Creating a more Harmonious World

For Nature to be in balance, it is surely necessary for humanity and animals to live in harmony. Numerous wonderful people and animals work together in mutual support and I should like to donate to countless groups.
Being unable to contribute to them all, I have decided to donate a novel - 'The Fields Laid Waste' - in the hope that if you enjoy reading it for free, you might consider making a donation of any amount how ever large or small to an animal charity of your choice. Several are listed in the links...
In time I hope to extend this to other novels as well as perhaps including photographs and pictures donated by artists. If you like the idea, please tell your friends and please visit regularly as the stories will be continued several times a week...

Monday, 24 December 2012

The Fields Laid Waste - Chapter 4

Chapter 4

When the clock chimed two, Caroline, sitting in the window seat, looked up from the book, “Shall I read on?
Jane didn’t reply. Her eyes were closed and her skin was so ashen and transparent that her face appeared little more than a skull on the pillow.
“Jane?” Caroline whispered but there was no answer.
She closed the book and turned to the window, half-hoping he’d be there, half-hoping he wouldn’t. Outside, a faded sun hung lazily in the white sky where fine streaks of silver streaked through the few bloated clouds. Children laughed across the green, diving and falling, rolling together like young animals, while scrawny dogs yapped playfully around their knees and ankles. And there, on the bench sat Mr. Harding, winding his pocket watch and turning now and then to the Hall.
She stepped back from the window and glanced at her sister. She wished she had told her of his invitation; Jane would know what to do. She’d been meaning to tell her all afternoon but somehow, each time she had tried to begin, the words eluded her.
She tiptoed to the bed and looked down at Jane’s face. She was so still and so pallid that had it not been for the rattle of breath through congested lungs, Caroline might have thought her dead. Death seemed so close that its aspect was already printed on her features. Caroline reached for her hand and stroked the warm skin, longing for her to wake but, as she murmured in sleep, it seemed too cruel to deny her these moments’ respite from pain.
Softly wiping her sister’s hair from her forehead, Caroline stooped to kiss her brow, “I shall come back soon,” she whispered and crept from the room.
Unseen, she hurried down the stairs and, wrapping her cloak around her, slipped out of the Hall.
The moment he saw her, Mr. Harding stood up, “Miss Brandwith, I’m honoured that you decided to come.”
It sounded rehearsed and contrived and, afraid of appearing too eager, she stopped some distance from him.
“I had to come,” she said, “it’s my duty to learn something of my father’s tenants.”
“Your duty,” he nodded seriously. “Then we had better make sure we take no pleasure in our walk.”
He seemed to be trying not to smile and his flippancy unnerved her.
“Are you mocking me, Mr. Harding?”
“Heaven forbid!” He laughed and offered her his arm, “May I?”
“No, sir. You may not. I am quite capable of walking unaided.”
He laughed all the more, “Very well. Where would you like to begin?”
Already doubting the wisdom of having come, she shook her head, “Wherever you think fit.”
He mused for some seconds, turning in each direction then nodded decisively, “You’ll be familiar with the glebe I suppose, so if we walk back around the Hall and along the north field we’ll reach the common and the river.”
Suddenly he was serious and this time when he looked at her, there was something more pensive in his smile. “It’s quite a trek but it would give me time to describe village life.”
They followed the avenue of trees that bordered the perimeter of the Hall, and he talked of the changing seasons and the festivals that marked the high points of the year. She was fascinated by the harvest feast and tried to imagine the villagers dancing and singing. He spoke of the Lowkirk characters: the fiddler, the drummer and the brewer. His descriptions were laced with anecdotes and stories of the former squire, and by the time they had passed beyond the demesne her fear had given way to amusement.
The wooded groves led to a stretch of barren scrub land bordered with yellow weeds and spiky purple thistles beyond which a winding track was marked with a hand painted sign: ‘NORTH FIELD’.
Deep ruts ran along either side of the track, huge waterlogged furrows left by hooves and ploughs. The field stretched before them onto the horizon, the brown earth speckled and banked with balks.
“When I bring the water to the Hall,” he said, pointing along the track, “I’m hoping to lay a series of clay pipes along this stretch to drain the strips. You see how muddy the earth is? Even in summer the water collects here. We’ve tried laying stones and ditches but they didn’t really help so the land is useless for crops.”
Caroline stepped onto a ridge of drier ground and stared across the field. Everything was silent and still; no movement, no life just the still brown earth and the white open sky as far as the eye could see.
“Of course,” he said, squelching through the muddy gullies, “if the enclosure goes ahead, I could be wasting my time.”
She had wondered how long it would be before he mentioned the enclosure and, as the hint of criticism in his voice disturbed her, she dared not look at him.
“How did the villagers react to the notice?”
“How do you think?”
She clenched her hands together inside her cloak, “It may not affect them too badly. If they have documents to prove they own their land there’s nothing for them to worry about.”
“Documents! Most of them can’t read, Miss Brandwith. All they know are their crops and their animals. If they ever had any documents, they’ll probably have used them to light their fires or block a draughty doorway! One or two of the freeholders may have kept them but even then, they won’t be much use.”
“Oh no,” she turned to him quickly, “it’s very important. You must tell them that if they can prove the land is theirs no one can take it from them.”
“Is that right?” he said cynically.
He leaped onto the ridge beside her and stood so close she could feel the warmth of his skin. “Look along here. All of these strips belong to a freeholder, Tom Fuller. He may or may not have documents to prove it, but take my word for it, these are his. You see all the pools and the puddles? Without drainage these strips are more or less useless, but Tom does alright because he owns other strips way over there where the field rises. The soil is fertile and the sun shines so he gets a good return. It’s the way it works, good land, bad land, it’s shared out more or less evenly. A fair system wouldn’t you say?”
She nodded.
“Now, supposing that when your father brings in his commissioners he discovers that he owns the land in between, a bit here, a bit there. What good would that be to him if he wanted to enclose a farm? He’s not going to settle for patches all over the place, is he? He’ll want all his share in one place so he can build fences and mark it as his. Then what will happen to Tom?”
“I suppose they would come to an agreement.”
He shook his head, “I’ll tell you what will happen - it happened in Beckford, it happened in Rowthorpe, it’s happened in every other village in the country. Your father’s lawyers will discuss it with the commissioners to ensure a good deal. They’ll measure how much land he actually owns and give him that many acres in the place where he wants it. He won’t choose this part, will he? He’ll choose the good land over there and poor Tom and others like him will end up with some muddy plot that’s no use for crops or grazing.”
He waited expectantly as she struggled to respond, “The freeholders have their rights too. The commissioners will listen to all sides.”
“And what chance do you think an uneducated man like Tom would have arguing against a trained lawyer?”
“Then he must find a lawyer to speak for him.”
He laughed, “Have you any idea of the cost of a lawyer? Thirty pounds in legal fees for enclosure! Where would Tom find thirty pounds? And even if he did, and was granted reasonable land, what would happen to his animals? Now they can graze where they like, but if the enclosure were enforced, he couldn’t let them wander onto someone else’s land. He’d have to build fences - more expense. He won’t be allowed to pasture them on the common anymore because someone else will have claimed that for his own. No more fishing, nowhere to gather fire wood or berries; the whole village, the whole way of life will just vanish overnight.”
He stared across the field, biting his lip and so lost in his own thoughts he scarcely seemed aware of her presence.
“It means nothing to men like your father,” he said at last. “He has his mill and investments. This is just another venture for him. But for the villagers,” he waved his arms dramatically over the field, “this is all they have, the only life they know. It’s not only the land that they stand to lose, it’s everything: their livelihood, their friends, their dignity!”
Caroline stepped down from the balk, wishing she could find some way to appease him.
“It’s all very well your brother-in-law spouting from his pulpit and threatening eternal damnation! When it comes to judgement, he’d do better looking closer to home to see where the real sin lies.”
The attack was too sudden and Caroline, unprepared and lost for an answer, felt a rising indignation. She had no doubt he had cause to be bitter but his charge seemed calculated and cruel. She had accepted his invitation in good faith and now sensed that she had been duped; he hadn’t wanted her company but to use her to vent the anger he dared not direct at her father.
She turned back to the path, “You’ve made your point, Mr. Harding. I can find my own way home.”
“No, please wait,” he leaped from the bank, “there’s so much more to see.”
“I’ve seen enough to know why you brought me here. You’ve made that very plain.”
“Please,” he opened his hands, “forgive me. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“I’m not offended,” she said with determined composure, “but I am surprised. I had taken you for a gentleman and now I see I was mistaken.”
“Would you have thought me more of a gentleman if I hadn’t spoken my mind?”
