see, th’ lad were never aat o’ her thoughts.
Like as love clings to that as spurns it; th’ fatted calf were
killed for th’ waistrel, yo’ know, an’ not for him as stopped awhom
an’ did as he were bidden; an’ if Charley come whom to-morrow Mary’d
spend her last penny o’er th’ feast; for after all there’s no fools
like mothers, though they’re th’ best o’ fools.’ And the old
man fell into one of his ruminating moods, silently gazing and
blinking at that child of steel and iron over which he himself had
spent so much affection for so many years.
We were suddenly aroused by the sound of some one stumbling,
the lifting of a latch, the clanking of clogs, and a muttered
imprecation; then a tall man seemed to fall headlong into the room.
‘Corndta lift those feet!’ shouted Harry, waking from his
reverie. ‘Thaa’rt awlus gawmless, as thy mother towd us
yesterdo’. Wheer’s them nutmegs? Let’s see; haa mony
didta buy?’ And when I looked into the face of the one thus
addressed, I recognised the photograph of “Blunt Tummis” which I had
seen before in Mary’s home.
‘Ne’er mind th’ nutmegs, Harry,’ said the lad: aw’ve good
news for thee. We’ve heard fro’ Charley, an’ he’s comin’
‘Doesta call that good news?’ asked the steely engineer.
‘He’d better have lain quiet an’ left daycent folk alone.’
A look of pain crossed the lad’s face, and his eyes filled
‘He were no friend to thee, Tummis, aw con tell thee.
Aw’ve seen him put on thee shameful, makkin’ thee carry his pieces,
an’ borrowin’ thy savin’ brass till thaa’d naught left.’
‘But then he were aar Charley, thaa knows, Harry.’
‘What by that? Yo’ were his Tummis.’
‘But that wirnd bein’ Charley,’ replied the simple-minded
fellow. ‘He were th’ young’st, thaa knows, an’ th’ bonniest,
an’ th’ cleverest.’
‘An’ yo’ made him th’ worst, naa, didn’t yo’? Leastways
yore mother did.’
I saw that Thomas’ heart was full — too full for speech; so I
took upon myself to speak for him, by chiding Harry for his somewhat
uncalled-for cynicism. ‘Blood’s thicker that water,’ I said,
‘all the world over, and we are to rejoice with those who rejoice.’
‘Rejoice! There’s a deal to rejoice at, when him as has
brought naught but sorrow turns up again to bring yo’ more;’ and the
old man turned away to his engine, looking up at it with wondrous
affection, and saying as he did so, ‘Thaa never did naught wrang,
didta? Bless thee! nobbud when we worked thee too hard, an’
thaa come i’ pieces.’
After some talk with Thomas, in which in his broken fashion
he gave me shreds of their family history, I went with him by
request to his mother’s house, to share with him the old woman’s
‘It were i’ his own hondwritin’,’ said he, as we walked
together to the cottage. ‘My mother’s read it o’er an’ o’er
again, till her owd eyes fair wattered, an’ hoo’s smoored
(smothered) it with kisses, an’ pinned it i’ her bosom to keep it
fro’ gettin’ lost. Hoo’ll not let me look at it, becose, as
hoo says, aw nobbud mar all as aw touch; but hoo’s read it to me,
an’ it’s Charley all o’er again, barrin’ his nowtiness.’
As we climbed the field path together, I the while listening
to the simple fellow’s genuine talk, the outrush of a noble
brother’s soul, I fell to thinking of the treasures of worth hidden
away in the common domesticities of life. Here, in a cottage
home, were mother and brother, faithful as the morning sun that rose
behind the hills, beneath whose shelter they dwelt, their waking
thoughts travelling far beyond to where they dreamt their child
might roam; their first prayers breathed for his welfare; their
unuttered speech a silent converse with him whose voice they longed
to hear; and the burden of their memories the days he had shared
with them in their home. Truly, I thought, this is the love
that gives cohesion to the family, and hope to life.
I found the house, as we entered, radiant with the old
woman’s smile. There she sat transfigured beneath the light of
a great joy: no longer the Mary of the previous week; time had
seemed to roll back the years, and I caught a glimpse of what she
had been in the glory of her womanhood and in the pride of her
maternity. She was young, she was beautiful, despite her
three-score years and their labour and sorrow. A holy light
seemed to diffuse from around her, and touch everything with its
radiance. The sunlight was kindlier, the plants in the window
sweeter in their scents, the fire more playful in its glow, and a
soft purring sound came from the old woman’s feet, where the cat was
curled in sweet content — at least I thought so.
In a little while I saw there had been changes in the room.
The photograph which had hung in the shadow lay dusted on the table
by her side, whereon a meal was spread, as though she were expectant
of some guest, and a chair stood in the ingle nook which was not
there on my previous visit. The surprise was greater to Thomas
than myself for he looked in astonishment, at last blurting out
after his simple fashion, ‘Nay, mother, what naa? It’s mony a
year sin’ yo’ had th’ best chiney aat; an’ what han yo’ fotched th’
owd cheer daan fro’ th’ attic for?’
‘E’ Tummis, lad, thaa were awlus simple. Th’ Almeety
sent thee aboon an aance short o’ wit, or else thaa’s made bad use
o’ that He’s gave thee. Doesn’ta know as aw’ve getten ready
for aar Charley? He’ll noan be so long naa. Aw’ve noan
getten a fatted calf but aw’ve a cock chicken ready yon, an’ a
pummer it is an’ all. He awlus liked a toothsome bit, did
Charley, bless him! an’ he shall have it as long as his owd mother
lives, an’ hoo’s brass to geet it.’
‘An’ that chiney, mother!’ said Thomas, dazed with wonder.
‘Yi! lad, it were thy grondmother’s, an’ nobbud love lips sup
aat on’t. An’ th’ cheer were th’ last aw seed him sit in afore
he went away, an’ noabry’s set in it sin’, nor will they till he
It was too much for me, and I turned into the garden to
swallow down the emotion which I was vexed with myself for
betraying. It was a golden evening. Long bars of fading
light were dying across the moors, and wreaths of blue vapour played
lazily around the cottage roofs below. The factory was hushed,
spindle and loom alike having ceased their noisy play, and now the
voices of the toilers in mirth and song floated upward from the
vale. Trees in the garden were lengthening in their shadows,
and the murmur of insect life sounded dreamily upon the ear.
In a little while Mary followed me, and stood by the bench on which
I was seated, Thomas following her, silent yet deeply moved.
For some moments nothing disturbed what to me was an expectant hush,
Mary’s eyes being fixed on a distant gap in the valley where the
tunnel terminated with a line that ran from the city beyond the
Longer grew the shadows, as one by one the bars of moorland
light yielded to the approaching gloom; then a haze of mist fell
hiding the more distant objects until at last we looked out upon a
little world growing less and less with the fall of evening.
‘Can yo’ still see th’ tunnel maath, Tummis?’ asked the old
woman, arching her eyes with her trembling hand.
‘Yi, forsure aw con, mother.’
‘Weel, thaa mun tell me when thaa sees th’ first puff o’
steeam fro’ th’ engine ’at brings th’ train up fro’ Manchester.’
And mother and son continued to look in the direction of the
No longer the shadows lengthened, for they had kissed the
nightfall and were asleep in its arms; but the stars came out to
keep their vigil with the expectant ones.
‘There’s no seein’ th’ tunnel naa, mother,’ said Thomas.
‘Nowe, lad, there isn’t, so thaa mun listen for th’ skrike o’
th’ whistle.’ And now the ear was as intently strained as had
been the eye.
‘Aw wish they wouldn’t mak’ so mich din daan i’ the village,’
said the old woman.
‘Din, mother,’ said Thomas; ‘there isn’t a breath stirrin’.’
‘Yi! there is,’ she said, ‘there’s Whitam’s dog i’ th’ fold,
an’ th’ wind yon i’ th’ rookery ’ll noan be still.
‘Hooisht !’ said the old woman.
And as we held our breath there was a rustle of leaves in the
old elms, and the faint cry of a benighted bird.
The moments marked off the minutes, and the minutes were
tedious in their flight-at least so thought those who were waiting.
When suddenly the still night air was rent by the piercing shriek of
the train emerging from the tunnel, and a sudden change in the
signal lights flashed out the joyful message of arrival.
That piercing shriek, so harsh, so torturing to the nerve,
was as a great joy-cry to the tremulously expectant mother; and no
birth bells, nor wedding bells, ever sounded in ears the welcome of
that station bell, as it was rung that night by thoughtless porter’s
‘Go thy ways an’ meet him,’ said Mary to Thomas.
‘Meet who?’ asked the simple youth.
‘Thy brother ’at’s alive again.’ And with one mad bound
the lad leapt out into the darkness.
‘They’ll nobbud be abaat seven an’ a haive minutes, by th’
maister’s reckonin,’ said she, turning to me; ‘that were th’ time he
allowed hissel’ i’ comin’ fro’ th’ station, an’ aw reckon they’ll
step it aat as fast as he used,’ and she turned in her cottage to
gauge the measure of the time.
As the minutes passed the old woman’s excitement became more
intense, but it was the excitement of suspense and of silence.
Her whole body was tremulous with restraint, and there was just
light enough to discover those tremors and twitchings that tell of
the terrible moments of soul tension. I ventured to lay my
hand on hers. It was cold, though the pulse was beating fast,
and there was no response to my touch. Suddenly she left me,
this time not to consult the clock, but to walk down the garden
path, and bend her ear across the gate that guarded off her domain
from the road.
‘Hear yo’,’ said she, ‘that’s a footfalll’ and slowly the
But it was only a weaver plodding towards his moorland home;
and as he passed he greeted her with a ‘Good-neet, Mary,’ to which
the kindly old woman forgot a return.
Then came the sound of voices, low and hushed.
‘They’re here,’ she said.
But it was only two lovers, crooning in life’s young dream.
Then came another pause, broken at last by a steady tramp,
and as nearer and nearer it fell, it linked itself with voices clear
‘Aw’m noan mista’en this time,’ she said. Nor was she.
For as two men loomed in the darkness the voice of simple Thomas
‘Thaa’rt a gradely prophet, mother; he’s come whom, an’ for
good an’ all.’
I slipped out into the darkness, from which the men emerged,
and hid myself to hide my tears, and to hide myself from the
mother’s joy and the son’s repentance, too sacred for any eyes save
those of the angels in heaven, who we are told, rejoice at every
On the morrow when I met with old Harry he greeted me in his
rudest vernacular by asking, ‘Han yo’ heard aught?’
‘Have you?’ I inquired.
‘Yi!’ he said, ‘he’s come whom, an’ i’ a better mind an’ all.
Th’ owd lass is wick with glee. There were some fine feastin’
up at th’ cottage last neet. A cock chicken, an’ bacon collops
an’ all, an’ th’ best chiney fotched aat, an’ Tummis geet his
concertina daan and played “Owd Lang Syne,” and “Home, Sweet Home,”
an’ th’ owd woman would have ’em wind up wi’ th’ “Owd Hundreth,” and
they sung it to th’ Doxology or summat, an’ all for a waistrel, a
lad as broke his mother’s heart. E’ dear, it’s a weary world.
Aw wonder when they’ll kill a cock chicken o’er Tummis? an’ he’s
worth a thaasand o’ th’ likes of yon spark. Aw cornd piece it
up, onyroad. Aw’ll noan believe it’s reet even if th’ Bible
‘There’s something stronger than the Bible, Harry,’ I said.
‘What’s that ?’ asked the old man.
Then I told him it was a mother’s love.
As we were talking, Thomas came into the engine-house, a
smile lighting up his broad face. There was no stumbling
through the door this time, for his step was light and nimble; and
seizing Harry by the hand, he seemed to play with him for some time
‘Here, owd mon,’ said Harry, ‘mind what thaa’rt abaat.
Aw’se want that hond yet a bit to fettle th’ engine wi’.’
But Thomas continued to wring it and to raise it in such a
series of quick successions that Harry began to question his sanity,
and shouted out:—
‘Drop it, aw tell thee, thaa mun be off it. Durnd play
thy mad tricks on me.’
Great tears began to stream down poor Thomas’ cheek, and a
sob almost choked his utterance as he said, — ‘He’s come whom,
Harry, he’s come whom.’
‘Weel, thaa needn’t lame a chap o’er th’ job, needta?
What’s he baan to do naa he has come. Tak’ up his clerkin’
‘Nay, he’s goin’ back to his looms. It were th’ clerkin’,
he says, as sent him to th’ dule.’
‘Oh, indeed!’ was the cool rejoinder. ‘There’s some
folk gets there fast enough, choose what they do.’
‘But he’s had enough,’ said Thomas.
‘Let’s hope so,’ replied old Harry; but I saw the engineer
turn aside and quietly raise his cotton waste to his eye; and when
he again turned towards us there were white streaks on his grimy
face, which told of channels ploughed by those rivers whose source
And what of Charley o’ Mary’s o’ Malley’s o’ th’ Heights?
He was true to his vow, and laid aside his clerking, for good
and all. The pen which had been his temptation he discarded
for the shuttle, toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing, and finding over his
looms that balm of life which he had failed to taste in those fields
in which he had wandered, and where, to use old Harry’s expression,
‘he had fed th’ swine, an’ ne’er been paid even i’ gettin’ his share
o’ th’ husks as he’d put i’ th’ troughs for ’em.’
THE WEAVER’S WEDDING
tell yo’ what,’ said old Harry to me a few days after Charley’s
return, ‘aw think folks are losin’ their wits. There’s Mary
yon killed a cock chicken o’er th’ home-comin’ o’ th’ young waistrel,
an’ naa they say Blunt Tummis is baan to get wed. It’s a weary
‘You are in a melancholy mood, Harry, this morning,’ I
laughingly replied. ‘Why shouldn’t old Mary be glad, and
Thomas wed a wife?’
