Authors: Phyllis Bentley
Simon and Harry Emmett, cousins, both thought well of themselves. Both, also, having lost their parents in a typhoid outbreak, lived in Marthwaite with an old mutual aunt; both, in the early 1890's, worked in the pressing-shop at Syke Mill; both took the crowded first tram of the day and swayed in rhythm with its bumpy passage down the West Riding Ire Valley to their place of employment. Both were powerful men with the sinewy arms needed for the heavy job they did together, which in those days consisted of folding many yards of cloth backwards and forwards over sheets of heavy brown cardboard “press papers” by hand, then carrying the massive piles thus composed across to one of the six tall presses, and screwing it down by hand. Both when going to work wore the clogs, the cloth caps, the wool mufflers, then customary for men in their position. Both Harry and Simon were fair in hair and complexion.
But in all other respects they were entirely different, almost opposite, you might say. They even liked themselves for entirely different reasons.
For Harry was tall, robust in frame and good-looking in a rather florid sort of way. His eyes were blue, his cheek fair, his lips moist and red, his hair thick and curly; he was cheerful and laughed a good deal, perhaps rather more than a
sensible man should. He drank a bit and would have drunk more but that he wished to maintain his local reputation as a successful wrestler; he was a great one for girls, who adored him. In all these matters Harry took a light-hearted pride, and for all these matters Simon despised him.
For Simon was short and, though muscular and tough, hardly seemed to have enough flesh to cover his bonesâ“scraggy”, Harry cheerfully called him. His fair hair, though it attempted a mild wave, was thin and always appeared as if plastered to his skull; his eyes were grey and chilly. His head, however, was large and nobly shaped; and he was conscious that its contents were much superior to Harry's. He enjoyed a drink, but took one rarely; he had not yet seen a girl he fancied and was not going to embark on sex relations till he did. He was honest, conscientious, altogether reliable if not very sunny. His employers approved him, the more serious of his workmates liked him well enough.
One morning on his way to workâit was January, and the Ire Valley was still shrouded in wintry duskâSimon from his seat in the tram observed Harry, who was standing, strap-holding, in lively talk with a man and a couple of girls who stood around him. Simon knew the man; he was a pleasant good-natured fellow named William Brearley, gamekeeper to one of the groups of manufacturersâthe owner of Syke Mill was in another such groupâwho leased part of the wild moorland above Marthwaite for shooting purposes. Brearley, though only in his twenties like the Emmetts, was already provided with a comfortable cottage up in a fold of the hills, and from the way he held the arm of one of the girls to steady her and coloured pleasantly at Harry's jokes on the subject, it seemed likely he was contemplating matrimony with her.
Simon gave the girl (Alice Shepherd, he remembered, by name) a shrewd look, and approved. A nice, good, ordinary girl, he decided; brown eyes, brown hair, pointed chin; joking
back at Harry staunchly without saying anything beyond modesty; nice enough but not very interesting. He would need more than that for himself. His glance moved away.
Ah! This, it appeared, was Alice's younger sister, Emily. Very like Alice, too, but all the world away. Those large, dark, loving eyes in the heart-shaped face, that cloud of dark hair beneath her shawl, the lovely rose of her cheek, her delicious, rather pale lips curved in a gentle smile, the air of sweet timidity, of shy refinement. Her shawl slipped from head and shoulders as she looked up; her bosom, he saw, was soft and full.
Something stirred in Simon's heart. Alice and William were, he gathered, to marry at Easter. Harry Emmett was to be William's best man. As Harry's cousin, Simon could surely contrive to be invited to the wedding feast. From then on, he would press steadily to his goal. He was earning well, he could afford to marry.
In the next few months Simon daydreamed often about his Emily. Quite often he saw her in the morning or evening tram, for Alice and Emily were “menders” at Syke Mill; he observed her keenly, and was ever more satisfied. They grew to nodding acquaintance; the bend of her head was shy and graceful. They spoke; the words they exchanged were only those of greeting and farewell, but they were enough to reveal her voice as sweet and low. Simon imagined himself at Alice's wedding in Marthwaite Baptist chapel, at the party afterwards in the Sunday School. He would sit next to Emily and begin his courtship.
Towards the end of these three months Harry developed a habit of travelling on the upper deck of the tram, always occupied by men only, because there one was allowed to smoke. Thus he came into no contact with the Shepherd girls. It seemed to Simon, too, that Harry's greetings to Alice and Emily as they left the tram had also become curt or nonexistent. Was it possible, perhaps, that Harry had divined
his cousin's attachment and wished to keep out of the way? Nothing less likely from the careless Harry! Still, it was an agreeable thought.