“A gentleman would have had the courage to say these things to my father not to me, and I doubt that a gentleman would have agreed to work for a man he believes so wicked.”
“I made that agreement with your father before I knew of his plans. I signed a contract with him then and it’s too late to break it. I have not seen him since the notice appeared on the church door. Nor, come to that, had I seen it when I offered to show you the village. That wasn’t the reason I asked you.”
Her irritation eased a little, “Had you known would it have made a difference?”
“You mean, would I still have offered to show you round?”
She nodded.
He blinked and his eyes moved thoughtfully over her face, “Yes,” he said, “it would have given me an even greater incentive to speak with you. I’m sorry if I’ve spoken harshly. I didn’t intend this at all but these are my people. I care about them. You must understand that?”
His face was so open and so artless; she couldn’t doubt his word. “Yes,” she said, “I do understand. But you must also understand, Mr. Harding, that my father’s business is not my affair. I have no say in what he does.”
“In that case,” he raised his eyebrows hopefully, “please don’t go. Walk a little further, at least as far as the common?”
She paused indecisively, aware all the while that his eyes were fixed on her, drawing her with the same magnetism that had drawn her to his face in church.
“If you go now I shall be angry with myself for having driven you away. It will be on my mind all evening and...” again the half-repressed smile flickered on his lips, “I’m afraid I’ll manage no work at all. It will delay my plans for your water supply and...” he shook his head and his smile escaped, disarming her completely.
“To the common, then,” she yielded.
“And the river. You must see the river.”
The track followed the edge of the field for some distance before veering away to a makeshift bridge over a swollen beck. The bridge led to a steady incline across the common, dotted with a few shabby huts and grazing sheep. From the highest point, clear of trees and shrubs, he pointed out landmarks of the neighbouring hamlets: the tower of Rowthorpe church, the ruins of Hernewood Abbey and the crenellated turrets of Beckford House shaded in clouds in the distance.
“But of course,” he said, “you’d know that. Isn’t Lady Beckford your sister?”
“Antonia,” she nodded, “the eldest.”
“How many more of you are there?”
“Five altogether. You know Susanna, who married Parson Williams. Then there’s me and Jane, whom you won’t have seen as she’s often unwell. And the youngest, Ursula.”
“No brothers?”
“Much to my father’s disappointment.”
He smiled, “Five beautiful daughters can’t be such a disappointment.”
She blushed at his compliment and turned away, searching for a change of subject.
“Do you know Dr. Whitstone?” she asked.
“Everyone knows Dr. Whitstone. That’s his house, the tall gabled building. You can just about make it out through the trees.”
“Not far from here?”
“A good two miles, I’d say, through the woods and over the old bridge.”
“I must call on him some time.”
“He’s a friend of yours?”
“He’s been very good to us, attended us all our lives.”
“Ah ha,” he laughed, “his wealthy patients in town!”
“I’m sorry?”
“He looks after all the villagers and hardly takes a penny. If you ask how he manages to live he taps his nose and says ‘wealthy patients in town.’”
“So some good comes of our ills?” she smiled and he held her gaze for some moments until she turned and walked on.
All along the route he pointed out cottages and reeled out the villagers’ names like a litany.
“Do you know everyone in Lowkirk?” she said.
“I should do. I’ve lived her most of my life. I was born here. My father built the forge further up stream to make plough shares and tools for the labourers.”
“So all your family are here?”
“I have no family now. I was an only child. My mother died when I was born.”
“I’m sorry.”
He shrugged carelessly, “My father didn’t hold it against me. He said it was all the more reason to do some good with my life. If someone dies bringing you into the world the least you can do is make their death worthwhile. I suppose that’s why he went out of his way to ensure I had an education. He could see the way things were going and he thought I would do better in town, so I was packed off for higher things!”
He laughed and Caroline smiled as, with slower steps, they sauntered down the slope towards a thickly wooded copse rustling with falling leaves and the echo of a river beyond.
“I stayed away for nine years,” he said, “travelling around the country and even to France and Holland.”
“What made you come back?”
“My father was ill. When he died he left me the forge, the workshop and a lot of unfinished projects. That was two years ago and I’ve been here ever since.”
“With no plans to travel again?”
He stopped in his tracks and looked thoughtfully up at the sky, “I don’t know. Sometimes I wish I’d never been away. When I came home I thought I would just slip back in as though I’d never left, but something has changed - maybe I changed. It’s as though I lost something somewhere along the way.”
He kicked at the ground, scraping his boot over the earth like a tethered horse itching for freedom.
“It isn’t that I don’t love the village, because I do. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be. This is home, I belong here and yet...”
He glanced at her and she prompted him with a smile.
“There’s a gap now,” he said, “something missing. I don’t know why. Maybe it was always there but I never noticed it before I went away.”
“Perhaps you still miss your father,”
“No,” he frowned and raised one shoulder awkwardly, “it’s not that. It’s just this... emptiness.” He raised his hand to his heart, frowning, as though in physical pain. “A hollow inside me. I’ve tried to fill it with work, spending longer and longer on every design, thinking if I fill my head with something else it might go away, but it doesn’t. It would be the same if I travelled again; I know it would come with me.”
He stared, still frowning, beyond her and Caroline, disconcerted by his frankness, wondered if he realised she was listening. He seemed to be speaking his thoughts aloud unaware that anyone might hear, and she, feeling like an eavesdropper, turned towards the river.
Above the rustling of falling leaves and the gurgle of the water, came the sound of voices, young voices, laughing in the distance.
“I’m sorry,” he said suddenly, “I didn’t mean to bore you.”
“No,” she shook her head, “no you didn’t.”
“Most people are too busy trying to survive to allow themselves the luxury of self-pity.”
“It isn’t self-pity,” she said tentatively, turning to face him, “and it isn’t that most people are too busy, but rather that they are too frightened.”
The troubled expression lightened a little and he looked at her quizzically.
“It isn’t easy to admit to loneliness.”
“Loneliness? Is that what it is? Am I lonely?” He repeated the word several times and each time he said it the lines on his forehead faded until the frown had vanished.
She said, “I think it’s something most people would feel if they dared to feel anything at all.”
“You, Miss Brandwith, do you feel it too?” She tucked her hands deeper into her cloak and gripped her wrists, “Whatever you may think of him,” she said, “my father didn’t set out to be cruel but he has suffered a great deal in his life. Many men would have been broken by what he has endured but he has forced himself to go on by refusing to allow himself to feel. If he appears hard or unkind, it’s only because he knows no other way of surviving that loneliness.”
“Is that what we have to do? Make ourselves hard until we feel no pain?”
She shrugged, “I didn’t say it was the best way. I said it was his way.”
“But not yours?”
When she didn’t answer, his smile returned and he nodded along the path indicating the way they should go. The woods opened to a bank where the river cut through the grassland.
“One thing that changed when I came back,” he said brightly, “was my name! When I left I was just ‘Will’ but now it’s all ‘Mr. Harding.’ I grew up with these people and we were all equal then, but now because I’ve been educated and lost some of my accent, they insist on giving me a title. Is it any wonder I feel lonely when no one ever calls me by my name?”
Caroline smiled and he coughed, “I wonder, Miss Brandwith, would you....”
“I couldn’t, for then you should be obliged to call me Caroline.”
“And that would never do?”
“Not in polite society.”
“No,” he nodded with feigned propriety, “but perhaps here, outdoors with only the trees and river to hear?”
She laughed and tried to think of an answer when a shriek of excitement distracted him. His eyes darted to the river where five or six boys splashed knee deep through the water. They leaped like young salmon, plunging their arms into the waves until fish sprang into the air and with open hands they struggled to catch them.
Will jumped down the bank to a rocky bay and, balancing on a stone, called, “Keep tight hold, Joel! Don’t let him get away.”
A fish wriggled and writhed in the boy’s fingers but he didn’t let go and soon he had the creature gripped by its tail, “It’s a big ’un, Mr. Harding! That’s six now!”
From higher upstream came a howl of pleasure as a taller youth came hurtling through the water. Drenched and bouncing up and down like an infant, Abe Throppe cried with glee, “Joel got the fish! Joel got the fish. Look, Mr. Harding, Joel got the fish!”
Will laughed and the others laughed too as they waded to the bank and stood barefoot among their haul of five fat trout spread out on a jerkin on the stones. Caroline looked down at the boys: dark-haired, sandy-haired, blonde and brown. Two were small with narrow pinched faces, the others rounder with apple-red cheeks and wide smiles. They were so engrossed in their catch and displaying their success to Will that not one of them noticed her slowly moving closer to the edge. She studied them in turn and the sharp pang of fear shot through her chest. She wanted to turn and run away and would have done if Abe’s sudden gasp hadn’t startled her. She looked at him and he, still in the water, gazed at her, his eyes and mouth wide open.