‘Weel, aw noan envy th’ lass her job. Tummis is a
daycent lad, an’ meeans reet; but a chap as’ll buy nutmegs by th’
paand as they buy tay an’ sugar, will nobbud be gawmless abaat th’
haase, to mak’ th’ best on’t. Aw wonder haa he shapped his
‘What?’ I asked.
‘Shapped his maath, yo’ know, when he axed her if hoo’d wed
him. Aw never thought as th’ lad could show up for a job o’
‘Love is bold,’ I said, ‘and knows little of the
fears that overcome old men like ourselves.’
‘But there’s gam (game) i’ owd uns,’ retorted old
Harry. ‘Leastways, there were when Sammy o’ th’ Brig popped th’
question to Mary o’ Margaret’s, seventy-five year agen
seven-an’-twenty. An’ he geet her an’ all, an’ a gradely wife
hoo made him. But then he had brass, an’ Tummis is nobbud a
three-loom weyver, an’ a bit blunt an’ all. Aw con understand
a chap facin’ up to a woman when he’s gettern a bit o’ summat else
beside hissel’ as he con offer her, a haase an’ furnitur’, an’ an
owd stockin’ wi’ summat in it. But when a chap’s naught but
hissel’, an’ naught mich o’ that, then it’s up another street, to my
thinkin’. An’ there’s nowt mich i’ Tummis, poor lad, naa is
‘Well,’ I said, ‘Thomas has character.’
‘Character!’ cried the old man; ‘it’s baance an’ brass women
i’ these parts go in for. A chap as con talk, an’ ape th’
quality, an’ put a brass ring on his hond, an’ tees his stomach up
wi’ a chain, an’ swings his stick as though he owned th’ side o’ th’
street he walked on, an’ were baan to have t’other side left him
when his faither deed — them’s th’ chaps as fotch th’ lasses.’
‘Come, come,’ I said; ‘if you’d a daughter you would rather
turn her over to the care of a man like Blunt Thomas, as you call
him, than to one of the dandies you speak of.’
‘It’s happen as yo’ say,’ was his reply. ‘Aw’ve naught
agen th’ lad; he’s been a daycent son to his mother; an’ they say
them’s th’ sort as mak’s daycent husbands. But aw thought
Sarah Ann would ha’ looked somewhere else than to Tummis.’
‘Who is the girl?’ I asked.
‘Aw durnd know as yo’ con co’ her a girl,’ replied the old
man, rubbing his head with his cap, as though bothered in the
calculation of the woman’s age. ‘Hoo’s been a mony years an’
never growed no owder ― at a ston’still like. But hoo’s owd
enough to look after him, an’ that’s a deal when a felley’s noan so
sharp. Hoo’ll be a mother as weel as a wife to th’ lad, yo’ll
see; an’ what he’s short on hoo’s getten, both i’ sense an’ years,
an’ aw daresay i’ brass an’ all. Aw durnd understond it.’
And again the old man rubbed his bald brow with the greasy
head-covering he called a cap.
Just then, who should step briskly into the engine-house but
the man whose fate we were discussing.
‘Mornin’, Harry,’ said he; ‘grond day, isn’t it?’
‘So it seems, to look at thee. Thaa’rt liftin’ thy
feet, aw see, an’ thaa looks fair breetsome. Has somebody left
thee a fortin or summat?’
‘Nay, Harry, aw durnd know as they have.
‘What fortin aw get aw shall have to work for.’
‘Even if it’s a wife!’ I slily suggested.
‘Yi!’ said Harry; ‘aw hear thaa’rt baan to join th’ club.’
‘Th’ Consarvitive Club?’ asked the simple-minded fellow.
‘Nay, aw meean that club where felleys tee theirsel’s to
their wives’ apronstrings, an’ have to ax ’em for three-hawpence for
haive an aance o’ baccy.’
The poor lad was confused, and blushed to the roots of his
hair, stammering something which I failed to translate, and
betraying the soft place in his heart for Sarah Ann.
‘Naa, thaa’rt tellin’ tales o’ thysel’. There’s nobbud
two things mak’s a chap go as red as thaa’rt gone — love an’ shame;
an’ aw knows thaa’s done naught to be shamed on. But might aw
ax thee a question, Tummis? Haa didta pluck up when thaa axed
To one unversed in Lancashire operative life, it would seem
that such a question would have aroused the wrath of him to whom it
was addressed, but it must be remembered that among these people all
things are in common; and, moreover, old Harry was a privileged
inquisitor, and Thomas a simple-minded, trustful youth.
Consequently the question was not resented, but met with the
frankness with which it was asked.
Shuffling his feet and twisting the button on his jacket, he
‘Thaa sees, Harry, it were i’ this way: aw’d thought a deal
on her for mony years, but hoo seemed so mich aboon me as aw said
naught to noabry. But aw couldn’t get her aat o’ my head, an’
aw fun’ my een wanderin’ fro’ my warps to where hoo were weyvin’,
an’ mony were th’ faults i’ my pieces (flaws in the web) i’ follerin’
her instead o’ my own work.’
‘Yi!’ said old Harry; ‘women again. There’s naught i’
this warld they durn’d mar, and they’ll breed mischief i’ th’ next
if they get there an’ ar’na watched. But go on with thy tale,
‘Then there were my mother, yo’ know; hoo’d noabry to live wi’,
an’ aw didn’t like leavin’ her to hersel’, for th’ owd woman were
’onely like. But when aar Charley come back aw thought there
were no reason why aw shouldn’t try my luck, so aw plucked up an’
axed th’ lass if hoo’d wed me.’
‘An’ what did hoo say?’ asked Harry. ‘Did hoo say aught
abaat th’ nutmegs?’
‘Nowe, hoo didn’t,’ said Thomas, betraying for the first time
a shade of anger. ‘If hoo had aw’ve ha’ takken care hoo’d ha’
been no wife o’ mine. But aw’ll tell thee what it is, Harry; a
felley may mak’ a bigger foo’ o’ hissel’ nor i’ buyin’ a paand o’
nutmegs, as thaa did that day when thaa supped ale an’ wheeled
thysel’ an’ thy cinders into th’ goit.’
It was a well-directed blow, and it told, and for a few
moments the old man was silent.
‘And how long did she take to think about it?’ I ventured to
ask, both wondering and ashamed at my audacity, but spurred on by
the curiosity which the simply-told story roused in me.
‘Nobbud abaat three days,’ was his reply. ‘Hoo met me
as aw were comin’ aat o’ chapel last Sundo’ neet, an’ as we walked
together up th’ broo (hill) it seemed as though hoo had summat on
her mind, for hoo kept looking on th’ graand, an’ said naught.
As we turned th’ lane, an’ crossed th’ moors, aw said to mysel’,
“Tummis, it’s naa or never,” so aw oppens my maath, and axed her if
hoo’d settled it? “Yi,” hoo said, “aw think aw have.”
“What,” aw says, “doesta nobbud think?” “Nay,” hoo says, “aw’m
‘Aw were never drunken i’ my life, Harry,’ said the poor
fellow, ‘but my head started goin’ raand like a throstle, an’ th’
hills chased one another, like as aw’ve seen waves at Blackpool
‘“Weel,” said hoo i’ a bit, “hasto naught to say, Tummis?”
“Aw’m full,” aw says. “Full o’ what?” hoo axed. “Luv,”
aw whispered. Then hoo clipped me an’ kussed me, an’ said,
“Thaa’rt a gradely lad, an’ aw’ll mak’ thee a gradely wife.”’
‘An’ what did thaa do, Tummis?’
‘Aw’m noan baan to tell th’ likes o’ thee, Harry;’ and the
simple-minded fellow left us, humming an air in his speechless
A few days afterwards, I was sitting with his old mother in
that cottage home that now knew no shadow, when, turning to me, she
‘One comes an’ another goes, thaa sees. Th’ Almeety’s
good, and He gives afore He tak’s away. Tummis is takkin’ to
hissel’ a wife, an’ Charley’s takken again to his owd mother, an’ so
th’ world pieces up, an’ th’ pattern comes aat reet at th’ end.
He’ll mak’ a good husband, will Tummis; he’s ne’er turned me a hair
grey, nor brought a tear to my een. He hasn’t th’ wit o’ aar
Joe, aw know, nor th’ push o’ aar Dick, nor th’ looks o’ aar
Charley. Like as natur’ didn’t bless him wi’ a square
headpiece, but it’s made up for it wi’ his heart, bless him! for
after all it’s th’ heart ’at mak’s th’ home, fillin’ th’ wife’s face
wi’ leet an’ th’ mother’s soul wi’ gladness.’ And the old
woman turned aside to weep her joy tears unseen.
Then turning again towards me, she said, the factory, and little
work was done at the looms. It was an early wedding, as was the
custom among the operative class in those days; and at half-past
nine the ceremony was over, and the guests seated at the breakfast,
served in the house of the mother of the bride.
I regret that no artist has preserved for us on canvas the
picture of a wedding among the factory toilers of the county
Palatine. The truth is, this great treasure-house of pathos
and humour as yet remains sealed; it awaits the open sesame of the
The kitchen was long and low, the table at which the guests
were seated extending lengthways from the fireplace to the door.
At the head sat Thomas and Sarah Ann; he, poor fellow, distressingly
self-conscious; she, as self-possessed as though bending over her
looms. To his right was the old mother, Mary o’ Malley’s o’ th’
Heights; while on the other side of his wife there paired the mother
of Sarah Ann. After this the guests sat anyhow, save that
engaged couples took care to sit against one another, with many a
Three kinds of meats were ranged round the table, tongue and
ham and beef, sliced and piled up high on plates, in which the
company thrust their forks and ‘helped themselves.’ Huge piles
of bread and butter were crowded in between sponge cakes,
apple-tarts, and varied kinds of preserve. But the favourite
of the feast was the relish known as ‘pickles.’ Every kind was
represented, from the rich purple of the cabbage to the amber yellow
of the cauliflower; but the popular taste was for that vulgar
spheroid, lingering so long in its odour, though none the less
tickling to the palate ― the onion.
Two urns were kept constantly on tap, for tea was the
beverage, and greedily was it consumed — tea sweetened to sickliness
and spilt unconscionably in saucer and on cloth.
As the second and third round of cups disappeared, tongues
were loosened, and wit began to fly — wit such as is only heard at a
Lancashire wedding, and which no pen can reproduce.
‘Weel, Tummis,’ said an old crone, ‘thaa’s made a mon o’
thysel’ to-day, shuzhaa. Thaa’s been a long time i’ makkin’ up
thy mind; but thaa’s made it up at last an’ shown thy sense o’er it
‘Yi!’ responded a matronly-looking woman, ‘he’s had th’ sense
to go where there were a whom for him, an’ a woman an’ all.
Here’s her ealth,’ and the company raised their cups and took a gulp
‘Hasto getten a family Bible gi’en thee wi’ a place to put th’
childers’ names in?’ asked a youth, as he spluttered over his fourth
‘Thee howd on,’ said the mother of the bride; ‘aw’ll noan
hear th’ owd Book made a jest on by thee, or onybody else.’
And the youth sank back into silence.
‘Who’s baan to be th’ next to follow yo’ to th’ altar,
thinksta?’ inquired a ruddy-faced girl, in whose eye burnt the fire
‘Libby yon, aw’se think,’ was the universal reply.
‘Th’ axin’s is noan i’ Libby’s honds, thaa knows; her felley
has to settle that.’
‘An’ when arto baan to put ’em up, Dicky?’ was the general
‘Thee ne’er heed,’ said he laughingly. ‘They’ll noan be
so long, will they, Libby lass?’ And Libby’s eyes watered as
she munched between her teeth a succulent onion from the vinegar by
‘E’ dear, haa folks keep gettin’ wed,’ said a philosophical
lad, who had just come on what they term ‘the plan.’ ‘Marryin’
an’ givin’ i’ marriage, as i’ th’ days o’ Noah.’
‘Here, come, noan o’ thy preychin’. What would thaa
have folk to do if they didn’t get wed? Aw’m wearin’ my third
wife naa, an’ aw’d wed again afore aw’d live alone. Didn’t th’
Almeety say ’at it weren’t good for a chap to live o’ermich by
hissel’? an’ aw’ll swear by th’ Gospel rather than by yo’, though yo’
are a local preycher;’ and the embryonic divine was left to pick his
teeth in silence with his fork.
There were those who throughout this jollity kept steadily at
the feast, grinding away with a persistence that was not only
annoying to the delicate ear, but highly complimentary to the
caterers. These, now, having filled to repletion, leaned back,
at peace with all the world, placing their labour-stained hands over
their rotund stomachs and yawning, like over-gorged cobras, for
their sleep. Then it was suggested that a hymn be sung, and
one of the girls, seating herself at a small harmonium, struck up
the melody which ended with the lines,
‘Is it well with thy soul, is it well?’
the men taking up the refrain with their deep bass and tenor voices,
‘It is well with my soul, it is well.’
As the clock drew near to the hour of noon, and the time
arrived for the bride and bridegroom to depart to the city beyond
the hills, in the suburbs of which lay the famous Belle Vue, further
restraint was removed. There was laughter loud and long, and
jokes not always savoury, yet innocently spoken. Arms stole
round waists, and the onion-flavoured breath was warm, as caresses
were exchanged between faces now heated and aglow with the
liveliness of the hour. One or two of the old crones drew
soothing whiffs from church-warden pipes, and the flavour of rum
penetrated the stifling air.
In a little while Thomas and his wife were seen away from the
station amidst boisterous laughter and a volley of jokes, and then
the young folks paired to wander under the sunshine on the moorland
side, and to dream of the time when they twain should become one.
I sat on with the old folks around the fireside, listening to
their stories of the past — stories redolent of wit and pathos,
some, true, of a coarser grain, others tender in their touch of
humanness, but all of family history, its suffering, its triumph,
its advent and its departure. Names of the dear dead were
tremulously uttered on the lips of bereaved ones. Women told
of their hour of trouble and their hour of triumph; indeed, a great
domestic panorama was unfolded, sometimes dark with tragedy,
sometimes bright under the sky of side-splitting mirth. Yet
all was told in simplicity, in innocence and in good faith — the
volume of village life, closed to the eye of the busy world beyond,
yet open to me as I sat and gleaned its treasures.
