The Cobbler’s Daughter
It’s so cold and dark - the darkness competing with the cold to penetrate my very bones. My hands are numb and cannot feel the buttons on my boots as I fumble to dress myself. Hurry! Hurry! I panic as I tumble down the attic stairs trying in vain to make no noise as I fall.
I run through the welcome warmth of the vast kitchen - breathe in the aromas of delights I will never have in my belly - into the damp chill of the scullery, my domain.
‘You’re late,’ snaps Betty, the under-parlour maid. I know she’s got it in for me. I duck my head out of her reach but she hasn’t taken a swipe at me this time.
I quickly gather up my tools in the wooden bucket and stagger back up the stairs to the main entrance hall. I stand for a moment and can feel the silence of the house - still in darkness - just the ticking of the grandfather clock a heartbeat of the centre of this monster I live in.
Shaking myself into action I start the day’s work of cleaning the fireplaces and lighting the fires. A warm feeling of anticipation of what the day may bring seeps through me. Today is special - my half day off. As soon as I’ve finished my work here I can take the afternoon off - just as long as I’m back by six o’clock to scrub the floors below stairs before going to bed. Head down, I work hard at my polishing, keen to get away before three.
At last it’s time to go. Peeling off my cap and apron I don my black bonnet and cape, slip from the kitchen and soon I’m walking down the black path that leads to the village. As I pass the church I hear the sound of pigs squealing from the back yard of the Post Office opposite the church. Mr. Faithful must be slaughtering again - fresh pork for sale tomorrow!
I walk on down West Street until I reach our home, a low thatched cottage with tiny dormer windows. Through the side gate and down the garden path - I make straight for the workshop. As I enter my father looks up from his work - a leather shoe in one hand, a hammer in the other. The smell of leather and glue fills the air - a lovely homely smell. His eyes light up when he sees me but I can see behind the light a troubled shadow. We exchange greetings - I kiss him fondly on the cheek.
‘What’s the matter?’ I ask.
‘I’ve blotted me copybook with the squire,’ he replies. ‘He came in here with a pair of boots needing mending and wanted ‘em done by Sunday afternoon. Well, you know I never work on the Sabbath so I told him they won’t be ready until Monday. Well he had no choice, being as his regular cobbler is in London and it would take twice as long to get ‘em there and back. Then when he comes to collect them I told him the cost was half a crown. He didn’t like that - said he could get ‘em done in London for two shillings. So I says “take ‘em to London then!”
‘He went off in a foul mood at that and today I gets this letter from the agent telling me my tenancy’s terminated - with seven days notice! After three hundred years of my family living here! I can’t fathom it.’
I can hardly believe it either and we spend time talking in circles - trying to work out what we can do about it. How can someone who calls himself a Christian put out a man who’s worked and lived all his life here - he who was crippled when he was a small boy working in the Squire’s wood mill.
Two hours later I begin the walk back to the House - my heart heavy. There’s nothing to be done I know. Father will have to move out and there’s nowhere to go. All our family are dead but me. Father says that at least I have a roof over my head and he’ll be alright whatever happens. I know what that may be - the only thing left for him - take himself to the Workhouse. There at least he’ll have food and shelter and with his skills as a cobbler he should be able to survive.
Will I ever see him again?