“What’s up, Abe?” Joel said and followed his brother’s eyes. All the boys looked up and their smiles instantly vanished.
Will looked up too, “Come down,” he called.
Their chatter had stopped and there was silence; a hostile, unwelcoming silence.
“Come,” Will reached out, “let me help you.”
She took his hand. His skin was warm and his grip strong, taking her weight on the uneven stones.
“This is Joel, my apprentice, and Gilbert and Thomas, and you have met Abe already, and here’s....”
The names ran together in her head; she saw only their faces one after another and in each she searched for the resemblance...
“Lads,” Will said, “this is Miss Brandwith. She’d like to meet you.”
Joel’s nose wrinkled. “Why?”
“Well she’d like to get to know you since she’s part of the village now.”
“I’ve got to go,” one boy said and another quickly nodded.
“Here,” Joel said, “take a fish.”
“They’re yours. You caught them.”
Joel shrugged, “There’s enough for one each. There you go.” He crouched to the jerkin and handed round his catch like an apostle feeding the five thousand.
The two smaller boys, clutching their prize and calling goodbyes, hurried away and the rest soon followed until only Joel and his brother remained. Abe, still ankle deep in the river, stood as still as a statue with his eyes wide open and fixed on Caroline. Bewildered by his stare, she smiled but when his cheeks flushed and his eye began to twitch, she turned to Joel, “You’ve done well. Were they difficult to catch?”
He stared at the fish, “They’re in the river; you get them out. That’s all there is to it.”
She tried again, “Mr. Harding tells me you’re his apprentice?”
“Is it interesting?”
He nodded and began slipping his feet into a pair of worn boots. His toes were blue and his legs blotched with red patches from the icy water.
“It must be cold in the river at this time of year?”
“I’ve got to go, Mr. Harding. I’ll see you in the morning. Come on, Abe.”
Still the straw-haired youth stood twitching in the water.
“Abe, come on!”
He scrambled to the bank where, jerking uncontrollably, he pulled on his boots.
“Goodbye,” Caroline said but neither of them answered. Joel led the way towards the copse with Abe scurrying behind. Then suddenly he took hold of Joel’s jerkin and pulled out a fish. Joel struggled and complained but Abe was stronger and within a second he returned to the bank.
He held the trout in front of Caroline’s face. A blank beady eye stared at her and water dripped around her feet. He held it closer, shaking it desperately.
“It’s a present,” Will said.
“A present?”
“Abe wants you to have it. Isn’t that right, Abe?”
He nodded, twitching more frantically than ever. She glanced at Will and he smiled and still the fish swung in front of her face. There was nothing else for it; she couldn’t refuse. She opened her hands and the slimy scales slapped on her palms.
“Thank you,” she tried not to grimace.
For a second Abe stopped twitching then he seemed to shudder from head to foot before darting away to the copse.
The dead fish, fat and shining, lay on her hands, its silvery scales shimmering like jewels.
“You’re honoured,” Will laughed, “Abe wouldn’t have given it to just anyone.”
She wanted to smile but she couldn’t - the hostility of the younger boys weighed too heavily.
“They hate me, don’t they?” she said.
“No, they don’t hate you. They’re frightened that’s all.”
“Fear’s worse than hatred it makes people do terrible things.”
He moved closer, “Then alleviate their fears. Speak to your father. Tell him...”
“I can’t!”
“You’ve seen them,” he shook his head desperately, “there in the water, rosy and healthy and happy. Do you know what they’ll look like this time next year when they’ve lost their land and been forced to look for work in the town? You must have seen the children coming out of the factories: skinny and pale, coughing and exhausted. Think of their families! Think of their mothers! How do you think they’ll feel seeing their children virtually sold into slavery? Could you bear it if it were your child?”
Her eyes flooded with unexpected tears and she frowned to prevent them from falling.
“You want to help them, I know that you do, and I know you care what will happen to them. Please, Caroline, speak to your father.”
“You don’t know me at all, Mr. Harding,” she gasped. “Don’t presume to say you know what I want.”
He stepped back, clearly shocked and wounded.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I have to go.”
“Caroline, I...I didn’t mean...I’ll walk back with you.”
“ I can find my own way.”
She hurried to the shelter of the copse and there, hidden from his view let the tears fall.

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Fields Laid Waste - Chapter 3

Chapter 3

hen the doctors in Leeds said the country air would restore Jane’s health, no one truly believed them nor held any hope that she might survive another winter. Each week they came with their potions and leeches and liniments, collected their fees and muttered the same unconvincing assurances, ‘a slight improvement today,’ or, ‘a couple of weeks and she’ll be back on her feet.’
Only Dr. Whitstone spoke the truth: “A few more months, perhaps, if you take her away from the town, but I can’t say more than that.”
Her father refused to believe it: “What does he know? He poisoned your mother with his potions.” The fees, he said, would have been better put aside for the future when she recovered. But he must have known as surely as Caroline did, that there was no cure for the disease that was eating away at Jane’s bones and lungs. They both recognised the symptoms: the same pallid complexion and bitter cough that had killed her mother twelve years before. For Jane’s sake, Caroline maintained the pretence and tried to put Dr. Whitstone’s prognosis from her mind as she stood on Sunday morning outside her sister’s bedroom, rehearsing her smile before pushing open the door.
“You look better today,” she said breezily, “did you sleep well?”
“Much better,” Jane joined the deceit, “I think the doctors were right about the country air.”
Caroline set the breakfast tray down on the bed and draped a woollen blanket from Brandwith’s Mill over her sister’s shoulders.
“Susanna will be in church. I expect she’ll call later to see how you are.”
“I doubt it,” Jane smiled, “you know how busy she is with all the parish work.”
“Matthew can spare her for an hour and she’ll be longing to see you.”
Jane raised her eyebrows.
“It’s true,” Caroline insisted, “when I spoke to her last week she said she was hoping to call.”
“You don’t have to pretend. She’s never been good with illness. She could hardly bear to look at mother when she was dying.”
Dying: Caroline hated that word and, turning away quickly, she pulled back the curtains but little light shone into the room.
Between the grey clouds that sagged from a blank autumn sky, a hazy sun glimmered in a faint yellow mist, its brightness diluted by the raindrops meandering down the pane. Caroline pressed her forehead to the glass and looked out at the ragged band of villagers trekking across the green towards the church: mothers clutching babies to their bosoms, bare-limbed children skipping ahead, and the men some yards behind; a straggling band of pilgrims gathering for the service.
“What’s the matter?” Jane said.
Caroline turned back to the room, “They’re putting up the first notice of enclosure today.”
“You mean Father’s going ahead with it?”
“He had a meeting with Matthew last night. They have the agreement of all the major landowners and they’re ready to present their petition to Parliament.”
“But why?” Jane shook her head in disbelief. “Father has no interest in farming. Why should he want the land?”
“According to his surveys the whole village is built on a coal seam. If he owns the fields, he owns the coal beneath them.”
“Do you think the tenants will be willing to move?”
“They’ll have no choice if Parliament accepts the petition, and I can’t see it being turned down, not with father’s contacts in high places.”
Jane’s face fell into the habitual frown formed by years of pain, “He will offer them a fair price, won’t he?”
“If he can prove he owns the land he won’t offer them anything at all. He’ll just tell them to go.”
“He wouldn’t do that. Even father wouldn’t do that.”
Caroline sat down on the edge of the bed, “Wouldn’t he?”
Jane pushed the tray to one side and reached for her hand. “Persuade him, ask him to be fair.”
“Me? You think he’ll listen to me? He can hardly bear to look at me now since I told him...” she broke off, blushing.
“Oh Caroline,” Jane sighed, “why on earth did you tell him? All these years and he’s never suspected. You should have left it that way.”
“How could I when we were coming to Lowkirk? I’d have spent every day terrified that he’d hear it from somebody else.”
“Who else could have told him? Since Aunt Julia died no one knows except Dr. Whitstone and he wouldn’t have said anything.”
Caroline shook her head, “I had to tell him for my conscience’s sake. I couldn’t spend the rest of my life hiding from the truth.”
“But you know what he’s like. He’ll never forgive you now, nor let you forget it.”
“He’ll treat me no worse than I deserve.”
“You deserve more than this! Tied to him like one of his mill hands. You deserve to be happy and I pray every day that, before I die, someone will come; a good husband to make you really happy.”
Caroline threw back her head and stared up at the ceiling, “How can you say that, Jane, knowing the truth?”
“The truth is that no matter what Father says, you still have a right to be happy.”