That night, as I returned from the cottage of the bride, I
met my old friend Harry.
‘Weel,’ he said, ‘haa han yo’ gone on? Yo’ll ha’ seen
an’ heard summat, aw’ll warnd. But it’s a weary world after
all, altho’ folk get wed.’ And as he passed away into the
darkness I must own to feeling somewhat of the pessimistic spirit of
the old man whose estimate of life was so sombre and so quaint.
‘IN MEMORY OF ――’
WE were strolling
by the side of the river, inky with refuse of manufacture, and
swollen with the flushings of a hundred lodges fed in its tortuous
course. Around us lay the factories, their tall chimneys
smokeless — for it was Saturday afternoon; while beyond the adjacent
meadowlands swept the moors, losing themselves in the summer haze
that danced along their summits and then died away in the distant
Old Harry was in a communicative mood, pointing out different
landmarks, and recounting quaint scraps of history, as we here and
there passed the scattered cottages of one and another of the
valley’s sons. True, they had been but the slaves of
competitive service, but in character royal among the generations of
Stepping out towards the graveyard, and reaching a knoll all
studded with rude slabs still more rudely lettered, he seated
himself, and bade me be seated also, by the side of a mound on which
grew a cluster of the spirals of the golden rod. It was not
the first time I had seen the old man at this grave, and I knew some
of his spare moments were spent in tending it; but the link that
bound him to it I had failed to discover. Was the coveted
knowledge now to be mine? Aware that a question, or even a
hint, would silence him, I decided to provoke him to speech by that
assumed indifference I had never known to fail.
In a little while I was rewarded, for, taking off his cap,
and laying it by the side of the grave, he said:—
‘Him as lies under that sod were co’ed Gentle Jone. He
were liked aboon a bit, aw con tell yo’; an’ happen him an’ me were
as thick as ony two i’ th’ parish. E’ dear, it’s a sad tale;
aw durnd know why aw’ve started tellin’ on’t; but it were i’ my
mouth like, an’ yo’ mud as weel hear it to th’ end.’
I was touched with the old engineer’s pathos. My
constant contact with him was beginning to discover springs of
feeling hidden away beneath the hard crust of his outward life, each
story of his, told to me in the spare hours of his labour, proving
more and more that he was a man, and not, as I had supposed, a mere
crank in the machinery he tended.
‘Jone were th’ watchman, yo’ mun know ― watchman of th’
factory, aw mean, not a perliceman.’
I nodded to show I understood his meaning.
‘Yi, he were th’ watchman of th’ factory, an’ there were noan
’at knew him ’at didn’t love him. Th’ lasses all took to him,
an’ th’ little childer were wick wi’ glee when they come near him,
an’ th’ dumb critters would let him do onythin’ wi ’em. But it
were his voice ’at fotched folk; it were as soft as a woman’s, an’
fun’ its way straight to yore heart i’ th’ same feshion: that were
why they co’ed him Gentle Jone.’
‘Was he a native of these parts?’ I asked.
‘Nay, he come fro’ Yorshur. There were a bit of a
mystery abaat him like. Noabry seemed to know his belongin’s,
an’ he’d noather wife nor child; though there were as said he’d had
both. But what set folk talkin’ were th’ cat as he brought wi’
him; an’ it’s on th’ cat my story hangs.’
‘A cat!’ I exclaimed. ‘Was it his familiar, then?
A sort of climax to the mystery you speak of?’
‘Nay, th’ cat were as gentle as Jone hissel’, an’ as big a
favourite. It were welly awlus wi’ him. Whether he were
i’ th’ mill, or th’ garden, th’ cat were his companion, talkin’ to
him i’ a quiet meawin’ feshion, or purrin’ an’ rubbin’ itsel’ agen
his trouser leg, or else sittin’ i’ th’ sunleet an’ winkin’ its een
an’ yawnin’ an’ cleanin’ itsel’ wi’ its tung till its fur were as
breet as guinea gowd; while he, poor chap, would dig i’ the graand,
or root amang th’ plants, every naa an’ then whistlin’ to’t an’
co’in’ it pratty names.’
‘And do you say the cat followed him to his work in the
‘Yi; it couldn’t bide to be baat him; nor, for that matter,
could he bide to be baat th’ cat; an’ of a neet when he come to th’
factory it oather follered, or were carried, lyin’ snug i’ th’
lodge-haase, or else goin’ up an’ daan wi’ him on his rounds.
Aw’ve nursed it mony an haar i’ th’ boiler-hoile, an’ it would eyt
its meat wi’ me, an’ sup milk fro’ my can.’
‘It is not often men take to cats,’ I said. ‘Women and
old maids have the feline tastes ― that is, if proverbial lore be
correct.’ But he ignored my criticism as though he heard it
‘Aw said to him one day, “Jone, lad, haa is it thaa’s so
takken wi’ that critter? thaa couldn’t think more on’t if it were
thy own breed.” But he nobbud took th’ cat on his knee an’
stroked it; though aw did see a drop of brine in his een, an’ felt
there were summat behind aw couldn’t ged at; an’, for that matter,
aw’d no bisness, for doesn’t owd Solomon say ’at strangers has no
reet to meddle wi’ th’ bitterness of other folk’s hearts? But
it were fair wonderful haa Jone an’ th’ cat understood one another
an’ stuck to one another an’ o’. It were David and Jonathan
o’er again; nobbud this time Jonathan were th’ cat.’ I was
obliged to interrupt with a hearty laugh, for this quaint biblical
reference was too much for me, and broke, for the time, the spell
which the pathos of the old man’s story had laid upon my heart.
I soon recovered myself, however, as he continued:—
‘Well, as aw were tellin’ yo’, everybody seemed to be friends
wi’ Jone an’ his cat. But, as misfortin would have it, there
were some young blood knockin’ abaat i’ th’ shap’ of th’ manager’s
son. He’d just left boardin’-schoo’, an’ thought becose he
knew haa to shap’ his mouth i’ talkin’ he could shap’ hissel’ to
aught fro’ usin’ a screw-key to regelatin’ th’ stars.’
Then, after a moment’s meditation, as though the old man was
weighing his words, he said, ‘Aw tell yo’ what, th’ owd uns are bad
to beat. There’s noan so mony o’ ’em left naa, worse luck!
They were a gradely stock. Noan o’ yore fine-talkin’, dandy-walkin’,
glass-wi’-care sort of chaps. Nowe! Th’ owd uns were
gradely talkers, an’ they dressed gradely an’ o’. They knew
them as worked under ’em, an’ never caanted theirsel’s as belongin’
to ony other breed. “Harry, owd lad,” th’ owd manager used to
say, “Harry, owd lad, haa arto?” “Weel an’ hearty,” aw used to
say, “an’ as dry as a lime-burner’s clog.” Then he’d wink his
een, an’ laugh, an’ tell me as th’ payday were comin’. But he
never left me baat a shillin’ to drink his health. But, bless
yo’! th’ young uns durnd know yo’. They never look i’ yore
direction unless they want summat, an’ then they durnd know haa to
ax yo’ civil.’
‘Come, come, Harry, you are suffering from the prejudice of
age,’ I said. ‘The lads who are growing up will think as much
of those under whom they work in years to come as you think of those
with whom you used to work.’
‘Nay,’ replied the old man, ‘aw cornd see that. But aw
mun to my tale, for th’ sunleet’s dyin’. Th’ manager’s son, as
yo’ mun know, went in for fancy pigeons. Aw con tell yo’ he
knew a deal more abaat brids nor cotton, an’ spent a deal more time
o’er ’em. They used to tell all sorts of tales abaat th’ fancy
prices as th’ lad had gi’en for th’ brids. Aw said to him one
neet, “They tell me as yo’ve dropped a couple of five-paand notes
o’er that pair of pigeons. Why, mon,” aw says, “there’s ten
week of my sweat i’ that.” But he nobbud turned on me, an’
said aw could tak’ my sweat to sombry else if aw wernd satisfied wi’
what aw geet for it. “That’s boardin’-schoo’,” aw says.
‘One neet th’ same youth come across Jone an’ his cat i’ th’
scutchin’-room, where he managed to tread on th’ crayter’s tail,
accidental like on purpose. Well, cat natur’s nobbud cat natur’,
same as human natur’s nobbud human natur’, so th’ cat made a
pincushion of his leg, when he turned raand wi’ a curse an’ kicked
it agen one of th’ machines. “Be merciful,” says Jone.
“Thee preych that doctrine to thy cat,” says th’ lad; “an’ if it
gets i’ my gate agen aw’ll do summat war nor punce it.”
‘Th’ same week th’ pigeons were missin’ — them as had cost so
mich brass — an’ there were th’ ferrups to play, aw con tell yo’.
Th’ whole factory were turned upside daan, an’ th’ bobbies were
fotched, an’ th’ bill-sticker set agate postin’ th’ walls wi’
notices, or rewards, or summat. But still th’ pigeons kept
bein’ missed; so they put Lame Jim on th’ watch, an’ offered him
five bob if he could find aat th’ thief
‘Aw said to Jone one day, “Jone, lad, keep that cat o’ thine
close, or tha’ll be missin’ it, for aw hear as yon lad has noan
forgi’en it for scratin’ his leg, an’ he swears’ it’s it ’at tak’s
th’ pigeons.” But Jone nobbud laughed his gentle laugh, an’
stroked th’ cat’s yed. But aw were noan so far wrong i’ my
calkilations; for one neet, as Lame Jim were watchin’, an’ th’
manager’s son wi’ him, what should they see comin’ raand th’ end of
th’ pigeon-coite but Jone’s cat. Geddin’ howd on’t by th’
scrui, th’ young chap said, “Aw’ve caught thee at last, thaa sly
devil. Thaa never does nowt wrong, doesto? Nowe!
Thaa’rt a pious cat, thaa art. Thaa’rt carries it i’ thy
looks, but naa aw’ve getten thee aw mean to keep thee. We’ll
see what metal thaa’s made on.” Then, turning to Lame Jim, he
said, — “Fotch th’ dogs into th’ laboratory.”
‘“Nay,” says Jim; “if you’ve a mind aw’ll draan her for yo’ i’
th’ lodge; but surely you’re noan baan to bait her wi’ th’ dogs?”
But he nobbud cursed him, an’ telled him to do as he were towd.
So he hobbled off after th’ dogs, for he were a coward when he were
cornered, Jim were.’
‘Do you mean to say they put the dogs on Jone’s cat?’
‘Yi, they did so, an’ co’ed it sport; but they might have
gi’en th’ poor critter a chonce i’stead of shuttin’ it up i’ th’
laboratory, where there were no gate aat.
‘Lame Jim telled me all abaat th’ fight after it were o’er;
for the owd cat were gam’ to th’ last. Hoo were stannin’ i’ a
corner wi’ her back up an’ her tail as thick as yore arm when they
set th’ terriers on her; an’ he says hoo stood her graand i’ fine
feightin’ feshion, givin’ th’ dogs th’ length an strength of her
claws, an’ howdin’ th’ fort like an’ owd warrior.
‘This didn’t suit th’ lad, haaever, so he shaated, “Come aat
of that!” geddin’ behind th’ cat, an’ skiftin’ her wi’ his foot, an’
makkin’ th’ odds three agen one — two dogs an’ a felley, as co’ed
hissel’ a mon, agen a critter whose only sin had been its natur’.’
‘Never, surely!’ I cried.
‘Yi, but he did; he skifted th’ cat wi’ his foot; but whether
th’ dogs thought he were baan to punce them an’ o’, Lame Jim didn’t
know, nobbud they caared daan, an’ left th’ cat a clear gate.
‘Th’ next raand were fought under th’ laboratory bench,
where, for a bit, th’ cat had it all her own way, th’ dogs bein’
afraid of facin’ her scratin’s.
‘“Fotch her aat!” shaated th’ lad to th’ dogs, “fotch her aat!”
But they shook their yeds, an’ pawed their noses, for they’d not
calkilated on th’ length of th’ cat’s claws.
‘“We’ll alter this,” said he, and set agate cursin’ as though
he were beside hissel’; an’ geet howd of th’ bench an’ poo’ed it to
one side. Then Jim says as haa th’ cat jumped into th’ middle
of th’ room, twistin’ raand like a scopperel as hoo did it; an’
leetin’ on her feet, set up a dance on all fours, caperin’ an’
baandin’ as though hoo were on red-hot bricks.
‘Th’ dogs were noan behindhand i’ keepin’ her company; but it
were noan a case of partners turn an’ turn abaat; it were a case of
two to one an’ death. Aw believe th’ fur did fly, an’ for a
minute it were give an’ take like leetnin’. Then th’ terriers
geet separated, an’ as th’ cat couldn’t look two roads at once, an’
geet tired of her spinnin’s i’ th’ air, hoo were raked both fore an’
aft, as th’ sailors say, an’, as yo’ may expect, th’ dogs came off
wi th’ laurels, an’ dirty ’uns an o’.’
‘They were indeed,’ I replied, almost too indignant to speak.
‘And this was what they call sport?’
‘That neet Jone come into th’ boiler-hoile, an’ axed me if
aw’d seen aught of th’ cat; for, as he said, he thought he’d yerd it
maulin’ fro’ th’ direction of th’ laboratory as he’d been on his
raand through th’ factory.
‘Like as aw guessed o’ at once, though aw’d yerd nowt.
“When did yo’ miss it?” aw axed.
‘“Abaat haive-past seven,” he said, “as aw were crossin’ th’
‘“Then it’s time it turned up, owd lad,” aw towd him, “for
that’s aboon two haars sin’. Let’s go an look for’t.”
‘Th’ first felley as we met aatside were th’ young blood,
follered wi’ his two dogs; but he said nowt, so we said nowt, an’
passed on. Then we come up agen Lame Jim gettin’ aat of th’
gate as fast as his leg would carry him. “Hallo, Jim!” aw
says, “is that thee? Hasto seen Jone’s cat?” But what he
said noather on us could tell, an’ he follered th’ young un into th’
‘I’ a bit, Jone stumbled o’er summat i’ th’ path.