Then, one morning in early spring, it chanced that the upper deck was full before the cousins reached it and Harry, Simon and the two girls were grouped as on the morning when Simon first noticed Emily. (Simon usually secured a seat for himself, for he was prompt and claimed his rights.) Emily looked up at Harry. Her look was timid, beseeching, not quite venturing to be reproachful, but deeply sad. Harry looked back at her with a friendly, not ill-pleased but teasing smirk. At once Simon knew the whole story.
As the cousins passed through the great mill gates together, Simon grasped Harry's arm and muttered brutally in his ear:
“You've got that girl into trouble.”
“Which girl?” said Harry, laughing.
“Well, where's the harm?” said Harry cheerfully. “We can be wed. There's plenty of time yet.”
But in this Harry was wrong, for by eleven o'clock that morning he was dead. As Harry and Simon were carrying a piece of cloth interspersed with press papers to the press, Harry's foot slipped forward, he fell on his back, his grip was jerked loose, and the whole massive load (more than a hundredweight) came down on his belly. Simon stood transfixed, pale and breathless, clutching the other side of the pile till his muscles gave way and he was obliged to lower it to the ground. The foreman cried in anguish:
“He's nowt but a bloody mess!”
It was too true.
At the inquest the verdict was, of course,
The foreman's repeated bewilderment that a skilled worker like Harry Emmettâa wrestler, nimble on his feet, tooâshould slip at a job he'd done for upwards of three years was partly assuaged by the discovery of a patch of oil on the sole
of Harry's right clogâhe must have stepped into some oil on his way across the mill yard beside the engine room. The coroner made some rather cutting remarks about keeping working premises clean, and Mr Brigg Oldroyd the youngerâold Brigg was getting a bit past work now and left most of the management details of Syke Mill to his sonâwas furious. He paid quite a nice sum in compensation, however, which of course went to Harry's aunt.
On the night after the funeral, which was well attended, Simon went to the Shepherds' terrace house. Mr Shepherd, a very strict Baptist, was out at a Chapel function, as Simon happened to know, and most fortunately he had taken his wife with him. It was therefore Alice who opened the door. She gave Simon a hard look.
“I wanted just to have a word with Emily,” said Simon mildly.
“Well, you can't,” snapped Alice, and made to close the door.
“I'm Harry's cousin, after all,” said Simon as before.
An angry exclamation exploded from Alice's lips. “Much good that'll do us!”
“You might be wrong there,” said Simon. His words were meek but his tone now hard.
Looks of rejection, hope, doubt and perplexity chased each other across Alice's pleasant face.
“Well, come in then,” she said at last, drawing back the door. “But don't stay long. She's upset, like.”
Simon took off his cap and entered. Emily was sitting huddled by the fire, weeping. The eyes she lifted to him were full of grief and despair.
“Harry's death has been a great blow to you, lass,” said Simon tenderly.
Tears rolled down Emily's cheeks and she sadly bowed her head.
“Don't go to upset her now,” commanded Alice.
“You clear out and leave us alone,” said Simon with sudden ferocity.
“Well,” said Alice, taken aback. “I don't know. Well, I'll go upstairs for a minute if you like. Do you want to talk to Simon Emmett, Em, eh?”
“I don't mind,” said Emily, completely listless.
“You've only to call if you want me,” said Alice, loth to leave her.
Simon gave her an impatient scowl and she hurried off up the narrow stairs.
“Now, Emily,” said Simon, drawing up a chair and sitting down beside her: “Stop blubbering and listen to what I say. Your Alice and William Brearley are getting wed come Easter. Lets us be wed on t'same day, eh?”
Emily's eyes opened wide and she stared at him in a kind of horror.
“I can't, Simon,” she said faintly at length.
“Yes, you can. I know how it wasâ” He meant to say
how it was between you and Harry,
but he absolutely could not force out the words, and fell silent. There was a pause. “Child would have his father's name, choose how,” he said at length, very low.
“Oh, Simon,” murmured Emily, still staring.
“Nobody need ever know. Alice doesn't know, does she?”
“She knows I fancied Harry.”
“But about the baby?”
“Not for certain,” breathed Emily.
“Well, there you are, then. Your father need never know,” said Simon grimly, pressing his point.
As he had expected, a look of fear crossed Emily's faceâhe knew well enough what her pious father would say when he discovered her moral lapse.
“Say yes. Everyone will be pleased.”
“And you, Simon? What about you? Would you be pleased?”
“I've always wanted you, Emily”, said Simon.