“Save your prayers, Jane, I don’t deserve them. Pray instead for the villagers, they’re the ones who need them now.”

In spite of the morning’s damp chill, the church door was held open by an iron boot-scraper and fastened securely with a latch. As they entered the porch, Caroline glanced at her father and saw the faintest conspiratorial smile as he nodded to Parson Matthew Williams.
“Everything arranged?”
Matthew tapped the door with his knuckles, “They won’t see it until you’re gone.”
“Good man,” Mr. Brandwith nodded and directed his daughters down the aisle.
As one, the villagers turned their heads with unconcealed curiosity, gaping at the feathers and ribbons that fluttered from Ursula’s new bonnet as she entered the family pew and greeted her sister with a kiss. Susanna rose in reply and, lifting the veil from her face, puckered her lips to Caroline’s cheek. Their father stood majestically in the aisle tugging at his lapels and clearly enjoying the attention.
“Matthew’s done what you asked,” Susanna whispered, proffering her cheek, “and I think you’ll be pleased with his sermon.”
“I won’t forget this, Susanna.”
“Of course you won’t, Father. I won’t let you!”
Replacing her veil, she spread out her skirts and sat down beside Caroline, “How’s Jane?”
“Much the same; still very weak. She was hoping you might call to see her this morning?”
“Not today, I’m afraid. I have several other engagements.”
“Please, Susanna. You know how lonely she is. Couldn’t you spare her an hour?”
Susanna stared at the altar, “It’s all very well for you, but being a clergyman’s wife brings many commitments. My first duty is to Matthew. I can’t just drop everything and saunter off whenever a whim takes me.”
“One hour! Is that too much to ask?”
Susanna flattened the creases in her skirts, “There’s little point in my coming anyway. I can never think of anything to say to her.”
“She likes to see you. She has so little company.”
“She has you. Isn’t that enough?”
Caroline stared at her but Susanna wouldn’t flinch, “You’re different, you can deal with this sort of thing. I can’t cope with illness. It upsets me.”
“Do you think it doesn’t upset me, seeing her so....”
Susanna raised a finger to her lips and nodded towards the altar as her husband ascended the pulpit. The villagers rose and, through guttural coughs and clearing of throats, croaked their way through a hymn. The church was cold and they huddled close: old people, young people, children, many children, and as Caroline’s eyes moved over their faces she couldn’t help wondering...
Across the aisle she caught sight of Mr. Harding, singing with such gusto that his voice echoed above those of his more ragged neighbours packed beside him into the pew. He seemed unperturbed by their proximity though they scratched and coughed, and the stench of their clothes seeped across the nave to the family pew where Ursula held a lace handkerchief to her nose in undisguised revulsion.
The coughing continued through the readings from Scripture and only diminished when Matthew, raising himself to full height in the pulpit, cast a critical glance over his motley congregation. Caroline’s eyes moved again across the aisle and caught Mr. Harding’s profile illuminated by the flickering candles. It was a kind face: his lips turned up slightly as though set in a permanent smile. Though his skin had the weather-beaten hue of the villagers, there was something noble about his features, something honest and unfeigned.
She turned to her father whose eyes were fixed on the preacher with an air of self-satisfaction. There was pride and authority in both faces as though both men were born to be leaders, yet whereas her father’s was unapproachable and intimidating, there was something about Mr. Harding’s that might draw people to him.
She looked at him again. His was a face that showed an innate determination and sense of his own worth. Her father’s iron confidence had been wrought through years of struggle, and his face showed the scars of the battles he had fought with his conscience. Mr. Harding, on the other hand, exuded a natural confidence, and his countenance was unmarked by the bitterness of envy or fear. It was pleasing to look upon; aesthetic like a statue or a sculptured work of art and the longer Caroline looked at him, the more pleasing his aspect became as every line, every angle seemed carved to perfection.
Suddenly, perhaps aware of her gaze, he glanced across the aisle and, in a flush of embarrassment, she turned away and looked up at Matthew, high in the pulpit, his voice growing ever louder.
“Does not the apostle say, ‘Obey your masters!’ and did you not but a minute since, hear from sacred Scripture of the punishment that God shall inflict on the rebels who rise up against those whom he has chosen as their masters? Everlasting fire! ‘Depart from me, ye cursed ones!’
“Imagine it, imagine that fire singeing the skin, corroding the flesh and biting into the bone. You think the furnace is hot? You think the forge can burn? How much fiercer is the fire that God has prepared for those who resist his order!”
Matthew’s lips curled dramatically and, closing his eyes, he clenched his hands in full view of his cowering congregation.
“Imagine it, imagine that fire, that agony, that torture. Imagine a pain far greater than the worst pain on earth. Your limbs roasting, your body ablaze until the flesh peels away from the bone like the wax of a melting candle. Blisters and boils bubble on your skin, your tongue swells until it chokes all the breath from your lungs and still you suffer and will go on suffering, burning, blazing in the flames that will never be extinguished!”
The coughing had stopped. The church was silent. Even the tiniest children dared not shuffle in their pews. All eyes were fixed on the pulpit where the parson grimaced and writhed in his well-rehearsed drama.
“And for whom has God reserved this punishment? For those who rebel against his order. There may be those who tell you to pay no attention to your masters. There may even be those who, with false promises, urge you to rise up against them! False prophets with false promises of a better world. Pay them no heed! They are blind men leading the blind to the pit of damnation. For the sake of your souls, close your ears to their arguments.”
Caroline looked at the children, crouching in the benches, so small and helpless, trembling at the thought of her brother-in-law’s terrible deity.
“Do you presume you can escape God’s anger by strong words and reason? Would you set yourself higher than the Creator who made you and placed you in your lowly state of life? Is your mind quicker than his? Your judgement more sound? Go on then, stand against him, let your rebellious hearts disobey those whom God has appointed to rule you, if...” he leaned forward and, extending his finger pointed at parishioners at random, “if you are prepared to suffer those unquenchable flames for all eternity.”
By the time he had finished his sermon, only one head in the congregation remained unbowed. Content in the certainty that the message had struck home, Mr. Brandwith gave a nod of approval as the parson descended the steps. In humility or fear the villagers lowered their foreheads onto their joined hands and with at least the outward aspect of submission, beseeched their pastor’s vindictive God to deliver them from eternal damnation.
“An excellent homily, Matthew. Excellent!” Mr. Brandwith said as he passed through the porch at the end of the service.
“Susanna,” Caroline pleaded, “will you at least think over what I said about Jane. She does so want to see you.”
Susanna, searching for any distraction, pretended not to have heard and, raising her veil from her face with the most affected of smiles, called brightly, “Ah, good morning, Mr. Harding! Allow me to introduce my sister.”
Caroline’s heart thudded so unexpectedly she wondered if she were blushing and would have stepped quickly away had his face not appeared before her.
“Mrs. Williams, Miss Brandwith, how lovely to see you again.”
“You have already met?” Susanna said.
He nodded, “I was at the Hall yesterday.”
“I see,” Susanna said, glancing carelessly beyond him, “Oh look, there’s Mr. Hubert. I shall speak to you later Caroline.”
She stepped quickly across the churchyard and Caroline would have walked on but Mr. Harding stood motionless on the path, “You see, our friend is fully recovered from yesterday’s ordeal?”
Caroline frowned uncomprehending until he signalled to Abe Throppe hovering and twitching by a headstone.
“Oh, good, good,” she nodded.
She stepped to one side to continue on her way but he seemed reluctant to let her go, “I’m sorry it’s such dull weather for your first Sunday in Lowkirk. I’m afraid you won’t have a true impression of how lovely the village can be on a fine autumn day.”
“I was here yesterday when the weather was beautiful,” Caroline smiled.
“Ah, yes, but Sundays are different. The villagers don’t work on Sundays. It would be an ideal time to meet your new neighbours.”
Caroline glanced at the church door, “I doubt they will want to meet me.”
“Oh that’s not true! They’re far more friendly for knowing and though they may not take kindly to strangers at first, the sooner they make your acquaintance the sooner you will not be a stranger.”
She looked up and saw the transparent sincerity of his smile.
“Perhaps, if the rain stops,” he said with a tentative confidence, “you might permit me to show you around this afternoon?”
Caroline swallowed, unsettled by the brightness of his face, “It’s very kind of you Mr. Harding but....”
“With your sister of course,” he nodded across the pathway to where Ursula stood, impatiently fingering the ribbons of her bonnet.
“Unfortunately Ursula has little interest in the village. She prefers the excitement of the town.”
Swift and heavy strides along the pathway distracted them. “Good day, Mr. Harding! Have you started work on my water supply?”