“What’s that?” he says; an’ as if to answer him there came a meaaw
as weak as a kitlin’s. Then he turned on his lantern, an’
there, lyin’ i’ th’ grass, were all that were left of th’ owd cat.
‘It were th’ first an’ th’ last time aw ever yerd Jone swear.
Not as he said mich, but what he said made up for his bein’ quiet so
mony years. “Here, Harry,” he says, “tak’ that lantern;” an’
then he took th’ cat up i’ his arms as though it had been a babby,
an’ made for th’ engine-haase. Well, when we geet it to th’
leet we fun’ it were nowt but a piece of tag-rag. Its poor yed
were laid bare to th’ bone, an’ one of its een were lyin’ loose like
a glass taw. Its fur looked as though it had been through th’
scutchin-machine, an’ one of its legs hung loose like a bough that
yo’ve part brokken. But it were noan dead for all that, an’ it
turned th’ ee that were left on both of us, as though it were axin’
for summat; an’ when Jone stroked it, where there were a bit of fur
left to stroke, it tried to lift itsel’ to lick his hond.
‘“Ged a drop of hot watter, Harry,” Jone said, “an’ aw’ll
wesh its wounds. Shame on ’em! Sithee there;” an’ he
pointed to a rip in its shoulder where th’ teeth of one of th’ dogs
had left th’ flesh bare to th’ bone.
‘Well, aw fotched th’ watter, an’ we set to an’ doctored th’
poor thing, Jone touching it as gently as yo’n seen a mother touch a
childt ’at’s deein’, an’ all th’ while th’ cat looked its thanks wi’
its odd ee.
‘It were lyin’ on a bit of sackin’ across his knee, an’ aw
could see haa he stooped daan o’er it a deal lower nor he’d any need
to, to keep fro’ showin’ th’ tears as fell hot an’ fast on the poor
thing’s wounds. Then he looked up. “Harry,” he said,
“th’ cat never touched his pigeons, whose ever else did. It’s
noather a thief nor a murderer, whatever they may be as mauled it.”
Then he started agen a-weshin’ it; but it were no use, its meaawin’s
geet weaker an’ weaker, until at last when it opened its mouth we
could hear nowt. I’ a bit it drew its legs up, an’ dithered
all o’er as if it were starved; then stretched itsel’ aat an’ died.
‘As soon as aw could find my tung, aw says to Jone, “Yo’ll be
even wi’ yon lad, aw reckon?”
‘“Nay,” he says, “Him as is aboon can tak’ care of His own,
an’ if He watches o’er th’ sparrows aw durnd know as He’ll forget th’
likes of this,” an’ he lapt th’ cat up i’ th’ sackin’, an’ set it by
‘I’ a bit he turned to me agen. “Harry,” he says, “aw
daresay thaa’s often thought me soft, an’ if it were o’er yon cat
aw’ll own to’t. Thaa sees, it were a link — a link between th’
livin’ an’ th’ dead, as they say. Her as it belonged to when
it were a kitlin’ were th’ only child aw ever had, a little lass as
cost her mother’s life th’ day hoo were born. As long as hoo
lived aw’d th’ memory of her mother before my een, an’ when th’
child went aw kept th’ cat for th’ child’s sake. Doesto wonder
as aw took to’t? It were th’ last of what once were a happy
home. It’s th’ ’sociation, thaa knows, as mak’s us tak’ to
things; an’ mony a time as aw’ve looked in its een aw’ve seen th’
faces of them as is gone.”
‘Poor Jone! he fair broke daan, an’ sobbed fit to break his
heart. Then, drawin’ nearer, he said, “Aw shall noan be so
long mysel’. Aw’ve had my warnin’s;” an’ he pressed his hond
agen his chest as though i’ smothered pain. “Happen it’s as
weel th’ owd cat’s gone first; bud aw could ha’ liked it to dee
gradely. Onyroad, aw’se live long enoof to gi’ it daycent
burial up i’ th’ garden yon amang th’ flaars; an’ then, Harry, thaa
mun be like to do as mich for me, for there’s brass enoof to lay me
by an’ o’ when th’ end comes.” Then he lifted th’ sackin’ wi’
th’ cat in, an’ carried it to his cottage on th’ hillside, an’
buried it i’ th’ bonniest nook i’ th’ garden.
‘Like as he never looked up no more; an’ fro’ Gentle Jone
folk took to co’in’ him Silent Jone. Aw welly think as th’
young chap were sorry for what he’d done; an’ there were as said as
he sent a Persia cat i’ a hamper to Jone on Christmas Eve. But
while he were kind to’t, he never took to’t same as he did to
t’other. As he used to say, “It’s noan a memory, Harry,”
meanin’ as it had no ’sociations like of them as he’d loved.
But he weren’t so long i’ joinin’ them as had left him to toar on by
hissel’; an’ when he deed two year later, aw laid him by as he axed
me, an’ there he slumbers, an’ nobbud th’ grave, an’ thee an’ me,
knows th’ secret.’
And after one more long and lingering look the old man rose
and turned his face away from the lowly mound.
FAITHFUL JOE’S DELIVERANCE
I NOTICED among
other of my Lancashire experiences that almost every operative was
known by a by-name ― a by-name associated with some incident either
in his own or in his ancestors’ past. Adventures,
eccentricities, and quaint sayings uttered under some crisis, were
creative of the distinguishing appellation by which both men and
women were recognised and saluted. There was Billy Baat Cap,
whose father was never known to have worn headgear; and Rough Yed
whose progenitors had been noted for their tangled locks; and Sam
o’ the Lime Gals, whose family at a distant date had driven the
pack-horses across the upper moorland roads. But the name that
arrested me most was that of Faithful Joe, a simple-hearted
man, much of whose time was spent between the factory and the
engine-house in doing what were called ‘odd jobs’ for Harry and the
overlookers, as the case might be.
There was a quaintness about this man that roused my
interest, and an open sincerity that won my respect. He had
reached his seventieth year, and was worn and grey in the service of
his employers. There were many things about him which I had
noted, one being that in place of imprecation he invoked the Divine
aid, and while other men were calling upon the Almighty to do His
worst, Joe generally asked Him to do His best. One morning,
while breaking up some old machinery in the factory yard, a portion,
springing from the blow of the hammer, struck Joe in the mouth,
destroying two of his front teeth. The man whose ill-directed
stroke had wrought the damage found relief in a mighty curse, when,
to my astonishment, Joe turned round, his mouth discoloured and
choked with blood, and stammered, ‘It’s thy prayers, lad, aw want,
an’ not thy curses.’ It was then a consciousness began to dawn
on me as to the origin of the fellow’s nickname.
I had noticed also that Joe had the respect of his
fellow-workmen. There were some at the factory known as ‘perfessers,’
who were anything but possessors, and their long prayers at the
little chapel on the hill were a mockery to those among whom they
worked; the non-professors sneering and chaffing and casting their
innuendoes at what they called ‘the walk and conversation.’
One wag had gone so far as to say that ‘th’ Sundo’ coit were awlus i’
pawn till th’ week-end,’ a forcible way of setting forth the
inconsistencies of men who believed they were called to be saints.
But Faithful Joe was not after this order. As far as I could
see, and as far as I could hear, he was real grit; or, as the
villagers said, ‘ jannock.’ I had never heard anyone say
anything but good of him, and I knew old Harry, who had the power to
read character by intuition and know the heart by instinct, was
prepared to stake his life on Joe’s sincerity.
One day, while in conversation with the old man as to the
doings of some of the more original and striking personalities
employed at the mill, I asked him for the history of Faithful Joe.
‘Naa, there’s a mon for yo’. He’s flayed o’ naught an’
noabry when he thinks he’s getten howd o’ th’ reet end. Sithee!
he ne’er did naught i’ his life ’at he’s ony need to be ashamed of;
an’ he ne’er geet wrang i’ his life bud when he trusted th’ Almeety
a bit o’ermich.’
‘Trusted the Almighty a bit overmuch! What do you
mean?’ I asked, unable to subdue my tone of surprise.
‘Aw meean what aw say,’ replied old Harry. His faith,
yo’ know, made a fooil on him. Joe’s one o’ those Methodys as
is awlus believin’, an’ one time he believed o’ermich.’
My friend’s theology perplexed me, and I wondered whether it
was a new truth he was presenting, or an old truth in a new light.
Certainly the idea of over-trusting God was new to me, although I
had learnt to distinguish between the fanatic who expects miracles
to be wrought on his behalf, and the sane man who believes that the
Almighty helps those only who help themselves. Seeing my
perplexity, my friend continued: ‘Yo’ know aw’m not a fine talker,
an’ aw’m not gradely religious, but onyroad aw think there’s a bit
o’ common sense up aboon. If there weren’t we should be ill
off daan here among th’ fooils, for they’re as thick as blackberries
— leastways i’ these parts they are;’ and the old man looked round
him with an eye of scorn. ‘Naa, there’s them as Joe belongs
to. They awlus sattle everythin’ by prayer; bud then, yo’
know, prayer willn’t sattle bills, as some o’ th’ shop-keepers con
tell yo’. Aw were never a prayin’ chap mysel’; nowe, aw were
never a form-thumper; like as aw awlus believed more i’ elbow
grease. Not as aw’ve a word to say again’ Joe, yo’ know.
Bud then he’s one o’ those ready-made uns.’
‘Ready-made ones?’ I asked.
‘Yi! there’s some as is shapped reet afore they’re born, an’
some as is shapped wrang, an’ never get reet though they live to be
as owd as ’Thusla;’ and, looking up with a wicked twinkle in his
eye, he capped this rich bit of philosophy by saying, ‘Aw’m one o’
that soart, yo’ know.’
After a hearty laugh at this quaintly-stated truth, I asked
him if he’d ever tried Faithful Joe’s methods, but he peremptorily
stopped me by saying, ‘Aw durnd want a sarment; Him as made us is
just, an’ a felley can nobbud do his best.’
I was anxious, however, to know the story which I felt sure
was associated with old Harry’s remarks about this Faithful Joe, and
what he had called the folly of his over-trustfulness; but I was
vexed in my own mind as to how to start him. Fortunately,
however, the time for shutting off steam was at hand, so I waited
patiently till the old man’s cessation from what he called ‘elbow
grease’ would give him half-an-hour’s quiet, and, as I hoped,
half-an-hour’s communicativeness. I was not disappointed, for
after the engine was at rest he found his way to my side, and,
wiping his sweaty brow with his wad of cotton waste, said, ‘Yo’re
waitin’ to yer abaat Faithful Joe, arn’t yo’? Sit yo’ daan;
it’ll not tak’ long to tell.’
Once more I found myself seated in this strange arcanum,
where the secrets of hearts had been so often revealed to me by old
Harry’s prophetic lips. Here, under the shadow of the great
beam, and amid the silence of the mighty wheel, the life of a whole
village had been laid bare by one of those chroniclers who, seeing
all, forgets nothing. What the schools and the world had
failed to flash upon my unobservant eye, the rudely-told stories of
this uneducated man had accomplished. He had taught me what a
wonderful thing the human heart is, and he had taught me to feel
with and for others. After all, life’s secrets are not for the
wise and prudent, but for the unalloyed simplicity of such as my
friend, and for such as are willing to sit with the same simplicity
as learners at their feet.
‘It were i’ the time o’ th’ cotton panic, an’ that’s aboon
thirty year sin’. E’ dear, it nobbud seems like yesterdo’ that
aw used to keep punchin’ another hoile i’ th’ strap to stop th’
gnawin’ i’ mi inside there were naught bud th’ wind to satisfy.
We used to call these parts “th’ valley o’ desolation” i’ those
days, an’ there were no mistak’ abaat it noather, for th’ chimbleys
stood like graveyard moniments o’er what were as good as a village
o’ deead folk. There were scarce a sound i’ th’ streets, for
the little uns were too clammed to cry, an’ their faithers an’
mothers were a’most feeared to breathe lest th’ bit o’ breeath that
were in ’em went aat for good. It were bad enuff for chaps
like mysel’ as had naught bud theirsel’s to keep; bud, by Guy, them
as had haive-a-dozen little maaths raand a bare table went through
th’ mill an’ no mistak’. Aw used to dry a two-thre yarbs i’
those days an’ put ’em i’ mi pipe for baccy, an’ walk raand th’
countryside pikin’ up a crust fro’ onybody. Bud there were
them as had to stop awhom wi’ the childer, watchin’ their little
faces grow whiter an’ thinner as th’ church clock struck off th’
haars, an’ as th’ days pulled raand on crutches. But it were
th’ stillness ’at used to plague me; aw could ston’ th’ hunger, for
aw were young an’ strong, but th’ silence geet into my brain, an’
worked like mad. One day aw went on th’ tops, an’ did an
haar’s shaatin’, for aw felt aw mun yer summat if it were nobbud my
own voice; an’ as th’ echo saanded raand th’ hills it come back as
though th’ devil were mockin’ me, an’ aw lay daan i’ th’ heather an’
graand my teeth. Bud there were noabry suffered more nor
Faithful Joe an’ th’ wife. Although he had been a careful chap
he’d had no chonce to save, for his wage were nobbud a little un,
an’ when he were at work he’d welly as mony childer as he’d shillin’
a week to keep ’em. Th’ pawnshop soon emptied the haase; an’
one mornin’ Joe an’ th’ missus faand theirsel’s an’ little uns baat
bite or sup.
‘Aw’ve yerd Joe say as there were two kinds o’ clammin’ — one
when yo’re clammin’ yorsel’, an’ t’other when yo’ see those as yo’ve
brought into th’ world clammin’ wi’ yo’. Th’ one he reckons is
bacon collops to t’other; an’ aw daresay he’s reet.
