In 1845, events in the British Isles included the invention of the rubber band, the manufacture of self-raising flour, and the infamous Jack the Ripper took his first victim. None of these made the slightest ripple in Holmeside, where day to day life did not change enough to be worth talking about, except for the passing of old faces and the birth of new ones. Otherwise, life went on as predictably as it had since the Luddite uprising, although there were few old enough to remember much about it. Mill workers in Holmeside died early, as did all factory workers. Sarah Gledhill was an exception. She outlived most of her contemporaries.
There was some change in that place, but it had happened ...view middle of the document...
Hope, because all the time she worked there she dared to hope that a better future would come, and fear because things went badly for Luddites, of whom her late husband, Seth Gledhill, had been the leader. In the old Luddite days she and her contemporaries dreamed of things improving. But that didn’t happen. Instead, things got worse, much worse.
Looking eastwards she could see Pauper’s Field where Seth and Mary lay side by side. When she imagined them she saw them comfortable in their graves, very much alive and enjoying talking to each other. Mary was not locked inside the pale body that she tended as it lay on her bed, and Seth’s throttled face on the body his friends bore home from York was restored to the youthful face she had loved when he was a young man and she a maid and they took their first kiss. Her only sadness then was that she was not between them sharing their amusements.
She often sat in her creaky rocking chair looking down at their graves, envying them their companionship, wishing she could complement it by her presence. Her love for Mary was as bright as the day the little girl was born. Although Mary was born on the wrong side of the blanket, she was blood of her blood, bone of her bone, and flesh of her flesh, and she loved her all the more because of the misfortune of her birth, not in spite of it. Her love for Seth grew daily even after he was executed. She remembered his life, his work, his strong hands, his care, his love, and the sacrifices he made to lift others from the shadow of the grave. He had failed and been hung for it, but he had done his best and she had few regrets. She knew that she was not the only one to lose those she loved best. She was a bright light in a dark time, having preserved her cheerful nature through the shadowy and painful paths of her life.
Her surviving daughters had good marriages, that is, as good as could be in their circumstances. They were blessed with children that visited her and brought their own youngsters with them. That was when her cottage burned with life and joyful noises for a brief while before settling back into the greyness that is the curse of lonely old age. Memories banished the greyness as the wind vanquished the morning mists.
Staithes was become merely a faded memory. Her bitterness towards him had evaporated. She pitied him and his death, for which her husband had been hanged. Staithes had wielded more influence in her life than she wanted. But that was ancient stuff, part of the woof and weft of her experience and no longer marred her memories. She never gave thought to what her life might have been if she had become his housekeeper at Holmeside Hall.
No matter where her thoughts ranged they always came back to her husband, Seth Gledhill. The thought of him warmed her body through to the bone. She never knew a better man. She visited the scenes of their courtship and wedding in the colourful and fragrant theatre of imagination. Her daughters teased her by...