“I’ve begun the preliminary designs.”
“Good! The sooner the better. Come, girls, hurry now.”
Her father seized Caroline’s elbow ushering her quickly towards the gate. She looked back over her shoulder as Matthew unlatched the church door.
“Miss Brandwith,” Mr. Harding hurried to her side, and striding to keep pace with her father’s swift steps, whispered almost inaudibly, “I shall be taking a stroll through the village this afternoon. If you would care to join me I shall be on the green at two.”
Both shocked and flattered by his persistence she didn’t answer but her eyes were drawn against her will to his face. He smiled and, raising his hand in salute, said loudly, “Good day, Mr. Brandwith, ladies.”
“What did he say?” Ursula frowned as he turned and walked back towards the church.
“Nothing. He was merely commenting on the weather.”
“But Caroline, you’re blushing. I do believe you’re blushing!”
She drew her hand over her cheek, “No, I’m not.”
Ursula, smiling smugly looked back along the road, “Blushing,” she laughed, “for Mr. Harding.”

Will leaned against the lichgate as they shrank into the distance. Abe was right; she was beautiful, but her beauty was not of a kind he had ever seen before. Though her face was pleasant, it wasn’t that her features were striking so much as her expression. He recalled the genuine concern in her eyes when she had asked about Abe, and there was something sad about her mouth, an intriguing kind of sadness, like loneliness. The gentleness of her voice was so unlike the flirtatious tones of the village girls who stood at his door, giggling and teasing, yet when she had smiled so spontaneously it had seemed that somewhere beneath her demure exterior, there was a spirit, a fire she was desperately trying to conceal.
Voices invaded his thoughts as three girls drew closer on their way from the church.
“Where did you get to last night, Becky? We searched everywhere. Even your father was asking after you.”
Becky paused in front of Will and wrapping a ringlet around her finger gaped at him, “Good morning, Mr. Harding.” she said in a tone full of suggestion.
“Good morning, Becky.”
They walked on, “You didn’t!” Sarah nudged Becky whose finger shot to her lips.
Kate turned and stared at Will who, confused, smiled innocently.
“You...with him?” he heard her say.
Becky laughed loudly and skipped along the road, the others hurrying behind with shrieks and giggles.
A sudden thud as the church door closed, brought louder voices echoing across the church-yard.
“What is it?”
“What does it mean?”
“Here, Mr. Harding, what’s this all about?”
A huddle of men crowded into the porch.
“What does it say, Mr. Harding?”
“Let him pass. Let him read it.”
They jostled him forwards and he edged between elbows and shoulders to the notice nailed to the door.
“Is it...” someone said.
He nodded and felt his heart sinking, “A notice of enclosure.”
A cry rang through the crowd and brought others scurrying back to the porch.
“They’ve done this between them, Brandwith and the parson. They knew it! They knew he’d be out of the way before we saw it.”
Angry oaths exploded and tempers flared. They hammered and rattled the door but the parson had already bolted it firmly from the inside.
Saddler saw his chance of taking command, “The Hall then! We’ll take this to the Hall and show Brandwith what we think of his plans!”
A cheer resounded as he reached to rip the notice from the door.
“Wait!” Will cried, stopping his hand. “At least let me read it first so we know what we’re up against!”
“We’ll not wait to let them walk all over us like they did in Beckford and Rowthorpe!” Saddler struggled but Will kept a grip of his hand.
“He’s right,” someone called, “let Mr. Harding tell us what it says.”
Saddler’s muscle relaxed and Will let him go but there was no need to read further, he knew exactly what the notice meant. He turned to the anxious and angry faces, pushing and jostling desperate to hear every word.
“This is the first of three. They have to warn us for three Sundays of what they’re planning to do.”
“We know damn well what they’re planning to do!” Saddler called, “I say we march on the Hall.”
The oaths rose again and they turned from the church like a mutinous army preparing to attack.
“No!” Will shouted. “Acting too hastily now won’t help anyone. The slightest hint of a riot and they’ll call in the troops!”
The anger cooled a little but Saddler stoked the flames, “Let them bring in the army, we’ll not go down without a fight.”
“For God’s sake, see sense!” Will said. “Think of your families. Who’ll care for them when you’ve been arrested or transported or worse? There were nineteen men hanged down south and where did that leave the rest? They still lost their land and their jobs just the same.”
His words stilled the fury of the crowd and they hovered between Will and Saddler waiting for a further command.
“If you want the best for yourselves and your families you’ll have to think this through properly and beat them on their own terms.”
“For a start, calm down. Don’t rush into anything. You need to think clearly and organise yourselves. There’s two more weeks before they can take their petition to Parliament and after that they’ll have to wait for the commissioners to come to see who owns what in the village.”
“You expect us to sit back and wait for it to happen?”
“In the meantime we make preparations.”
Saddler leaped forward, wild-eyed, “Aye! That’s right! Weapons, we need weapons. Down at your forge, you could make swords and guns.”
“We don’t need swords! We’ve got scythes and pitch forks.”
“I could run a man through with a spade.”
“No! No!” Will shook his head desperately, “Not weapons, you can’t fight an army with spades and shovels. Violence won’t work!”
Perplexed faces frowned.
“Go home,” Will said, “and go through your chests, your cupboards, everything you have. See if you can find any documents to prove you own the land.”
“Documents?” Saddler scoffed, “What would we want with documents?”
“Ask yourselves, do you own your land or do you rent it?”
Dan Throppe pushed his way to the front, “I rent the cottage but the strips are mine. My father ploughed them and his father before him. It’s always been Throppe’s land.”
“Fine,” Will nodded, “can you prove it?”
“Aye,” Dan’s fear made his tone aggressive, “ask anyone here, they’ll tell you. The whole village can prove it!”
A consensus of grunts and nods supported his claim.
“It’s the same for all of us,” Tom Fuller said, “we all know whose land is whose.”
“You need it in writing.”
“Our Joel can write. I’ll get him to write it for me.”
“It’s not like that, Dan,” Will sighed. “You need official documents written up by lawyers or magistrates.”
“There’s only one magistrate round here and that’s the squire.”
Saddler laughed loudly, “Squire Brandwith won’t be up to giving us documents when he’s the one claiming our land.”
“Alright,” Will said, “just make sure. You may have something you’d forgotten. A scroll, a scrap of paper, anything, however ancient that gives you the legal right to your land.”
“And if we haven’t?”
“Then...” Will spoke slowly, trying to think of a solution, “then we negotiate.”
“It’s not solely Mr. Brandwith’s decision. To present a petition of enclosure to Parliament they need the support of all the landowners whose land between them makes up at least two thirds of the village. Some of this may be Mr. Brandwith’s, but who else owns land around here?”
“The parson.”
“Mr. Cordwell.”
“Mr. Huberts.”
“That’s it then,” Saddler cried, “they’re all Brandwith’s cronies. They’ve been planning this for years. I say we take him on now before it goes any further.”
“It won’t get you anywhere. The best thing we can do is speak with him, get him to see what we stand to lose.”
Saddler moved closer, “What we stand to lose? I don’t recall seeing you work the land, Mr. Harding. I don’t know that you’ve any strips in the fields. You’ll be alright. You’ve got nothing to lose.”
“Oh come on, Saddler. It’s my village too.”
“But you’re working for him now. It’s clear which side you’re on.”
“No, Saddler, no,” Dan said, “that’s not fair. Mr. Harding’s a Lowkirk man through and through.”
“And when we’re thrown on the parish or sold to the mills where will he be? Making machines for the slave masters running the place!”
Will nodded, “Saddler’s right. I am working for him. So, given time, if I do a good job and you help me, we might show him he has more to gain by keeping things just as they are. Think about it. He runs a mill, a woollen mill; what does he need to keep it going?”
No one answered.
“Wool, of course!”
“So where does he get his raw materials? Supposing he had his own suppliers right here in the village? He told me himself he wants to see the whole thing through from beginning to end but he doesn’t know anything about farming. If we could supply him with wool at a reasonable price he might think again about enclosures.”
“You know nothing about farming either,” Saddler scoffed. “How many sheep do you reckon it takes to supply a factory?”
“I don’t know.”
“More than we’ve got between us.”
“Maybe so, but it’s a start. It’s at least worth a try. Once he sees you’re in earnest he might be willing to give you a chance.” Will glanced around the hopeless faces, none of them convinced. “Give me time,” he pleaded, “let me find out more about him. The better we know him, the better chance we have of dealing with him.”
The villagers looked at one another, each waiting for the next man to act.
“Go on home now,” Will said, “see if you have any documents and if you find any bring them to me and I’ll read them for you.”
One by one they turned away and drifted towards their cottages until only Saddler remained.