‘Well, as aw were sayin’, Joe had naught i’ th’ haase, nor
had he th’ prospect o’ gettin’ naught; when all at once one o’ th’
little uns went an’ sat hersel’ on his knee, an’ said, “Daddy, cornd
God send naught?” “We’ll try Him, my lass,” said Joe, an’ then
he telled ’em all to kneel daan, an’ Joe began to pray.
‘“Sithee! Harry,” he said, when he telled me abaat it at
after, “aw prayed like th’ very devil.” “Bud, Joe,” aw says,
“they say as prayin’ isn’t mich i’ th’ devil’s line.” “Well,”
says Joe, “all aw know is aw were i’ a devil o’ a temper while aw
were prayin’.” “What didta say?” aw axed him. “Why,” he
says, “aw towd th’ Almeety as he said i’ His Book ’at th’ bread an’
th’ watter were awlus sure to His childer, an’ that th’ righteous
were never forsaken nor their seed beggars. Then aw telled Him
as He knew we belonged to th’ seed; that my faither were a Methody
afore me, an’ his faither afore him an’ aw towd Him straight ’at if
He wouldn’t send cotton He were baand to send bread;’ an’ all th’
while th’ childer were sobbin’, an’ th’ missus full o’ sorrow abaat
th’ little un ’at were comin’, an’ havin’ naught to feed it wi’, an’
wurr off nor Him as they wrapped i’ swaddlin’ clooathes.’
Here Harry broke off in his narrative, for his voice grew
thick, and the wad of cotton waste found its way to his eyes to
stanch their flow of tears. Then, looking up at me, he said,
‘Aw’m gettin’ owd an’ soft, thaa sees; bud Joe, like, could awlus
touch a tender spot i’ me.’ Then, in a little while, he
‘Well, when th’ prayer were over, th’ little ’un ’at axed if
God couldn’t send summat went to th’ dur to see if aught had come;
and what did hoo find bud a basket o’ provisions an’ a bag o’ meal.
‘“Horray!” hoo shaated. “He’s sent it; aw thought He
would; an’ th’ rest o’ th’ childer follered her, an’ hugged th’
basket an’ th’ meal into th’ haase.
‘I’ less time than it tak’s me to tell th’ food ’i th’ basket
had flitted into th’ stomachs of th’ little uns, while Joe started
a-mixin’ th’ meal wi’ watter an’ makkin’ what they call i’ these
parts “stirabaat,” shaatin’ all th’ time at th’ top o’ his voice,
“Glory!” “A feast o’ fat things on th’ lees!” “Manno
fro’ aboon!” “The Bread o’ Life sent daan fro’ Heaven!” an’ a
lot more Methody lingo, as is all Greek to th’ likes o’ me.
‘When they’d put all aat o’ seet, an’ licked their lips that
they might lose naught, th’ same little lass said: “Let’s put th’
bag an’ th’ basket aatside; th’ Almeety’ll happen fill it for us
again to-morn.” So they did as hoo said, an’ there were more
joy i’ that haase nor there’d been for mony a day.
‘I’ a bit there come a knock at th’ dur, an’ th’ grocer’s lad
axed ’em, when they oppened it, if they knew who’d stolen th’
groceries an’ th’ meal, as, he said, he were takkin’ them to th’
Grange, an’ had nobbud left them on th’ wall while he ran back for
summat he’d forgetten.
‘Joe says as haa he felt what he’d eaten turn o’er i’ his
stomach, an’ he stood like a mon fair gloppened. Bud th’
little lass said, “We’ve just finished it, the leavin’s an’ o.’ ”
‘“Finished what?” shaated th’ lad. “Yo’ durnd meean to
say as yo’ve taan th’ groceries?” ‘By this time Joe an’ th’
wife seed th’ mistak they’d made; while th’ lad started cursin’ an’
swearin’, an’ vowin’ as his maister would both seck him an’ send Joe
‘I’ a bit th’ owd chap come daan hissel’. “Joe,” he
says, “what’s this aw yer abaat thee? Aw never thought thaa’d
tak’ to thievin’, aw thought thy line were prayin’; bud it turns aat
thaa con do a bit o’ booath, an’ thaa’rt not th’ only one.
Thaa mun oather pay for what thaa’s getten an’ eyten, or aw’se put
the bobbies on thy track. We’re honest folk i’ these parts.”
‘Aw welly think as th’ grocer would ha’ passed it o’er if it
hadn’t been for Joe’s wife. Hoo’d awlus a sharp tongue, but it
were double-edged that mornin’.
‘“Thaa’s a deal o’ need to talk!” hoo shaated. “Thaa
should cleean thy own pan afore thaa starts blackin’ other folks’.
What do yo’ know abaat honesty, wi’ yore sanded sugar an’ yore meal
’at’s haive bran?”
‘“Naa, my good woman,” said th’ grocer, puttin’ aat his hond.
‘“Durnd good woman me. If aw’m a thief as thaa says,
there’s naught good abaat me,” an’ hoo pushed him off th’ threshold,
an’ shut th’ dur i’ his face. Then hoo turned raand to Joe an’
said, “Thy prayin’s getten us into lumber this time, an’ no mistak’;
bud aw durnd know as it matters; th’ childers getten their little
ballies filled, thank God!”
‘Well, next mornin’ there were a warrant aat for Joe, an’ he
were marched off afore th’ magistrate. E’ what a court-haase
there were! It were fair lined. Aw never seed so mony
hungry faces afore. Bud they’d all forgetten their hunger i’
poor Joe. Th’ bench were full an’ o’; an’ th’ owd maister were
i’ th’ chair wi’ th’ owd Methody superintendo at his back to speak a
word for Joe.
‘Th’ grocer’s lad were th’ first witness, an’ he swore as he
were takkin’ a parcel o’ groceries to th’ Grange wi’ a bag o’ meal,
an’ ’at when he were passin’ Faithful Joe’s dur he remembered he’d
forgetten two bottles o’ pickled onions, an’, clappin’ daan his
basket on th’ yard wall, he run back for ’em as fast as his legs
could carry him. Bud when he come back wi’ th’ pickles under
his arm he fun’ th’ basket an’ th’ bag empty, an’ when he axed
Faithful Joe if he knew aught abaat ’em, one of his little lasses
telled him they were all eyten.
‘Th’ owd maister axed th’ lad how long he were away, bud he
couldn’t tell him, for he said he stopped on th’ road to kick a
‘Then th’ grocer geet into th’ box, an’ backed up all th’ lad
had said, tellin’ th’ magistrates as haa Faithful Joe’s wife had
insulted him an’ called him a rogue.
‘When th’ magistrates had yerd all, they axed Joe what he had
to say for hissel’.
‘Yo’ know Joe’s face as weel as aw do. Yo’ never saw
feear in it, an’ yo’ never saw it shadowed. It’s looked too
mich i’ God’s face for that. Well, th’ owd chap stood up an’
says, “Gentlemen, aw’ve naught to hide, for aw’ve done naught wrang.
We were all clammin’, for we hadn’t brokken a bit o’ bread for four
days; an’ aar little Jenny axed if God couldn’t send summat if He’d
a mind. So aw went daan on my knees an’ towd Him what th’
little lass said, an’ when aw geet up they oppened th’ dur an’ fun’
th’ basket an’ th’ meal. Gentlemen,” he says, stretchin’
hissel’ up, “what would yo’ ha’ done?”
‘There were silence till yo’ could yer th’ watches tickin’ i’
‘Then th’ owd maister, who all th’ while had been rubbin’ his
een, said, “Aw should ha’ done as yo’ did, Joe.”
‘There were a bonny row i’ that hoile, aw con tell yo’; th’
felleys threw their caps up, an’ th’ lasses as had shawls waved ’em
raand their yeds, an’ aw thought Joe’s hond would ha’ come off wi’
th’ greetin’s as he geet.
‘“Aw’ll sattle his bill for him,” said Pinch Billy, who were
on th’ bench. An’ there were some as said it were th’ first
time his purse had been oppened to th’ poor.
‘Aw durnd know as there’s mich more to tell bud fro’ that
time to this we’ve awlus called him Faithful Joe.’
‘Then his faith did not get him into trouble after all?’ I
‘It welly did,’ was the sharp reply. ‘Onyroad, aw
shouldn’t care to run as close a shave; bud, for all that, when aw
come to die aw think a prayer o’ Joe’s will do me more good nor
doctor’s physic an’ parson’s groans.’
As I left the old man in the shadows of the engine-house, I
was more perplexed than ever with those contradictions which he had
never more innocently betrayed than in the narration of this
THE STEAM GEE-GEE
while in the engine-house, I grew fascinated with the slow and
rhythmic movement of the ponderous beam. Looking at it until
my brain seemed to catch its oscillation, I turned to the old
engineer, who was by my side, telling him that it reminded me of a
giant’s see-saw ― an iron horse on which a Titan or an Anak might
sport in his moments of play.
‘Aw know naught abaat yore giants nor yore Anaks,’ was his
prosaic rejoinder; ‘though aw’ve seen both men an’ lads cross-stride
it afore to-day; an’ when it’s been goin’ an’ all. There’s
them as is fools enuff for aught where a bit o’ risk is consarned;
an’ aw’ve had ’em in here at their marlocks more times nor aw care
to think on. Once it were nearly bein’ “up,” as they say; an’
daan an’ all, for th’ matter o’ that. Bud it’s a long
tale, an’ aw cornd tell it yo’ till loisin’-time.’ Then,
hurrying off to another part of the machinery, he left me gazing up
at the rise and fall of the ponderous beam, and wondering what
strange story I was going to hear about it and its past.
Meanwhile, left to myself, my imagination continued its play,
and I seemed to see in the glow of the cranks and the gleam of the
cylinder the fire which this monster demanded daily as its food.
Then I grew conscious of the piston’s throb as it awoke within me
the sense of the mighty pulse of trade; while the roar of the wheels
sounded like the clamour of a wrathful multitude — a protest against
ceaseless toil voicing itself in the very powers that imposed it.
And all the time the beam rose and fell, nodding as if in mockery;
while the revolutions of the fly-wheel threw dark bars of chasing
shadows in quick succession across the whitewashed wall.
At last the roar lessened and the wheels slowed down as old
Harry laid his hand on the stop-valve by my side. For a few
moments the engine continued to revolve from its own momentum; then,
ceasing, it stood sublime in rest as it had been majestic in
movement. Now arose the strange hum that ever plays around a
sleeping engine — a hum dreamy and melodious, the song of rest that
follows the roar of labour; and as I yielded to it I sat down on an
old chest, and lost myself in the sudden quiet of the closing hour.
In a little while the old man, freed from his toil, came and
sat by my side. At first he preserved the silence which with
him was always the prelude of speech; then, diving deep into his
trousers pocket, he brought forth his tobacco box of steel,
out-rivalling in its polish the knobs and bosses of the engine of
which he was so proud. Pressing his thumb against some unseen
spring, the lid flew open, revealing the dark twist coiled like a
reptile within its narrow limits. Measuring with a practised
eye the length required for his pipe’s replenishment, he cut it
asunder with his formidable knife, and with the skill of an adept,
portioned it into morsels which he rubbed between his oily palms.
There was no hurry in these movements — rather calm absence of mind
which betrayed a pre-occupation, as though his brain were filled
with other thoughts. And so it was; for he was dreaming of the
past which shortly he was to make so real to me in the story of the
‘He were nobbud a little un, a very little un; but he were as
wick as they make ’em.’
By this time the pungent fumes were ascending from the
blackened bowl, correcting the smell of oil and spent steam which
filled the engine-house with such a sickly atmosphere. For a
moment or two the whiffs came quickly; then he drew slowly and
heavily, blowing out clouds of blue vapour from his mouth as if it
were the outlet of some factory furnace, until, at last, as though
he had settled some calculation, he withdrew his pipe, saying:—
‘It were thirty-five year ago come last Whissuntide, an’ th’
afternoon afore we were closin’ for th’ holidays.’
Here I had two facts jerked out without apparent sequence —
‘a little un,’ and some adventure connected with him dating back a
space of five-and-thirty years. But I knew my man, and that
silence was the oil that would accelerate the wheels of his story.
So I continued to gaze up at the beam, now stationary, as it cast
its black shadow and looked down with darkening frown; when,
suddenly, as I anticipated, he continued:—
‘Aw were sayin’ he were nobbud a little un, but he were none
th’ less a trimmer. Somehaa mischief doesn’t ax for mich room.
There’s more devilment i’ a tarrier nor i’ a Newfoundland, ony day;
an’ aw’ve lived long enuff to find aat ’at them as is least often
tak’s most management: leastways, it’s so wi’ women an’ childer.
‘He were th’ manager’s child, an’ th’ only one he had.
An’ happen it were as well it were so, for he were more than he
could manage. He were one of those lads as were everywhere,
an’ everywhere at once. There were no follerin’ him — nowe,
not wi’ yore een when yo’ put yore spectacles on. If yo’d teed
him wi’ a string to th’ table, he’d ha’ been off, th’ table on his
back an’ all. He were awlus i’ lumber (mischief), an’ he were
awlus gettin’ aat on’t baat trouble, while th’ lads as were noan as
bad as hissel’ geet all th’ kicks an’ th’ luggin’s. He used to
play all mak’s o’ larks wi’ th’ lasses, puttin’ worms i’ their
baskets, an’ sich like. One day he tumbled into th’ lodge, an’
then dried hissel’ by th’ boiler fires.’
‘Then had his parents no control over him?’ I asked.
‘No more nor a babby has o’er a colt. An’ yet he were
th’ leet o’ their een an’ th’ joy o’ their heart. They could
never do enuff for him, an’ he could never do naught wrang for them.
He were a idol, aw tell yo’, an they used to worship him like two
‘Did he trouble you much?’ I asked; for I was longing for the
adventure rather than for a description of the character of the boy.
‘Trouble me!’ cried the engineer. ‘He were never aat o’
my gate. Aw were awlus comin’ across him at his marlocks.
