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Winter of Red Ch2 Coming of Age

‘HERE YA’ ARE Tommy,’ said Isabel as she brought a much older Tommy Rushworth out of his daydream by placing a bowl of pottage and dark bread on the table. Now a grown man, Tommy had the look of his father, thick dark brown eyebrows and heavily recessed blue eyes. Whispers of dark brown hair peeked from under his brown felt cap. His wind burnt face, straight nose and chiselled chin gave him the rugged look of a Yorkshire man. He worked the field from early morning to night and his hands were rough and calloused like roughly shorn timber. Unlike his father, he had no wrinkles but had been aged slightly by hardship and the Pennine wind and summer sun. He wore a loose dark brown, sleeveless jerkin over an open grey dirty tunic with dark brown hose and woollen foot coverings strapped with leather that had spent far too much time in the mud. ‘What wer’ ya in such deep thought about ‘usband?’ Isabel asked as she sat down on the stool next to the spinning wheel. Isabel knew when her man was out of sorts and knew to leave him be when something was troubling him. He had a quiet strength like his father and the nut didn’t fall far from the tree, she thought. He wasn’t affectionate, but he was honest and good to her. He could always be trusted and didn’t spend coin on whores or the dog fighting at the tavern like some in the village. Their conversation was never intimate and usually involved the greediness of the manor steward, the goings on at the manor court and the current price of wool and wheat. It was only underneath the blanket at night that his whisperings became quiet and affectionate. -Page 20- ‘Just thinkin’ about me nan,’ He put his head closer to the bowl and spooned some pottage into his mouth, wiping the excess with the sleeve of his greyed linen shirt which poked out of the sleeve of his tunic. A thick woollen, sleeveless jerkin kept the draft and coldness from his back, and a cloth hood dangled loosely at the back, which when required, shielded part of his face from the punishing icy wind. The wind howled outside like a wild beast, and a small line of snow blew under the door and started to gather into a small mound. The shutters vibrated stubbornly, keeping the wind and snow outside, but a steady drip of water melted by the warmth of the fire dripped from the ledge beneath the shutter. ‘What made ya think of yer nan?’ asked Isabel as she turned to stoke the fire, knowing not to press him too hard on the subject. ‘Just thinkin’ about father and William and how they were when she passed.’ Agnes heard her son’s’ melancholy words as she eaves dropped from the animal quarters at the back corner of the cottage which housed the ox, the cow, chickens, and several pigs and sheep brought in out of the night. The cottage was poorly ventilated except the shutters which they couldn’t open at night and the two slits in the wall in front of the animal stalls. Steam from the body heat of the cow and ox rose up and dissipated amongst the thatched ceiling. The pigs squealed as they contested the rotting vegetables and the boar grunted as it sifted through the old peelings and rotten cabbage leaves from the collection of Autumn leftovers. Agnes shovelled manure through the hole in the wall designed for the purpose and closed the hatch to keep the weather outside. She put her hands together, blew on them, then rubbed them together to get the circulation back, ‘This draft will be the end of me,’ she grumbled to herself. ‘I wonder when yer father will be back.’ Said Agnes as she walked toward the fire to warm herself lifting her kirtle a little too warm her feet. ‘Where’s he gone mother,’ asked Tommy curiously. -Page 21- ‘Gone into the village with John Hargreaves to talk to the reeve about somethin.’ ‘About what?’ ‘Tommy, ya’ know he tells me nowt about his plans and goings on, ‘ave ya’ not learnt that yet?’ ‘Aye, I have,’ knowing that he kept specific details from Isabel in the same way. Isabel took some waste yarn around the bobbin, fed it through the flyer and tied it to a six-inch roving. She pumped the treadle and at the same time gently fed out the fibres by pulling lightly to keep it taught, Isabel piped in, ‘And you ‘usband is there any secrets that you should be tellin’ me?’ Tommy stayed quiet and took another spoonful of pottage; Isabel knew not to push the subject as she teased more yarn. Agnes smiled at his restraint, just like ‘is bleedin’ father she thought to herself as she climbed up the steps of the ladder being careful not to trip on the bottom of her kirtle. She climbed to the loft above the animal enclosure and dropped half a bale of hay down; the startled chickens squawked, dodged and fled, flapping their wings in terror, loose feathers rose and then floated slowly to the ground. Carefully climbing down, she separated the hay and threw it into the trough in front of the animals. A rickety, old worn-out structure with vertical wooden strips of timber denying full access to separate the hay so that each had their own portion. She walked out of the animal enclosure and over to the fire, ’ere, Isabel you take the load off, I’ll do that, ya need to rest and so does ya babby, said Agnes. ‘Babby’s fine mother Rushworth, kickin’ like a young lamb, she said as she placed her hands under the bulge and straightened, grimacing from the dull ache in her lower back. She sat down at the table opposite Tommy while Agnes placed a bowl in front of her and Lucy, who was also six months pregnant. ‘I’ve put some extra meat in the pottage for the babby,’ said Agnes. ‘Oooh, there’s no need, Spring is still a long way off, and we need to make it last.’ -Page 22- ‘Never you mind that, if we run out Thomas will just have ta butcher another pig, baby needs to be strong and healthy.’ Isabel’s dark hair dropped to just above her eyebrows with a fringe, she had kind, dark eyes which sparkled with the light from the fire. The continual rosiness of her cheeks gave her a healthy glow. Her blue kirtle and tan partlet had a plunging neckline which joined with the open fronted gown which was laced across with leather cord. The shapeless sleeves were attached to the dress with stringed stitches at the top of the shoulder. A fawn, linen apron dirtied and stained ballooned out from her lower abdomen and dropped to the floor. Tommy looked at Isabel and smiled. She was a good woman, Tommy thought to himself and had settled into life at the cottage well. She worked hard and did her share of the cooking, mending and spinning. It had been some years since they had met in Stanbury and even though they only saw each other for a couple of hours in the evening in Summer, he cherished her even though he would never let on. Their courtship was short, and her father had refused Tommy’s advances toward his daughter. A few years earlier, her mother had died trying to give birth to her younger brother, something that her father never got over. Now he was alone and although she felt guilty leaving him, knew it was best. The wedding took place in Stanbury and when the Rushworth family left, they took Isabel with them. In the winter there wasn’t much to do on the hide, so their days were spent combing wool and spinning yarn. It was a tedious, hot process especially when the fire had to be built larger to heat the combs. It took them almost a week to make one kersey which was then sold back to the merchant. ‘Tommy remembered the last pregnancy and the trouble Isabel had during birth. He wasn’t allowed in the cottage and waited outside in the dark and drizzle, but he could hear the screams of pain and anguish and Isabel calling on all the saints for help. He wasn’t used to being in this situation and now knew why his father trekked into the village. He had done the same when Lucy had given birth, but this was different, this was his wife and his boy. -Page 23- Isabel often thought of that night, what a night, she thought to herself hoping that it would be easier this time. It had been almost two years since, she remembered Agnes had covered the shutters with linen to keep out the humours, blown out the candles and allowed the fire to die down to just a glow. She remembered how Agnes had rubbed scented butter on her stomach and rubbed her back with each growing contraction. ___________ ‘There, there Isabel, it won’t be long now.’ Isabel was propped up on pillows against the wall; the straw mattress already wet from the clear liquid that had gushed from below. She frowned with the uncomfortable back pain and cramping in her lower abdomen and closed her eyes, praying to God for the health of her baby. Agnes felt her stomach; it was hard, and the skin was stretched tightly over the baby mound as if it would split. Isabel tried to deal with the growing pressure she could feel her breathing naturally increase, and she closed her eyes as if it would make the increasing pressure go away. ‘Ah want ta pay eur call.’ said Isabel uncomfortably ‘It’s alright luv, it will pass and besides if ya’ have ta need, do it wer ya lie.’ ‘Arghhh,’ Isabel felt the heaviness and pain in her lower back from the contraction. ‘Breathe deeply lass, ‘tis very close, ‘tis.’ Panting, ‘Aye, but close isn’t…… close enough, Arghhhhhhhh,’ Isabel screamed again and heaved her head and shoulders up off the straw pillow, holding her position, then flopped back down, panting deeply trying to catch her breath momentarily. It had been some years since Lucy had left her father’s house, married William and moved in with the Rushworths. Now to be caring for her younger pregnant sister was even more surreal. Lucy, sitting on the edge of the bed, wiped her sister’s forehead with a wet cloth, ‘There sister it’s almost done.’ -Page 24- ‘Isabel, I can see it, wit’ ta next pain, I want yer to push with everything ya’ got left.’ Isabel gritted her teeth as the contraction started to build, she heaved her head and shoulders forward and screamed one last time then flopped down, exhausted. Her chest heaved up and down and there she stayed until she heard the first ‘cry’. Agnes cut the umbilical cord with the sharpest knife she had, the one she used to cut vegetables. She picked up the baby and placed it on Isabel’s chest, which continued to heave in and out. Agnes wiped the blood and mucous-like covering from the baby’s face, tying off the cord with a piece of entwined string like her mother had shown her. The baby continued to howl while Agnes wrapped him in a linen shawl and then he quietened as he felt his mother’s heartbeat. ‘Why lass, ya’ ’ave a strong lad.’ ‘A lad, thank the Lord, Tommy will be sa happy,’ exclaimed Isabel panting as she started to get her breath back. Lucy continued to wipe the sweat from Isabel’s forehead, ‘Oh sister, you have a beautiful boy, he has the most beautiful blue eyes.’ ‘They’re always blue when they’re first born,’ said Agnes. Agnes wrapped up the linen sheet that she had placed underneath Isabel and gave it to Lucy to dispense with. Lucy walked over to the fire and put them in. The linen caught quick, and the flame danced toward the opening of the chimney, higher, higher and higher. The blaze burnt hot, so Lucy had to turn away, the fire roared. Agnes turned quickly from the baby when she heard the roar, ‘Lucyyyy, not in the fire!’ screamed Agnes. Tommy looked toward the cottage, it was silent, he kept looking, but nothing except a greater brightness emanating from the closed shutters. Steam started to come off the chimney outside; then he heard the door open with a thump and Agnes and Lucy supporting Isabel through the door. Tommy began to run. ‘Tommy,’ Agnes yelled! Tommy ran as fast as he could, he could see sparks coming out the top of the chimney contrasted by the blackness of the sky. ‘Ma, what is it?’ -Page 25- ‘Fire,’ she coughed, ‘Fire!’ Tommy ran up the hill, soaking wet, ran inside to see the flame from the hearth touching the top of the mantle. He quickly took the bucket of toilet water at the bottom of the ladder and threw it on the fire. A gust of steam erupted and filled the room with a steamy, pungent smell. The cow, panicked, broke its tie rope, turned and trotted out the door, the chickens flapped their wings and followed. Lucy, Isabel and Agnes huddled together under a woollen cloak trying to protect the baby. They all cowered under the eve of the thatch, trying to keep as dry as they could from the constant drizzle. The steam from the chimney still sizzled, but the drizzle had calmed it. The baby started to cry, and Tommy heard it, he walked outside to find them huddled together under the thatched eve. ‘Come in quickly, tis a mess, but better a mess inside than a chill out.’ Agnes helped Isabel, who looked worse for wear and hobbled inside, the afterbirth running down her leg. The baby continued to cry, she passed the baby, all wrapped up, to Agnes and climbed back on the bed. Exhausted, she panted, ‘Never a dull moment ‘usband!’ Agnes passed the baby back to Isabel who cradled it in her arms now worried that the drafts would harm him, ‘Poor darlin,’ she pulled the blanket up over her legs so that Tommy couldn’t see the stained sheet below. Then she pulled the bundling and held the baby close to her to warm him. ‘I’m sa sorry Isabel, don’t know what I was thinkin’. ‘Tis alright, replied Isabel, ‘No harm done, he’s warm.’ Agnes turned to look at the mess, ‘Ayup Tommy we need to get the fire started or else we’ all get the chill a’ death.’ ‘Aye, I’ll get some dry peat,’ said Tommy as he marched out the door, back into the drizzle. ‘Lucy, you stay ’ere with Isabel and the babby.’ Agnes walked over to the shelf and took the tinder from the tinderbox and placed the char cloth on the hearth, she struck the flint with the steel until the char cloth started to glow. Once it was glowing, she transferred it to a bundle of tow and slowly started to blow it into a Winter of Red D27E flame. She then carefully placed dried wood shavings onto the flame. Smaller twigs were added until the small fire was born. Tommy walked in and placed two more smallish pieces of cut, dried peat beside it. Tommy knelt and blew on the flame to raise it. Both he and Agnes held their hands down toward the flame to warm them. -Page 26- ‘Ya right ther’ Isabel,’ whispered Lucy. Lucy turned to Tommy, ‘Well, ar’ ya’ not gunna meet yer son?’ she asked. In all the excitement, Tommy had neglected to look, he walked over to Isabel and leaned over. ‘A son? T’is grand it is,’ he whispered as he lowered the top of the bundling, so he could see his little face. The frown was slowly replaced with a proud and relieved smile. ‘Ya did a grand job wife, he’s a bonnie lad, but sa tiny.’ Isabel had never seen Tommy exhibit so much pride and it was one of the few times that she felt very close to him, ‘Did ya’ want ’im full growd ‘usband?’. Tommy still mesmerised by the bundle didn’t answer. Isabel looked at Agnes, ‘Full growd, twas ‘ard enough getting this one out.’ She took a deep breath as the baby started to cry again. Shocked, he stepped back ‘What I do?’ Nothin’ ‘usband ‘e needs a feed, Isabel readjusted, brought the baby’s head to her bosom and guided her large brown nipple to his lips, Lucy helping in the process. Isabel knew the process and still pined after the daughter that she had lost in childbirth two years past. The baby continued to cry, sensing the milk nearby, and became impatient moving his mouth back and forth erratically to try to find the nipple and suckle. Finally, latching on, he quietened, and Isabel grimaced and rolled her eyes toward the heavens. Isabel opened her eyes for a moment, looked down at the baby with a tender, doting expression. He was suckling contentedly, and she could feel the vibrations coming from the bottom of the bundling. ‘Ave ya come up with a name yet son’, asked his mother. Tommy looked down in thought, ‘William, ‘is name is William.’ ‘That’s a grand name ‘usband, a grand name.’ Agnes Smiled, ‘William Rushworth, there ‘tis then named after his uncle.’ -Page 27- Tommy left the women to tend to their business and walked to the Kings Arms where he knew his father, uncle and grandfather, John Hargreaves were waiting. When he arrived, he saw them sat at one of the tables nervously waiting to hear of any news. They looked up worriedly as Tommy, soaking wet, stepped through the door. The other patrons in the tavern stopped talking and looked over to eavesdrop on their conversation. There was an eerie quiet that fell over the room, even the barkeep stopped polishing the mug he was holding and looked up. Thomas rose to greet him, ‘Well, spit it out son!’ Tommy smiled, ‘A lad!’ The whole tavern cheered and then stood to walk up to Tommy and his father and uncle to shake their hands and congratulate them. Pa Thomas as proud as punch and trying hard to fight back the enormous gush of emotion he felt inside. ‘Barkeep ales yelled Pa Thomas while patting his son on the back. ‘Isabel and the baby, they okay?’ ‘Couldn’t be better father, ‘he said proudly as if he had accomplished the feat on his own. ‘Babby is as strong as an ox and he is named William,’ Tommy looked at his uncle proudly. ‘Oh, that’s grand, son, just grand, said Thomas who looked down for a split second remembering when his first son was born and then lost to the coop weeks later. A slight tear welled in his eye, but he wiped it away quickly before anybody noticed to take his tankard in hand. The patrons in the room had taken their seats again, all ‘cept three that were retrieving their penny ale from the barkeep. John Hargreaves stood and slapped Tommy on the back, already slurring his words he raised his tankard, ‘May your jack be ever full, may the roof over yer’ head be always strong, and may ya’ be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows yer dead.’ The patrons in the tavern, those that were listening, laughed at his attempt at comedy and raised their tankards. -Page 28- William and the others raised theirs and they all skulled the ale chugging it down until every drop was gone. The rest of the patrons stood, some yelled in support others cheered and others finished skulling their tankards ready for a refill. There was a feeling of merriment in the air and the bar wench started to sing: ‘Bring us in no brown bread ‘cause that is made of bran… ‘Bring us in no whitbread ‘cause there in is no game…’ The rest of the patrons joined in with deep baritone voices. ‘But bring us in good ale, Bring us in good ale, for our blessed legacy, Bring us in good ale, Bring us in no mutton, that is often lean, Bring us no tripe, ‘cause they be seldom clean, Bring us in good ale, Bring us in good ale, for our blessed leagacy, Bring us in good ale.’ The patrons cheered, and another started singing another song as the bar wench continued making her rounds of the tables ensuring that jacks and tankards were full. She was a buxom lady with a strong, likeable character. Her confident smile brought a warmness to the establishment and the men knew not to mess with her lest they receive a flogging like the last chap who tried his luck. William, John, Thomas and his son continued to sing and drink the night away. It wasn’t often that they spent times like this for most of their time together was working the hide and the wool and tending to the animals. Tommy was finally starting to feel like one of the men and even though he had the respect of all, he still felt they regarded him as a boy under the shadow of his father. However, Tommy had ambition and now with a family of his own, felt it was his duty to make life more tolerable for them all if he could. -Page 29- Slowly, the Kings Arms started to empty, the patrons once again congratulating Tommy and his father on the way out. It was well into the night by the time they walked up the hill toward the cottage. It was dark and quiet all except the glow from the fire through the cracks in the shutters. Tommy stumbled but his father helped him recover as he reached the door. They tiptoed inside being sure not to wake anybody and receive a verbal flogging from Agnes. William immediately climbed into the loft and climbed into bed beside Lucy snuggling into her back. Lucy didn’t mind the affection if it was up in the loft away from the others. Usually, William waited for the rest of the household to fall asleep before he snuggled closer to her. She would always hear the movements from below and then feel the bulge sticking into her lower back. She knew this was the time to turn so that he could position himself between her legs, well that was if the brewer’s droop didn’t have other ideas. She tried to keep the rustling of the straw mattress to a minimum and luckily, his thrusting and heavy breathing didn’t last long and once finished he turned over and went to sleep, leaving her to stare up into the darkness. Pa Thomas tiptoed over to his wooden chair near the fire, sat and took out his clay pipe, stuffing the barrel full of the aromatic tobacco that he liked so much. He stared into the flame of the fire recounting the milestones of his life, now a grandfather he thought to himself. Once again, a tear started to pool in the lower lid of his eye, which he quickly wiped away before Tommy could see. Tommy joined him, a proud grin most pronounced on his face, ‘Father, tell me about yer father, what sort of man was he?’ he whispered. Pa Thomas puffed on his pipe and paused and thought for a moment, ‘A good man, had the respect of the people hereabouts and the heather was seeded by the blood from his hands. He spoke ill of none and none spoke ill of him. He was the first to give and the last to take.’ Tommy looked up to see a faint tear slowly flood his father’s bottom eyelid as he choked back his memories of times gone by. This emotion was new to him and he felt that the birth of his son had brought back memories. Tommy could see that his father was uncomfortable talking and remembering, so he did not broach the subject any further. Pa Thomas looked at Tommy and reservedly started recounting stories of his father. He spoke of times and how his father would take him with him when he tended to the lord’s Demesne. How they would fish for the lord’s table and play hide and seek in the long wheat stalks and sneak apples from the manor orchards. Then his demeanour turned as he started to think about how he worked from dawn till night scratching a living out of the rocky ground. Pa Thomas paused and swallowed, then spoke of his father’s sickness and how the consumption had finally taken him. Tommy never asked him the same question again. -Page 30- Paul Rushworth-Brown is the author of two novels: Skulduggery- An exciting, mysterious, fictional and historically accurate adventure pulls no punches about the life and hardships of peasant farmers living on the moors of Yorkshire in 1590. Winter of Red- Come on this historic journey, which twists, turns and surprises until the very end. If you like history, adventure and intrigue with a dash of spirited love, then you will be engrossed by this tale of a peasant family unexpectedly getting caught up in the ravages of the English Civil War in 1642. Dream of Courage-Coming Soon

Winter of Red Ch2 Coming of Age

Historical fiction told the way it should be! 

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Novels by Paul Rushworth-Brown

History Unknown

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Photos by David Lambert