“Be careful, Saddler,” Will said. “Remember, men have been hanged for inciting a riot.”
“Aye, and you remember, Mr. Harding, men have been murdered for betraying them as trusted them.”

Friday, 30 November 2012

The Fields Laid Waste - Chapter 2

Chapter 2
                Will Harding whistled as he followed the maid along the oak panelled passage of Lowkirk Hall, and the notes resounded so sweetly he dawdled in the hope of finishing his tune before they reached the door. Though he had passed the Hall daily for most of his life, this was the first time he had ever been invited inside, and he smiled at the memory of the fear of the place that had possessed him when he was a boy. Rumours of the old squire’s insanity were rife around the village and it had become a game for the local lads to dare one another to sneak into the courtyard, tap on the nearest window and flee for their lives. He had boasted, along with the rest, of having seen Squire Rostley rolling across the floor with bulbous eyes and foaming jowls and had repeated the lie so often he had almost begun to believe it were true.
           When the maid neared the door at the end of the passage, the gruesome images that had haunted his childhood returned with sudden alacrity and his heart began to race. In a moment of panic he half-expected to discover the raving squire howling in front of his fire like a man possessed by a demon but as the girl pushed open the door all he saw was an elderly man sitting, calm and sane, at a library table and peering into a ledger.
            “Mr. Harding has arrived, Mr. Brandwith.”
            The man stood up and offered his hand in greeting, “Good of you to come, Mr. Harding.”       
            He directed Will to a chair and served him brandy, “You’re an engineer, they tell me?”
            “That’s right.”
            He handed him the glass, “Is business good?”
            “Not bad. I maintain a workshop in the village and a small forge just outside Lowkirk. Nothing elaborate as yet.”
            “But a growing reputation, I understand?”   
            Will smiled modestly as Mr. Brandwith shook his coat tails and sat down opposite him. His hair was white, very white like wool, softening the clearly etched features of his face: deep lines around his lips and crevices running from his nose to his chin.
          “Tell me,” he said with the look of a merchant examining new wares, “what are you working on at the moment?”
            Will hesitated; there were so many half-finished projects in his workshop and still more in his mind.
            “Farming implements mostly; seed drills, threshing machines, ploughs. It’s long been my hope that I might use my designs to make labour easier for the villagers. I have ideas which could help them to produce a wider variety of crops, make better use of their land and weave more cloth but...” he paused, unnerved by the intensity of the older man’s stare.
            “Materials are expensive and most of the villagers are simple tenant farmers and weavers. The harvest has been so poor the past couple of years that it’s taken all they have to feed their families.”
            “So your designs are wasted?”          
            Will shrugged, “ It might not have been so bad if...” 
           Mr. Brandwith raised his eyebrows.
            “...if the weavers hadn’t lost so much custom. With all the new factories opening in Leeds there isn’t the same trade for the villagers. They do their best but with simple looms they can’t compete with factory prices or output and customers aren’t prepared to wait.”
            Mr. Brandwith leaned back and pensively swirled his brandy around the glass, “And you would like to help them?”
            “They’re my people,” Will smiled, “and I’ve been fortunate. I had an education, and they say I have some talent so I believe it’s my duty to use what gifts I have to help my neighbours.”  
            “Quite right,” Mr. Brandwith agreed. “We must make use of all our resources to build a better world for ourselves and those who come after us. But as you say, machinery’s expensive, and what good are your designs if they all stay in your head?”
            “In a year or two, if the harvest improves...”
            “And if it doesn’t?” Mr. Brandwith shuffled to the edge of his seat.
            “Then I’ll trust in Providence.” 
            “If God gave me my gift, he must have done so for a reason. He won’t let it go to waste.”
            Mr. Brandwith shook his head and, slapping his hand against his thigh, stood up, “In my experience, Mr. Harding, the Lord helps those who help themselves and those who fail, do so by their own lack of foresight. Don’t you agree?”
            Will stared into his glass, “I don’t know. Sometimes circumstances go against people.”
            “Circumstances!” Mr. Brandwith moved to the window and looked out over his estate, “Look at me! I came from nowhere, had nothing. My father died when I was six years old and left my mother without a penny.  Look at me now: this house, this land, a thriving mill with eight hundred workers. Do you want to know how I did it?”
            Will nodded obligingly.
            “I made my own circumstances through sheer determination, hard work and using every opportunity that came my way. If I’d waited for good harvests or Providence, do you think I’d be who I am today?”   
            Will rolled his eyes, carefully weighing his answer, “Perhaps you were fortunate in the opportunities that came your way.” 
            “Fortune doesn’t enter into it. During the wars I made uniforms; in peace time I make blankets and clothes. A man must adapt to circumstances, not wait for them to arrive. Opportunities are always there for those alert enough to see them.”
            “In which case,” Will smiled, “I had better keep my eyes open.”
            “Ah ha!” Mr. Brandwith opened his arms in a gesture of sincerity, “I can see you have the right spirit. Supposing I were to offer you my support? With my money behind you, you could bring your designs to life.” 
            Will glanced at him cautiously, “What could I give in return?”
            The older man took a sip of brandy and swished it around his mouth for some seconds before sitting down again.
            “My mill in Leeds does well but there’s a good deal of competition. I want to expand: a complete integrated mill the whole lot from start to finish - scribbling, fulling, the best looms, the fastest shuttles. I want to produce the most and the finest cloth in Yorkshire. Now then, supposing I were to offer you a chance to be part of all of that?”
            “I can’t see how I could be of use.”
            “It’s simple. You bring your designs to me before anyone else.”   
            “What good are threshing machines in a mill?”
            “Forget your threshing machines and your farm tools, you’ll never make a penny out of them. Design my machinery and I’ll see you set up for the rest of your life.”
            Will exhaled loudly and raised his eyes to the ceiling, “I’m sorry, Mr. Brandwith, I’m a country man. Seed drills, planters, threshers; that’s my line.”
            “Nonsense! You said yourself you could design looms for the local weavers.”
            “Simple machines, yes, for their cottages, not the huge kind of things you’ll be wanting.”
            Mr. Brandwith shook his head, undeterred, “A man of your ability learns quickly. Besides, it’s merely a matter of scale: design small, build big!”
            Will frowned, “Why me? There must be dozens of engineers in Leeds who would be only too willing to work for you.”    
            “Oh yes, there are dozens of engineers all hoping for someone to back their designs. Several times a week they come to my door begging me to try out their inventions but I know very well that what they bring me today they took to my rivals yesterday. Which is why I want someone new, someone I can trust, with no contacts in the mills; an honourable man such as yourself who won’t be tempted to share his designs with any other bidders.”
            “I’m flattered by your offer, Mr. Brandwith,” Will said, moving to the edge of his chair, “but as I said, my duty is to the villagers.” He put the brandy glass on the table and stood up, “Forgive me for wasting your time.”
            Mr. Brandwith, remaining seated, looked into his own glass nodding and moving his lips in some internal monologue until Will reached the door. “A moment,” he said, suddenly looking up, “I invited you here on the recommendation of my son-in-law.”
            Will stopped.
            “You did some work for him in Beckford.”
            “That’s right. Sir Edmund wanted running water brought to the house.”   
            “Which you provided with excellent results?”
            “He seemed pleased with the outcome.”
            “I have seen it for myself. Very impressive. How did you manage it?”
            “It was my father’s idea originally. I simply designed the pump; a hydraulic pump bringing the water from the river at the end of his estate. Once that was in order the rest was straightforward.”
            “Could you do the same for me?”
            “Bring water here?”
            Mr. Brandwith nodded.
            “It would be expensive; equipment, labour.”
            “I’ll pay in advance. Name your price.” His chin was strong and determined, his lips narrow and straight as though drawn that way through years of self-control. Three vertical lines formed a frown on his forehead.  “And if we’re content with each other’s part of the bargain you might see your way to consider my previous offer. What do you say?”
            Will yielded with a nod, “I’ll sort out the water but as for the...”
            “Father!” The door burst open and a rush of skirts flew like a whirlwind into the study, “It’s awful, something awful has happened!”
            A girl, pink-faced and flushed, glanced in Will’s direction then turned to a taller young woman standing in the doorway, half-concealed by the shadows.
            “Tell him, Caroline,” said the girl, pulling her into the room, “tell father what happened.”     
            Mr. Brandwith twitched with a slight irritation and Caroline shook her head, “It’s nothing,” she said softly, “and father’s busy. We shouldn’t have disturbed him.”
            “Nothing!” The girl gasped with such vehemence that Will wanted to laugh.
            Caroline stepped back into the shadows but the girl seized her arm, refusing to let her go.