He were oather swarmin’ up th’ rods, or openin’ th’ escape-valves,
or cross-stride th’ sway-beam, till aw welly lost my wits; an’ all
th’ more so becose his faither towd me he should howd me responsible
for th’ lad’s life. One day he come to me an’ says, “Harry,”
he says, “if there’s a yure o’ yon lad’s head hurt while he’s abaat
those engines it’ll be as mich as thy shop’s worth, so naa thaa
knows.” “Well,” aw says, “aw’ll do my best; bud aw think it
would be better if yo’d do summat as weel, for th’ lad’s none o’
mine; if he were, he’d have to do as he were towd.” But his
faither nobbud cursed me, an’ towd me to do the same.
‘Well, one afternoon i’ June, five-an’-thirty year ago, th’
lad were sneakin’ abaat th’ hoile wi’ a leet i’ his een aw none
cared for, an’ as limber as an eel. There were no follerin’
him, an’ there were no talkin’ to him. One minute he were on
th’ guard, an’ lookin’ into th’ wheel-race; an’ then he were at the
stop-valves, an aw thought naught bud he would be shuttin’ off th’
steam. “Sithee,” aw said, “aw’ll go an’ fotch thy faither to
thee;” bud th’ young imp nobbud put his finger to his nose an’ said,
“Fotch him.” “Aw will,” aw says, an’ turned o’ my heel to see
if aw could see aught o’ him.
‘Well, as luck ’ud have it, aw come fair on th’ top o’ him as
aw come aatside, for he were i’ th’ factory yard talkin’ to his
‘“Is Eustace all reet?” hoo axed me as hoo see who it were.
‘“Naa,” aw says, “yo’ want to know what aw cornd tell yo.
He were when aw left him i’ th’ engine-haase.”
‘“Left him i’ th’ engine-haase?” hoo screamed. “Why,
man, yo’ must be mad to leave my child among them murderous wheels.”
‘“Nay,” aw says, “it’s th’ lad as is mad, noan me.”
Then the manager turned on me an’ said as aw mun treat his wife an’
child wi’ courtesy.
‘“It’s more nor th’ engine ’ll do,” aw said, pointin’ o’er my
shoulder to where aw’d left th’ little lad. “Them as plays
tricks wi’ steam an’ steel mun ’bide by th’ consequences. An’
th’ engine-haase is noan a nosery (nursery), an’ aw’m noan paid to
look after yore little un.”
‘Ha mich longer we should ha’ talked aw durnd know, for all
three on us were losin’ aar tempers; bud we were brought to by a
skrikin’ fro’ th’ engine-haase, as though somebry had getten caught
by th’ wheels, an’ were makkin’ a louder din nor they made.
‘“That’s aar little Eustace!” shaated th’ manager’s wife, her
face bleachin’ like a calico piece.
‘“By Guy, it is!” shaated th’ manager; an’ they both made as
fast as their legs ’ud carry ’em to th’ engine-haase door.
‘Aw were none slow o’ follerin’, aw con tell yo’; an’ i’ less
time nor it tak’s to tell, we were i’ th’ inside, lookin’ raand for
th’ little lad.
‘“Where is he?” screamed th’ woman, runnin’ abaat wi’ her
honds clasped, an’ her een i’ every nook i’ th’ place.
‘“God knows,” said her husband, in a voice as thick as though
he were speakin’ through a soof (sough).
‘Just then there were a terrible skrike. There were no
mistakkin’ it; an’ aboon th’ roar o’ th’ engine yo’ could yer th’
child cryin’, “Mother, mother!”
‘If th’ engine had come daan on th’ top o’ us we couldn’t ha’
been more flayed; an’ when we looked to where th’ saand come fro’ we
seed th’ youngster a-cross-stride th’ beam, wi’ his knees set i’ th’
web like a vice, an’ his little feet just touchin’ th’ lower flange.
‘“Howd thy yed daan, Eustace!” aw shaated; “howd thy yed daan!”
for we’d been repairin’ th’ engine, an’ hadn’t shifted all th’
baulks an’ pulleys fro’ th’ principles o’ th’ roof an’ every time th’
beam tipped th’ lad’s brains come nigh o’ bein’ spilt at his
‘He did as he were towd, haaever, an’ rode game, as they say,
duckin’ his little yed wi’ every lift o’ th’ beam.
‘“Stop th’ engine, yo’ fool!” roared his faither; an’ aw ran
like leetnin’ to th’ stop-valve, an’ turned it faster nor aw’d ever
turned it i’ my life afore. Bud it were all no use. Aw
turned an’ turned an’ turned, an’ naught come on’t; th’ speed kept
up all th’ same.
‘“Is it never baan to stop?” yelled th’ manager, layin’ his
hand upon my shoulder, while his missus ran up th’ steps to th’
beam-chamber, where th’ lad were sittin’ at one end an’ playin’
see-saw wi’ death at t’other.
‘“For God’s sake, woman,” aw shaated, “ston’ back!” But
hoo reached aat her arms as though hoo never yerd me, an’ welly came
tumblin’ daan into th’ wheel-race below.
‘Then th’ manager geet howd o’ me by th’ shoulder.
“Come back,” he says, “an’ let me try.” An’ pullin’ me aat o’
th’ gate, he seized th’ stop-valve hissel’. Bud he mut as weel
ha’ twirled an umbrelly; th’ engine kept on all th’ same.
Then, wi’ a look as though he’d seen a thousand devils, he
whispered, “By G—, Harry, th’ spindle’s stripped.” An it were
as he said.’
‘I don’t understand what you mean,’ I said, interrupting the
old man in his story.
‘Durnd yo’ see, when th’ thread on th’ spindle strips, th’
valve’s no use; it willn’t run down, an’ yo’ can’t shut th’ steam
‘And what was your next move?’ I asked.
‘There were no movin’ for a bit, aw con tell yo’; we stood
gawmless like, an’ stared one another i’ th’ face. Bud that weren’t
th’ worst. Th’ engine started racin’; for th’ news spreads
fast i’ th’ factory, an’ as th’ weyvers began to hear what were up,
they shut off their looms, for they were fain to see, an’ this put
all th’ more i speed on th’ engine.
‘Aw’ve seen a bit i’ my time, but aw’ll never forget what aw
seed that afternoon. There were th’ lad sittin’ low on th’
beam as it welly doubled its speed, an’ nobbud missin’ by an inch or
two th’ baulks that lay across th’ principles o’ th’ roof an’ all th’
while an iron pulley close to his ear ready to crack his yed if he
moved it; his mother kneelin’ as near as hoo could ged to him on th’
beam-chamber floor, wi’ her honds lifted to th’ Almeety; his faither
daan below holdin’ on to th’ rail that guarded th’ fly-spur, an’
shaatin’ to him to keep cool; th’ honds all th’ time flockin’ an’
chokin’ up th’ door-hoile, an’ makkin’ th’ excitement ten times wur
wi’ their screams; an’ me lookin’ up, an’ not knowin’ which way to
turn. Then owd Amos, th’ mechanic, said, “Thaa con shut off th’
steam at th’ junction-valves of th’ boilers.”
‘“By Guy!” aw says, “aw never thought o’ that;’ an’ aw were
off i’ a jiffy to do as he said. Bud th’ luck were agen us
that day, for after aw’d shut off one, t’other stuck. Yo’ see
we were none so particular i’ those times as we are naa, an’ dirt
used to get into th’ valve seatin’s an’ stop ’em shuttin’.’
I had once more to stay the old man in his narrative, and ask
him to explain; whereupon he told me that there was a double check
in the supply of steam from the boilers to the cylinders, a
stop-valve and a junction-valve — the stop-valve in the engine-house
being the one for ordinary use, the other being called into
requisition in times of emergency. This time, however, both
had failed, and the roaring boilers mercilessly drove the steam
without check or hindrance into the cylinders, the engines meantime
racing with the lessened burden of the stopped looms.
‘While aw were i’ the boiler-haase fightin’ wi’ th’
junction-valves, them as were i’ th’ engine-haase telled me as haa
twice th’ lad’s mother tried to geet howd on him an’ pull him off on
to th’ beam-chamber floor, an’ hoo would have fotched him off an’
all, bud th’ manager geet howd on her an’ held her back, to save
both her life an’ that o’ him hoo thought hoo could save. It
seemed as though there were naught for it bud death. There
were some as were afraid o’ th’ beam comin’ i’ two, for th’ speed
had none lessened; an’ others expected Eustace to tipple off for
he’d begun o’ bein’ sick, an’ closed his een as if he’d made up his
mind to die.
‘At last somebry shaated, “Draw th’ boiler fires;” an’ haive
a dozen on ’em ran daan below, an’ i’ less time nor it tak’s to
tell, the fire-hoile were suffocatin’ wi’ cinders an’ sulphur.
More nor one geet brunt, aw con tell yo’; bud that mattered little,
for there were life to save. Then aw bethought me an’ opened
th’ ’scape-valves; an’ what wi’ drawin’ th’ tires an’ lettin’ off th’
steam, we brought th’ engine to its senses, an’ stopped its little
‘Th’ first thing as th’ manager did when he lifted Eustace
fro’ th’ beam were to kiss him; an’ then he started sobbin’ like a
child. It were the only time aw ever see tears i’ his een.
Aw’d awlus takken him to be a chap as had no reserve for soft water
― a flinty sort, yo’ know, wi’ no springs abaat him. It were
summat to see him cry, an’ aw thought all th’ better on him for’t.
Then he took th’ child an’ put him beside his mother, who were lyin’
i’ a dead faint on th’ beam-chamber floor; bud like as when hoo felt
his little arms raand her neck hoo come to, an’, pressin’ him agen
her bosom, hoo said, “Thank God thaa’s safe.” Then th’ lasses
an’ th’ felleys as were craadin’ raand set up a great cheer.
Bud th’ mother didn’t seem to hear it, for hoo kept openin’ her lips
as though hoo were makkin’ a prayer.’
‘And did it cure Eustace?’ I asked.
‘It did fro’ mechanicin’,’ said the old man, ‘for aw never
seed his yed i’ th’ engine-haase at after.’
OLD HARRY’S ROMANCE
to old Harry’s story about Faithful Joe, I determined to look up the
hero for myself for I felt sure that he was a man whose acquaintance
would be profitable for those who were in search of striking and
original personalities. Thus it came to pass on the following
Saturday afternoon I ventured to trespass upon the domestic domain
of him concerning whose early life I had been so deeply interested
by the stirring story of old Harry. Not but what I knew Joe by
sight, and had more than once spoken to him in my factory
wanderings; but until the engineer lifted the curtain of his past I
had not been more than ordinarily interested in him. Now,
however, I was desirous of knowing him at close quarters, for I was
convinced that, despite his over-zeal and rude religious fervour, he
was a man whom to know would be a revelation. I had other
hopes as well. Might not this man of whom Harry knew so much
know something of Harry, and might I not from him secure the key of
the sphinx-like engineer? For, truth to tell, this old man had
been little more than a veiled oracle to me, an unknown interpreter
of the lives of others. I daresay if I had cared to glean his
past history I might have gleaned a few stray ears from village
gossip. But, for all this, I felt he was at best but little
known. Silent, observant, isolated, while he read others,
there were none who seemed to have broken the seal of his inner
life. Many times I had made the attempt, but in vain.
Now that my stay was limited, and my departure at hand, I confess
curiosity had laid a strong hold on me, and I was vexed in my mind
to know something of the unknown.
I found Faithful Joe’s house cursed by the uniformity that
marks the dwellings of the Lancashire operative. There it
stood, cold and fashionless, in a lengthy row of grey and
smoke-stained stone, pierced by lines of windows that looked like so
many dead eyes in the gloomy shadow of the narrow street. The
door was ajar, as all the doors in a Lancashire village are, now
letting in a whiff of heather-laden air from the hills, and now the
choke of down-falling smoke from adjoining factory chimneys, or the
cooling vapour from some neighbouring lodge. Within, this
sombre baldness was somewhat dispelled by rude knick-knacks and a
ruddy fire. Coloured prints hung from the walls, and anti-macassars
of many tints gave scant comfort to the high-backed chairs.
The ruins of the midday meal were scattered on the table, among them
being crusts and egg-shells, with a clean-scraped butter-pot; while
spilt tea blotched the newspaper which had played the part of cover
to the seamed deal board. Joe I found seated by the fire,
blowing clouds of tobacco smoke towards the brade-fleigh over his
head, whereon were hung the wafer-like ovals of oaten cakes; while
by his side sat his wife conning the contents of the Weekly News,
and now and then reading aloud any tit-bit that might serve as
relish to her husband’s taste. A huge chest of drawers with
brass fittings filled up the farther side of the room, their top
being loaded with books and workboxes, relieved by pot shepherds and
shepherdesses, and a rearing horse with its valiant rider; while an
eight-day clock with rusty tick beat out the flight of time to its
all unconscious auditors.
‘Am I intruding?’ I asked, as I stood in the doorway taking
in the scene, and fearful lest these old dwellers in the valley
should resent the unexpected advent of one whom they called ‘furriner.’
‘Oh, it’s yo’, is’t?’ said Joe, as he looked round and
recognised me. ‘Yo’re welcome for th’ owd mon’s sake.’
And then, turning to his wife, he continued, ‘It’s th’ chap as mates
wi’ Harry, thaa knows, lass, him as thaa’s yerd me talk on.’
Dropping the paper on her knees, the woman thus addressed
gave me a keen glance of scrutiny, and then, as though satisfied,
said, ‘Come in, we’ll charge yo’ naught for yore company; it’s rent
free for th’ likes o’ yo’ where Joe an’ me’s consarned.’
I thanked them, and entered, taking the proffered chair.
But I found them slow at converse, and for the first half-hour they
left me to talk alone. Eventually, however, as they learnt to
trust me, they became more communicative; and when, by skilful
manoeuvring, I directed the conversation to old Harry, I found to my
delight that I had struck a theme that was most congenial.