            Mr. Brandwith turned to Will and shook his head apologetically, “My daughter, Ursula. I’m afraid her life is so dull that she turns any event into a drama.”
            Undeterred, Ursula forced Caroline further into the room, “She was coming back from church and she encountered some horrible men.”       
            Mr. Brandwith turned away apathetically and Will couldn’t help but notice the pained expression on Caroline’s face.
            “Who were they?” he said.
            “Villagers, drunkards,” Ursula gushed. “They were all drinking at the inn. One was called Saddler, wasn’t he?”
            “I’m not sure,” Caroline turned back to the door, “but it really was nothing. They were quite harmless. There’s no need to bother father with it.”
            “Harmless? A boy was hurt and when Caroline stopped to help him this Saddler was very rude about the factory.”
            Mr. Brandwith turned sharply, “What about the factory?”  
            “Nothing,” Caroline said, “they don’t mean any harm. They’re just frightened that we’ve come to take over their land.”
            “It isn’t their land,” Ursula huffed. “Father bought it at a high price. They’re only his tenants.  How dare they speak to you like that, laughing at you as though you were no better than they are!”
            “It’s their home,” Caroline said gently. “We’re the strangers here.”
            “They’re animals, they should live in the barns with their cows. They’re dirty and unkempt with no manners at all. I hope you’ll turn them all out, Father.”
            Caroline stopped with her hand on the door and glanced at Will, “Excuse me, Mr.?”
            “Harding.” he bowed.
            “Please,” she said, “pay no attention to my sister. She doesn’t mean what she says.”
            “I do!” the younger girl gasped. “Susanna told me all about them. They come into church smelling of pigs and cattle and once a sheep came right down the aisle and wandered onto the altar during the service. Matthew had to delay his sermon  until they’d chased it out.”
            “The Lamb of God!” Caroline smiled.
            “Caroline,” Mr. Brandwith intervened, “I won’t have blasphemy spoken in my house.”
            “I’m sorry,” she said and as she opened the door, Will noticed how her feet made no sound but moved with such timid steps as though apologising for disturbing the earth.   
            “Wait!” her father called and she stopped at once. “What name did you say? Saddler?”                   
            Ursula nodded, “That’s right, isn’t it, Caroline?”
            Without waiting for her reply, Mr. Brandwith looked at Will, “Do you know him?”            
            “Martin Saddler?  He’s a weaver. He was doing well at one time but now he’s lost most of his custom to the towns.”    
            “Is it any wonder if he spends his days drinking in the inn?”          
            “Oh no,” Will said, “that’s just today. They’re preparing for the dance, the harvest feast tonight.”
            “Is he a tenant of mine?”
            “He lives in the cottages by the old barn.”
            “Saddler,” Mr. Brandwith repeated as though to memorise the name.
            Caroline paused by the door and, though her eyes remained fixed on the floor, it was clear that she was speaking to Will.
            “There was a boy,” she whispered, “I’m afraid he was hurt. They were taunting him and he was bleeding. I tried to help him but he was frightened.”
            “Tall, long legs, yellow hair?”          
            “Yes, that’s him.”
            “Abe,” Will smiled, “Abe Throppe. Don’t alarm yourself on his account, Miss Brandwith. He’s subject to fits. He falls two or three times a week but he never comes to any harm.”     
            She raised her head slightly, “Throppe? I met a boy named Throppe in church. He said he had come for a lesson.”
            Will nodded, “Abe’s younger brother, Joel, my apprentice at the forge. He’s a good lad, works hard and he’s eager to learn. The family have nothing but he tends the glebe and in return Parson Williams gives him lessons.”
            She frowned, “How old is...”
            Mr. Brandwith stepped between them, “I’m sorry, Mr. Harding. The girls are delaying you. I’m sure they have other business to attend to.” He nodded to Caroline and she retreated towards the door. 
            “Come, sir,” Mr. Brandwith said, “I’ll show you around and we can discuss terms.”
            Will had always loved the harvest feast; the dancing and singing, everyone drinking enough to drown their fears of the oncoming winter. Yet that evening as he stood, one foot raised on the bench, watching the dancers leap around the barn, something seemed lacking. For no reason he could discern, a sense of disappointment sagged his spirits and a kind of loneliness weighed on his heart. He shook his head to shrug away the feeling and swayed to the music, tapping his boot to the rhythm of the drum. To no avail. It was as though he missed someone, yet no one was missing. All the villagers were there and the barn was full. He counted and named them all in his head - no, nobody was missing but as tune followed tune the loneliness grew more intense.         
            He drained his tankard and refilled it from the barrel, as the barn grew sticky with the sweat and warm breath of the revellers. 
            “Alright, Mr. Harding,” someone called, “stopped dancing?”
            “For now.” he smiled, drifting towards the door.
            Outside, the drum beat echoed on the cottage walls and the back of Throppe’s yard where an old pig snuffled through the gullies.
            Will leaned over the gate, “Alright, Bertie?”
            The boar glanced at him through tiny eyes buried in a mass of wrinkles. Taking an egg from a box by the fence, Will pressed his boots through the slats of the gate and climbed into the yard.  He held out the egg and the pig trotted over, snorting through a snout like a giant limpet. Speckles of grain stuck to the sagging lips and a long slimy tongue slipped in and out between rows of jagged teeth. Will popped the egg into Bertie’s mouth and he guzzled it, shell and all, until long strands of clear and yellow slime stretched from his jowls - no finesse, no manners, no sense of his own ugliness.
            “And we’re supposed to be the wise ones!” Will smiled, slapping his palm against the bristly back. “We get the brains, the choices and decisions, and you get the freedom not to care. What do you reckon, Bertie? Who has the better deal?”
            The pig gulped the last of the egg and trotted back to the wall where he rubbed against the cottage, his only care in the world to rid himself of an itch.
            “Alright,” Will nodded, “so there’s pork and dripping, but you needn’t worry. They’ll not have you slaughtered.  You’ll just go on, wake up every morning,  stick out your snout to see what the weather’s like and if you don’t like it you can roll over and sleep for another hour. They’ll see that you’re fed and watered and all you have to do in return is make a good impression on the sows and sire your piglets.”  
            Will climbed backwards onto the gate and, dangling his legs into the yard, swigged from his tankard. “Now, we, on the other hand, we’re the clever ones. We travel and we study and we think that we’re wise, but what do we do? We spend our lives making ends meet, worrying about how we’ll last the winter, or do the right thing, or find a wife...”   
            “Sorry,” a deep voice grunted, “did you say sommat?”       
            Will coughed, pretending to clear his throat as he turned to see two weather beaten faces, brown and lined like autumn leaves.
            Dan Throppe smiled, raising a callused hand in a gesture of subservience, “It’s a poor do when the cleverest man in the village spends harvest night talking to pigs.  There’s up of a dozen lasses in there all waiting for a dance, Mr. Harding.”
            Martin Saddler stepped closer, “Happen there’s sommat else on his mind tonight.”
            Will smiled and looked down into the yard.
            “He’s a grand pig isn’t he?” Dan said.
            Will nodded, “Have you thought of mating him with Martha Green’s sow?”
            “You what!” Dan chortled, “She’s twice his size, is Bessie. She’d frighten him to death!”
            Will laughed.
            “He’d be better with Dot again. Eight piglets last time and even the runt were a strong little ’un.”
            “Is that right?”
            “Ask our Abe. It were his idea to start him with Dot. He might not be bright but he knows what’s what when it comes to pigs.” 
            “And people,” Will smiled.  
            “Aye, he has them measured too.”
            Saddler, who until now had been staring towards the barn, licking his lips in anticipation of a drink, turned, “You want to send him up to the Hall then and see what he makes of this Brandwith.” He paused as though waiting for a response but as the others continued to stare at the pig he sniffed and spat on the ground, “Heard you went up there today, Mr. Harding.”
            “I did.”
            “And did you tell him we don’t want him here?”
           “Ah, come on, Saddler, give the man a chance. He might not be as bad as you think.”
            Dan’s eyes widened with interest and, tugging nervously at his beard, he shuffled back from the gate, “Did he say owt about his plans for the village?”
            “No. His only concern was for his mill.”     
            “I’ll bet!” Saddler huffed. “I’ve heard what goes on in there. There’s bairns working twelve, fourteen hours a day, never seeing so much as a glimpse of the sunlight. One second late and the door’s locked and the slightest mistake and the foreman’s round with his whip.”
            “Rumours,” Will said, “and hearsay, that’s all.”
            “Were it a rumour that fifteen died of the factory fever last spring?”
            “Never mind the mills,” Dan said, “what’s going to happen here?  Did he make no mention at all of the village?”
            “Only that he wants water bringing to the Hall.”
            “And you’re going to do it?” Saddler said.
            Will drained his tankard, “It could work out well for everyone. I’ll be laying pipes through his estate and if I take them round the edge of the top field I could put in a drainage channel at the same time. The strips up there have been waterlogged so often they’re as good as useless.”
            Saddler shook his head cynically, “What’s the use in draining the land if it’s all going to be taken from us?”
            Dan’s face contorted with anxiety, “You think he’ll enclose us?”
            “This is just the start,” Saddler nodded, “water pipes today, fences and walls tomorrow and unless we stop him we’ll be out before you know it.”
            “It won’t happen, will it, Mr. Harding?” Dan said desperately, “I mean, a man’s got to keep his family. If I lose my land I’ll have nothing for them, nothing. Our Joel will be alright, he’s a scholar like you, and the other lads might find work, they’re bright and strong, but what about Abe, what will he do? God knows he’ll never make much of his life but at least while we’ve got the land there’s always a job for him.”           
            Will jumped from the gate and rested his hand on Dan’s shoulder, “Don’t worry, Dan. Why should he want your land? Like I said, his only concern is his factory.”
            Dan stared earnestly into his eyes and Will nodded reassuringly, “He might not be the devil everyone’s expecting. I mean a man with such beautiful daughters can’t be all bad.”  
            “Beautiful? That’s not what I’ve heard. Our Joel met one of them today. Sneaked up on him she did, like a witch.”           
            Will laughed, “Like a witch?”
            “Said she wanted someone to show her round the village.”
            Saddler sniffed, “Eyeing it up to see what she could get her hands on.”
            “Ugly as sin, she were, with evil red eyes, according to our Joel.”
            Will, still laughing, shook his head, “The ones I saw today weren’t ugly. Lady Beckford is beautiful and you must admit, Mrs. Williams isn’t bad.”        
            “How would you know,” Dan almost smiled, “with her face hidden under her veil!”
            Saddler stamped on the ground, “Ugly or not, it’s an ugly business they’re in. Let them try to take our village and I’ll show them what we’re made of.”       
            “Aye,” Dan nodded, “and every man of Lowkirk right behind you.”
            Saddler stretched himself to full height and flexed his muscles with pride, “But tonight,” he grinned, “it’s harvest! The lasses are waiting and it’s time we started drinking. You coming, Mr. Harding?”
            Will raised his tankard, “I’ll be along soon.”
            He watched them stride away but the sound of music and laughter weighed more heavily on his heart and, when they had disappeared, he walked past the door and along the side of the barn where he leaned against the wall and, sliding to the ground, sat down on the cobbles.
            He looked up at the stars that flashed and twinkled between the grey clouds and he thought of the town; the darkness of the nights and the airless streets through which he had so often wandered in his years away from the village. It had been exciting at first: the busyness, the smells and the sounds, the cries of the sellers from the markets, the strange accents of the immigrants and the stench of the fish and spice stalls. He wondered if he had been happy then - perhaps if he could go back...but even in those days something, something was missing.        
            A burst of giggling echoed from behind the barn; girls’ voices high pitched and slurred.           
            “Don’t take no more, you’ll get yourself drunk.”
            “I’m alright! I know what I’m doing.”          
            “Aye, you might do now, but if you drink anymore you’ll even think Abe Throppe’s handsome.”
            “Oh no, I won’t, there’s only one man for me.”
            “That’s what you said about the last one and the one before him!”
            “This time it’s real. This one’s special.”
            “And it doesn’t take a scholar to guess who he is.”
            Will leaned sideways around the barn. Three girls sat on the ground passing a jar of cider between them.
            “So,” Kate Green nudged Becky Saddler, “has he given you any sign?”                
            “He looks at me. I’ve seen him looking.”
            “Looking?” Sarah Fuller laughed, “You’re wasting your time. He’s not interested.”
           “He danced with me, didn’t he?”
            “And by the end of the night he’ll have danced with every girl in Lowkirk.” 
            “No,” Becky said, “it was different with me. I could tell by his eyes.”
            “It was you with the eyes, gawking at him and swinging your hips.”
            Sarah shook her head, “You want to be careful, Becky. A man like him won’t settle round here. He’ll not let all that learning go to waste.”
            Kate nodded, “That’s right. Don’t let him string you along. He’ll be off before you know it and then where will you be?”          
            “Perhaps he’ll take me with him,” Becky smiled dreamily. “I’d like that; pretty dresses, a fine house and carriage. I’d drive through the streets and have people calling, ‘Good morning, Mrs. Harding! What’s your husband invented today?’”
            Will laughed to himself and leaned back against the barn. 
            “I tell you, you’re wasting your time,” Sarah said. “He’s not going to want someone like you when there’s all them rich ladies to choose from.”         
          “I’m worth ten of them and he knows it,” Becky said, “and I know how to get round a man.”
            “Oh aye?” the others laughed.
            “Come on then, if you don’t believe me, I’ll show you!”    
            In the shuffling as they got to their feet, Will retreated into the shadows. Becky stood up and paused for a moment, running her fingers through her loose hair. She walked like a cat, one foot in front of the other in a perfectly straight line, shaking her hips until her skirt billowed like a tree in the wind. Will knew that walk well enough. The walk she adopted every time that she came by the workshop with a broken scythe, a spade or a cauldron - any excuse to call in.
            He shook his head and when they had passed he emerged from the shadows and sat down again on the ground. Their giggling grew louder and their voices more high pitched but he paid them little attention. He thought of the hundreds of years that this land had belonged to their families and it saddened him to think that Dan was probably right. A businessman like Mr. Brandwith wouldn’t let this opportunity pass by; it was only a matter of time before he claimed his rights and enclosed the fields and the common.      
            A scream shattered his thoughts. Will leaped to his feet and ran around the barn to find Becky and Kate shrieking in front of Throppe’s yard. Abe, his eyes wide and wild, towered above them with a mallet raised in his hand.
            “Abe!” Will yelled.
            “Get him away! Get him away!” Becky cried throwing herself into Will’s arms. “He’s going to kill us.”
            “You shouldn’t be in there. Tell ’em, Mr. Harding! Tell ’em to stay away.”
            “It was only a bit of fun,” Becky squealed. “He wants locking up. He’s a mad man!”            
            With the mallet still raised above his head, and his face as stern as a crag, Abe leaned over the gate and picked up a jar of cider, “Killing pigs i’n’t fun!”
            Will looked down at Becky who had pressed herself to his chest.  
            “It was nothing;” she said, “we thought the pig might like to join the feast. A drop of cider wouldn’t do any harm.”           
            “It’s alright, Abe,” Will said, releasing himself from Becky’s clutch, “no one’s going to hurt Bertie.”
            Slowly he lowered the mallet, “They’ve to stay away from him.”
            “They will, Abe, I promise,” Will nodded and the boy let the mallet fall.
            “He’s dangerous,” Becky said. “He’d have killed us if you hadn’t come when you did.”   
            “Go on,” Will said, pushing her gently towards the barn, “go back to the dancing.”
            She gazed at him through huge brown eyes, “Aren’t you coming in with us, Mr. Harding?”
            “Maybe later,” he nodded again towards the door. Abe stood by the gate, twitching one eye and jerking his head. As Will moved closer he climbed backwards into the yard where, cowering to the ground, he threw a gangly arm around the pig and huddled close to its belly until slowly the twitching eased.
            Will leaned over the gate, “No harm done, Abe?”
            “Daft lasses,” he said, “daft lasses.”
            “But Bertie’s alright, see?”
           “No thanks to them. Daft lasses.”
            “They’ve drunk too much, that’s all. They didn’t think what they were doing.”
            Abe rocked gently and, still clinging to the boar, raised his head to the sky, “She won’t be drunk not like them daft lasses.”
            “She’s not like them daft lasses.”
            His finger shot to his lips and he smiled like an infant, “Sh, it’s a secret.”
            Will smiled and climbed over the gate, “Will you share it?”
            Coyly, Abe drew his knees towards his chest curling in on himself like a flower in the night. His eyes darted around the yard searching out eavesdroppers, then he shuffled closer to Will and whispered, “There’s a lady.”
            “Which lady?” Will smiled, “Martha Coke? No? Sarah Foley?”
            “No, a lady,” Abe looked up, his clear eyes shining, “a beautiful lady.” He ran his fingertips over his cheek, “She touched me. She held my head in her arms and she touched my face. She’s beautiful.”
            “Miss Brandwith?” Will said.
            Abe put his finger on his lips.
            “Yes,” Will nodded, recalling her face, “you’re right, Abe. She is beautiful.”