‘Aw’ve known him all my life,’ said Joe. ‘We were mates
together when we were lads, an’ naa we’re owd men we’ve fun’ no need
to part company. He th’ owdest, an’ aw durnd know but what
he’s th’ better o’ th’ two, for though he’s no perfesser, he keeps
his armour a deal breeter nor some o’ them as is. We started
workin’ for th’ owd gaffers when we were childer, an’, as the sayin’
is, we’ve grown wi’ their growth an’ strengthened wi’ their
‘Not where brass is consarned,’ interrupted his wife.
‘Yo’ve both on yo’ seen aboon a two-thre fortunes made at yon mill,
bud noather on yo’s made yore own, shuzhaa. It’s been the owd
tale o’er again — to them as has is gi’en.’
‘Come, come, owd lass,’ said Joe; ‘charity hides a multitude
o’ sins, thaa knows.’
‘Yi,’ she said, ‘a deal too mony for my likin’ where some
folks is consarned.’
‘Harry does not seem to have many friends, does he?’ I asked.
‘That all depends on what yo’ call friends,’ was Joe’s
response. ‘If there’s few as loves him, there’s none bud
respects him, for he’d do reet by th’ Devil, Harry would.’
‘He’s not married?’ I quietly asked, fearful of betraying my
‘Nay, he were never wed. He’s lived a ’onely life,
noather chick nor child to bless hissel’ wi’.’
‘Bud he were welly bein’ wed once,’ said Joe’s wife, her
woman’s appetite being whetted, now that the old man’s past was
beginning to be laid bare.
‘Ah!’ I said, ‘is there a romance hidden away in his far
‘There’s a lass, onyroad,’ cried the woman, ‘an’ a bonny un
hoo were an’ all.’
‘A quarrel?’ I asked.
‘Nay,’ said the old man, shaking his head; ‘it were wurr nor
a quarrel — it were deeath. Tell him th’ tale, Betty; thaa’s
not forgetten it, although it’s fifty year sin’.’
‘Forgetten it? Nowe, nor aw never shall;’ and then,
placing her paper across her knees, she told the story, which was as
‘To begin at th’ beginnin’,’ she said, ‘Harry were a weakly
lad, an’ they ne’er expected they’d pull him through th’ early years
o’ his life. An’ what were wurr, he’d a stepfaither as
couldn’t bear th’ seet on him, an’ punched him whenever he get i’
his gate. Then his mother deed, an’ he went to his
grandfaither’s, who used to sup all th’ lad’s weekly wage, an’ lug
him when there were no more to get at.
‘Next door to where they lived were a little lass called
Alice; an’ like as th’ two on ’em geet thick, goin’ back’ards and
forrards to th’ mill together, an’ sharin’ one another’s baggin’.
If onybody put on Alice, Harry used to feight ’em; an’ if onybody
put on Harry, Alice used to gie ’em th’ length o’ her tongue, an’ it
were noan a short un, aw con tell yo’.
‘Well, fro’ a lad an’ lass they grew up to be man an’ woman,
all th’ time keepin’ company. Aw’ve yerd Alice say hoo didn’t
know when hoo didn’t love Harry; an’ aw’ve yerd Harry say th’ same
abaat th’ lass.
‘Hoo were a reg’lar May flaar, an’ no mistak’. Hoo’d
awlus a blush on her cheek, an’ a twinkle i’ her een, an’ a kind
word on her tongue, an’ her touch were as tender as an angel’s.
There were mony a one as wanted her, but hoo nobbud laughed an’ said
Harry were her mon. An’ he were ’an o’, for there were noabry
come up to him i’ her een; an’ it were th’ same wi’ him; he
worshipped th’ very graand hoo walked on, an’ th’ very looms hoo
wove at. They say as haa he used to run up fro’ th’ fire-hoile
just to have a peep at her through th’ weyvin’-shade dur. Aw
used to weyve again’ her i’ those days, an’ somehaa or other hoo
awlus knew when he put his yed o’er th’ looms. Hoo’d no need
to look up an’ catch his een; there were summat telled her baat
that; an’ when aw couldn’t see him mysel’ aw knew he were there by
the blush as come o’er Alice’s cheek.
‘There were noabry in all th’ village bud wished ’em weel,
for they were th’ sort as minded their own business an’ meddled wi’
naughht as didn’t consarn ’em; bud somehaa or other Providence were
again’ them. If folk could ha’ had their own way they’d ha’
getten wed. Bud then, as yo’ know, folk cannot, an’ it’s
happen as weel.
‘Aw remember meetin’ her one summer’s neet after hoo’d been a
walk o’er th’ tops wi’ Harry. Th’ stars were glentin’, an’ th’
new-mown hay filled all th’ valley wi’ a sweetness as it’ll tak’
heaven all its time to beat. Bud there were a sob i’ th’ wind
as it come fro’ th’ moors, an’ yo’ felt sad like as yo’ listened
to’t. Aw remember as hoo laid her hond on my shoulder an’
said, “Hear yo’, Betty, there’s sorrow yonder.” “Whatever do
yo’ meean?” aw axed, lookin’ into her een that were fillin’ wi’
tears. “E’ dear,” hoo says, “it’s too good to last, lass, is
this;” an’ hoo cried as if her heart would fair break.
‘Aw never seed Alice again. That night hoo were takken
wi’ fayver, an’ afore a week were o’er hoo were deead an’ buried.
There is as says ’at Harry has never smiled sin’. Onyroad, th’
dayleet went aat for him, an’ it welly seems to me his has been a
neet baat a dawn. As yo’ know, he’s not a chap as says mich;
an’ his were a tearless sorrowin’ an’ o’. Bud it were all th’
wurr for that; as aw says, them as con cry never dees o’ a brokken
heart; it’s when th’ tears willn’t flow ’at th’ heart breaks.
An’ it were so wi’ Harry.
‘There were as said he’d tak’ to drink; bud while he’s ne’er
been aboon havin’ a bit o’ a spree, he didn’t swallow his sorrow wi’
ale as some folks do. Aw welly thought he’d loise his wits,
though; an’ for th’ matter o’ that he did; bud aw suppose yo’ll ha’
heard, so aw needn’t tell yo’.’
I assured Joe’s wife that I knew nothing, and that her story
was all the more interesting because it was breaking new ground.
Since listening to her I had been slowly interpreting what before
had been the indecipherable hieroglyphics of old Harry’s life.
Looks, movement, words, as well as his quaint philosophy, became
self-explanatory, and what I had before supposed, now stood out
confirmed by fact. Here was a man whose dream had been rudely
broken at its dawn; one whose better angel had flown before the word
of that resistless power that takes not Yea nor Nay from creature
man; one whose life had been retrospect, the retrospect of gloom;
one in whom sentiment had been choked, in its place going forth the
sluggish stream of unrelieved and unremunerated duty. I
understood now why the man was married to his engines and to his
masters; I understood why he had become the dumb and passive slave
of toil. The romance which ever gives reality and vitality to
life had been withdrawn from him in earliest years, and henceforth
he had become the automaton of labour, a mere tool in the giant hand
‘Naa, Joe,’ said his wife, ‘thaa’d better finish th’ tale,
for it had more to do wi’ thee nor me, thaa knows, an’ thaa’s telled
it too often to forgeet it.’
‘Aw’se ne’er forgeet it,’ said he; ‘told or untold, it’ll
live i’ my memory to my deein’ day. It were abaat a week after
th’ lass were buried, an’ for two-thre days Harry had been missin’
fro’ his wark. We searched for him all o’er, high an’ low, far
an’ wide. Then we took to draggin’ th’ lodge an’ follerin’ th’
river. Bud it were all no use. We come across plenty o’
deead cats an’ dogs, bobbin-skips an’ weft-cans, bud there were no
‘One day there were a chap come through th’ village as used
to fettle clocks and weather-glasses, an’ he telled ’em at th’
public-haase haa there were a mon o’er at Cragstall ’at kept dashin’
his yed again’ th’ gravestones an’ talkin’ to th’ folk as were below
‘Naa, yo’ mun know as Cragstall were fifteen mile away, an’
it were where they’d ta’en Alice to bury, her folk comin’ fro’
there. I’ those days news didn’t travel very fast, for we’d
noather railways nor tallegraphs i’ these parts; so when aw yerd
what th’ clock-fettler said, aw says, “By gum, it’ll be Harry hissel’;”
an’ as I yo’ll yer, it were. Baat stoppin’ for second
thoughts, aw set off just as aw were, straight across th’ moors.
Aw were young i’ those days, an’ th’ best walker i’ the countryside.
Five mile an haar baat stoppin’ for baggin’ — that were th’ measure
o’ my foot when aw were twenty year owd. Aw remember as it
were a full moon, an’ th’ moors stretched aat an’ dipped i’ silvery
leet, naa an’ again throwin’ their black shadows when a mound set
its back up again’ th’ lamp o’ heaven. Aw struck o’er Croyden
yonder, an’ when aw gained th’ ridge aw took th’ lower side just to
tak’ th’ sting aat o’ th’ wind as were blowin’ fro’ th’ yest, an’
hissin’ through th’ long grass, an’ makkin’ it shiver — summer
though it were. When aw come to th’ dip as leads daan under th’
Scars, aw felt a bit scared, for th’ rocks threw aat flaysome
shadows, an’ aw began to wish aw were at whom. Bud aw kept up
my nerve till aw come on th’ moors again, an’ i’ a bit leeted on th’
high road. Aw con remember haa my clogs rung aat i’ th’ neet
air, an’ haa every naa an’ then they struck fire fro’ th’ stones aw
stumbled o’er; an’ aw con remember haa quiet th’ farms were as aw
passed ’em, barrin’ the barkin’ o’ th’ dogs as were roused by th’
noise o’ my footfall.
‘Th’ parish church aw were bun’ for lie abaat a mile an’ a
haive off th’ high road, so aw turned by Rawstron Wood, an’ then
climbed up th’ stream side to Fallbarn, where aw geet a good view o’
th’ graveyard i’ the hollow. It were lyin’ i’ a sea o’
breetness, th’ owd buildin’ an’ th’ moniments as silent as th’ deead
’at were beneath ’em, their shadows at their side like doubles.
‘As aw geet nearer aw met a two-thre folk stonnin’ an’ lookin’
at summat amang th’ tombs. “What are yo’ doin’ here?” aw says;
“it’s abaat time all daycent folk were i’ bed;” an’ just then th’
clock i’ th’ church tower started strikin’ twelve.
‘“Thaa’s a deal o’ room for talkin’,” says one on ’em, gettin’
howd o’ my coit collar. “Who arto, an’ where doesta come
‘“Aw’m lookin’ for a chap,” aw says, “’at’s gone crazy o’er
loisin’ his lass as were buried here a week ago.”
‘“Weel, he’s yonder, sithee,” said th’ mon, an’, loosenin’
his howd o’ my coat, he pointed towards th’ churchyard, where a
felley was wanderin’ amang th’ graves.
‘There he were, sure enuff sometimes on his knees an’
sometimes on his face, talkin’ an’ prayin’, an’ then shaatin’ an’
cursin’, as he doubled his fist an’ shook it at th’ stars.
‘“Doesta see?” said an owd mon by my side, “he wants to
feight the Almeety, but he cornd get at him.”
‘Leavin’ th’ men, aw went daan into th’ churchyard, just as
he’d thrown hissel’ wi’ his face on th’ grass, chewin’ an’ grindin’
it wi’ his maath, and foamin’ all the while like a dog ’at’s gone
‘“Harry,” aw says, stoopin’ daan o’er him an’ tryin’ to lift
him, “what arto doin’ here, lad?”
‘He lifted his yed an’ looked up at me wi’ een as glared like
a cat’s i’ th’ deead time o’ neet.
‘“Come, Harry,” aw says, “pull thysel’ together. Thaa’s
wet through, though thy hond’s hot enuff an’ no mistak’.” Bud
he flung hissel’ on the grass again, an’ started rakin’ up th’ sods
on th’ grave, as though his honds had been iron.
‘I’ a bit th’ felleys come fro’ o’er the wall where aw’d left
’em, an’ as Harry had gone off i’ a deead faint, we geet him moved
into a shade near by.
‘When the mornin’ come, an’ when th’ doctor were brought, he
said it were another case o’ fayver. An’ so it were, an’ aw
were th’ one as nursed him through’t. Bud he were never th’
same at after. As the missus said, th’ dayleet went aat, an’
his neet’s been baat a dawn.’
‘SHUTTING OFF STEAM’
called me away from the scene of busy activity where for so long a
time old Harry had played the part of communicative friend.
But although I was distant from him I could not shake off the
presence of his personality. Wherever I went he companioned
me, and again and again I found myself not only falling into his
quaint modes of expression, but passing through those scenes which
he had so realistically described. I carried with me, too, the
roar and clatter of the machinery; and though my haunt for the time
being was a quiet rural nook, the loud voices of the operatives and
the clatter of their iron clogs found their way into the ear of my
imagination, and proved to me that my sojourn in a manufacturing
centre had become an incorporate part of my life. Nor am I
alone in this experience; for since then I have found many who
having once lived among the mill-workers of Lancashire have never
afterwards been able to lose the image and superscription which
their strong individuality impresses on the sojourner’s mind.
And it was even so with me. Neither a Lancashireman by birth
nor residence, the twelve months spent among these operatives had
done more in the development of practical ideas than all my previous
years of travel and study, and I anticipated with eagerness the time
of my return.
This, however, was delayed beyond my anticipation, and three
years passed before I again found myself in that smoke-canopied
valley where old Harry had been the central and Plutonic character.
As I travelled in the train the spurs of hills again gave me a
familiar welcome. Bleak, barren, and coldly grey, they ran out
on each side, dotted here and there with outlying farmsteads and
lone folds, and dipping towards the trough of the valley, through
which ran a turbid river, turning in its course a myriad wheels, for
on its banks stood many-storied factories from which sounded the
spoom of the spindles and the clatter of the loom. Around
these were barrack-like blocks of gloomy cottages, into whose
cabined rooms were crowded the families who tented at the mills.
A hard lot was theirs. By day the stuffy atmosphere of the
workshop; by night the still more stifled air of the overcrowded
chamber. True, on either hand blocks of better-built houses
raised their new stone-dressed faces; but the old hands loved the
old homes — many of them, as families, having lived there for three
and four generations, their little horizon bounded by the encircling
hills, save when Whit-week trips swept them to the seaside, or some
Saturday afternoon saw them wandering in the streets of the great
city some sixteen miles distant from this outlying centre of busy
As I alighted from the train, and walked up the narrow
street, the factories were ‘loosing’ for the day. How familiar
were the old faces wrapped in their many-coloured shawls — faces
pale and wan, yet full of the expression peculiar to factory labour!
How familiar was the old vernacular, making up for its want of music
in its strength of tone! How familiar, too, the clatter of the
clogs, and the sharp ring of their iron-tipped soles! Although
a drizzle was falling, aggravated by a heavy mist from the hills,
and clouds of smoke which had fought all day in vain to reach the
upper air, my heart still beat with a home feeling, and as I
exchanged words with many whom I passed, and felt the warmth of
their cheer, I realised more than ever the hold which these people
had gained over me, and, to some extent, the kindly feelings which I
had unwittingly roused in their hearts during my brief sojourn with
Naturally, my thoughts went out towards old Harry, and I
began to wonder how the intervening years had dealt with his
work-worn body, or if they had been productive of more of those
strange adventures which so thrilled me in their rude narration.
I knew that if he were living I should find him in his old haunt —
either roasting before the boiler fires, or melting in the hot
breath of that demon of commerce which he had so carefully watched
over through the long years of his life. Thus it was, bag in
hand, before seeking the shelter of my hotel, I turned quickly off
to the right, down a narrow tortuous opening, on one side of which
stood knots of tumbledown dwellings flanked by a huge structure,
from whose many windows the twinkling lights were gradually
disappearing, and out of whose lodge gates a few belated operatives
were hurrying home. Slipping round the corner, I passed under
the big gates into the square-paved yard, and, looking beyond,
caught a glimpse of the fiery throats of the boilers as they
devoured with hungry relish the fuel which had that day been thrown
into their iron maws. Hurrying on into the great sheet of
light which they threw in front of them, I looked eagerly for the
face of old Harry; but it was not to be seen. Strange faces
were there, and strange voices; but he for whom I looked, the man
who had been the presiding genius at this feast of flame, was no
longer at his wonted place, and in his absence I seemed to read his
This did not deter me, however, from stepping down into the
fire-hole, where I was greeted by a man stripped to the waist, and
lurid in the light of the furnace he was raking for the night.
Stopping for a moment in his scorching labour, he roughly asked: —
‘Well, what is’t? Ston’ aat o’ th’ gate, or yo’ll get
those fine clooathes spoiled, yo’ will, for sure;’ and turning round
to his task, he thrust the iron rake far into the flame, turning it
and drawing while showers of red-hot ash fell at his feet.
Fierce was his expression as reflected in the furnace glare; while
the muscles of his arms shone like polished bosses, and the mobile
play of strength in the bared breast and shoulders told of a might
herculean, and of a toil destructive of the energies with which it
taxed the human frame. The short-cropped hair was wet with
perspiration, and sweat drops rolled down the low forehead, only
making the smart of the eyes the harder to bear — eyes that smarted
from their long gaze into the furnace fire.
Slackening off for a second time, he turned to me again,
‘What is’t thaa wants? If it’s th’ gaffers, they’ve
gone whom long sin’; an’ if they hadn’t, yo’d none find ’em here.
This hoile’s for them ’at works, an’ not for them as does naught;
get aat o’ my gate;’ and the long rake was again plunged into the
deeps of the tunnel-shaped furnace, a volley of fearful oaths and
imprecations seeming to supply the energy so much needed for this
scorching work, the sweat the while dripping off on to the iron
floor on which the man was standing. When he again paused for
breath, I ventured to address this demon of toil by asking him if he
could tell me where old Harry was.
‘Nowe,’ was his rough reply, ‘aw cornd.’
‘Has he left here, then?’ I inquired, in a somewhat surprised
‘Yi! he changed shops abaat two year sin’.’
‘And you don’t know where he is?’
‘Nowe, an noabry else; an’ noabry will till they ged to th’
Gradually the truth began to dawn on me as I detected in
these rough words the man’s method of announcing my old friend’s
‘Ah,’ I said, ‘he’s passed away, has he?’
‘Yo’ con call it what yo’ like; bud foine names cannot tak’
th’ sting aat o’ th’ owd king — when he bites, he bites for good an’
all. He none wanted to go; he would fain ha’ stopped at th’
owd shop. Bud he’s beat his last fire as far as this world’s
consarned, chuz what he’s doing naa. Bud aw’ve no time to talk
to yo’ abaat owd Harry, nor onybody else, for that matter;’ and the
long rake was again plunged into the flames.
As I turned away into the darkened yard of the factory, all
the darker for the sad news I had just heard, I stumbled across
Faithful Joe, whose welcome was as cordial as that of the
fire-beater’s had been uncouth.
‘What next!’ shouted he, as he recognised my features, and
grasped my hand, under the flicker of the lodge lamp. ‘Well,
if ever! Come along wi’ yo’ into th’ haase: th’ owd woman ’ll
be fain to see yo’. Thaa’s just i’ time; th’ taypot’s on th’
hob, and there’s some buttered cake i’ th’ oven. Wheer hasto
been all these years? There’s been some gradely changes sin’
yo’ were here last. The owd mon’s deead, as yo’ll know.
Yi! he sleeps up at th’ Chapel Hill yonder; he’s getten a cool spot
for once i’ his life, shuzhaa. There was scarce a dry ee i’ th’
village when they carried him shoulder high up th’ lane yon’.
An’ th’ gaffers were there an’ all; an’ it would ha’ been a shame if
they hadn’t, for th’ owd chap were as true as th’ steel he tented.
Bud come inside an’ aw’ll tell yo’ all abaat him.’
We were soon seated in Faithful Joe’s snug kitchen; and, as
he said, the tea was on the hob and the cake was in the oven, both
of which were soon brought forth to satisfy our sharpened appetites,
his wife the while knitting over her whitened hearthstone, her
peaceful face lit up by the fire’s cheerful glow, a striking
contrast to the demon expression of the man whom I had just left at
the boilers in the mill.
‘Well,’ said Faithful Joe, ‘aw suppose yo’ll be fain to yer
summat abaat owd Harry’s death. As yo’ know, he were a hard
un, an’ he died gam’. Th’ owd chap cotched a hoarst (cold),
an’ like as he’d naught to fall back on, for his vitals were
consumed wi’ th’ fire he’d tented for so mony years. We all
seed what were comin’, an’ we telled him to tak’ care o’ hissel’;
bud it were all no use; he worked on all th’ same, his cough all th’
while tearin’ his inside aat. Aw couldn’t bear to yer it; bud
he toared on, did th’ owd felley, ramblin’ among th’ machinery, an’
stickin’ to th’ engines till th’ end. They were like to get
him a mate at last, an’ aw think that finished him, for he lost all
heart when he seed a fresh face i’ th’ engine-haase. Bad as he
were, he were awlus there at startin’-time, an’ when his hond were
so dithery as he couldn’t lift a tot o’ ale, he fun’ strength to
turn on th’ steam i’ th’ mornin’s, an’ shut it off again at neets.
He were some anxious to be at his work. “Sithee, Joe,” he said
to me one neet, after a bout o’ coughin’, an’ as th’ engines were
slowin’ daan, “sithee, Joe, aw could like to stop wi’ ’em, an’ lie
me daan an’ die beside them.” An’ he welly did; for next
mornin’ they picked him up by th’ side o’ th’ fly-wheel, an’ carried
him whom for good. Did yo’ ever see Harry cry? Aw never
did afore that mornin’ just as they carried him aat through th’ dur,
he turned his head an’ looked at th’ weigh-baulk (sway-beam), and
said, “Good-bye, owd lad; we’re ne’er meet no more.” “Howd thy
din,” says owd Rough Cap, who were carryin’ him, for his heart were
full, an’ he could scarce speak.’ And Faithful Joe’s heart was
full too, and his wife’s also, nor was mine otherwise, and we all
‘How long did he keep his bed?’ I asked.
‘Nobbud abaat three days; an’ aw were wi’ him when he closed
his een, an’ th’ missus here laid him aat. Bud aw tell yo’ he
were gam’ to th’ last. Yo’ should ha’ yerd him when th’ parson
went to see him an’ pray o’er him. “What done yo’ want wi’ th’
likes o’ me?” he axed th’ curate when he come to th’ bedside.
An’ when th’ young felley towd Harry he’d come to see abaat his
soul, he telled him he could manage that bit o’ business for hissel’.
Liftin’ hissel’ up i’ bed, he stretched aat his owd black hond, an’
said, “Sithee, aw’ve done reet by th’ maisters, aw’ve done reet by
th’ honds, an’ aw’ve done reet by my naybors. Aw’ve awlus
given as much work as aw geet paid for, an’ thrown a bit in i’ th’
bargain; aw’ve awlus paid for my beer an’ baccy, an’ my two-thre
porridge, an’ aw owe noabry naught. Aw’ve done as aw’d be done
by, an’ aw’se be treated th’ same as aw’ve treated others; an’ aw
durnd know as yo’ con mak’ it ony better or ony wurr for me, for all
yo’ve brought a book wi’ yo; so naa yo’ know.”’
I had to stop Joe in his narrative by giving vent to a hearty
laugh; for despite my tears the grotesque humour broke in upon my
sorrow, knowing as I did how unconscious it would all be on old
‘But thaa hasn’t telled him all, Joe,’ said the wife,
clicking loudly with her knitting-needles, and smiling through the
mist that suffused her eyes. ‘Finish thy tale naa thaa’s
started. He’ll think no wurr o’ owd Harry when thaa’s towd
‘Well, it were i’ this road,’ continued Joe. ‘Th’
curate didn’t seem satisfied, so, turnin’ to th’ owd lad, he said,
“Bud, Harry, if thaa’s awlus paid for thy beer, thaa’s sometimes
supped more nor were good for thee.” Bud he shook his head,
an’ says, “Nay, thaa’s off it. When aw supped ale, as thaa
says, aboon my share, it were to do me good; an’ if yo’ come to be
poisoned wi’ th’ stink o’ a fire-hoile, yo’ll want summat else to
clear yore stomach nor watter an’ pop. Th’ Great Maister’s
just, an’ He knows when aw’ve fuddled it were to keep me agate.”’
‘And what did the curate say to that?’ I asked.
‘He showed his wisdom, an’ kept his maath shut,’ was Faithful
Joe’s reply; ‘for, as yo’ know, it were no use tryin’ to talk agen
owd Harry. When he’d getten his face square, for he were
terrible tickled, he opened his book an’ read a prayer, an’ very
beautiful it were. Bud it were all no use, for when he’d done,
owd Harry nobbud looked up and said, “It’s poor gam’ yo’ fotch wi’
‘It were that neet he died, an’, as aw tell yo’, aw were wi’
him. It were towards the deead haar an’ all, an’ th’ wind were
howlin’ raand th’ haase like a hurricane. He’d slumbered a
deal sin’ th’ curate had left him, bud abaat nine o’clock he were
ta’en wi’ a hiccough as plagued him terrible. Th’ missus here
had made him some barley-water wi’ a lemon squeeze, an’ aw kept
tryin’ to get him to sup; bud it were no use — it all come back.
Abaat ten o’clock th’ owd chap pricked up his yers, an’ gettin’ howd
on me he said, “Hearken, there’s th’ factory bell!” “Nay,
Harry,” aw says, “there’s been no bell i’ yon factory for thirty
year; they call ’em wi’ whistles naa, thaa knows; aw should ha’
thought thaa’d called ’em often enuff not to forget that.” Bud
he nobbud kept saying, “Th’ bell, th’ bell. Whatever shall aw
do? Aw’m lat’, aw’m lat’;” an’ throwin’ daan th’ clooathes, he
tried to put his legs on th’ chamber floor to don his britches.
Poor owd felley! his shanks were like spindles, an’ he dithered an’
tottered till aw had to geet him back again, while all th’ time he
kept sayin’ between his hiccoughs, “Th’ bell, th’ bell.” Then
he quietened daan, an’ a bit o’ slumber come on, an’ aw con tell yo’
aw’d many thoughts as aw sat an’ watched th’ owd face i’ th’ flicker
o’ th’ lampleet. It were a grand face for all it were a dirty
un; bud then, yo’ know, th’ dirt were o’ th’ reet sort — th’ sort as
weshes aat at deeath. Aw welly thought aw could see th’ angels
at their blessed wark, for th’ owd chap’s soul seemed to shine
through his wrinkled owd face, an’ a song start fro’ th’ lips that
had spilt aboon their share o’ oaths. Th’ bed-clooathes an’
all seemed as though they were bein’ weshed i’ th’ sunleet. Th’
missus here says it were imagination; bud aw say it were
transfiguration. Onyroad, th’ owd chap seemed swallowed up i’
‘And did he speak again?’ I asked.
‘Yi! once, abaat midneet. He oppened his een like, an’
puttin’ his hond on my arm, whispered summat at first aw couldna mak’
aat. So aw bent daan o’er him, for aw were anxious to cotch
his last words, an’ aw says, “What is’t, Harry?” Bud his
hiccoughs were so bad ’at aw couldn’t cotch what it were he said.
Then aw yerd summat abaat “th’ Maister’s hond bein’ on th’
stop-valves,” an’ aw could just cotch th’ words—“Joe, He’s shuttin’
off th’ steam.”’
Next morning, the clouds having lifted, I walked quietly up
to the Chapel Hill burial-ground to seek old Harry’s resting-place.
I had little difficulty, for a plain stone slab soon caught my eye,
on which were cut the words —
IN MEMORY OF
A MASTER’S TRIBUTE
How long I lingered I know not. All that I know is — my
tribute was tears.