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Luddite Spring: Episode 4

...“My little girl is dying, and my wife stands in need of prayer and comfort. I am asking if the reverend gentleman will attend her.” ...

Seth Glehdill seeks help from the local vicar.

Ronnie Bray continues his novel concerning turbulent times at the beginning of the industrial revolution.

The Reverend Dr Walter Martin

Indisposed to go back home to Mary and Sarah without any help, Gledhill ran further down the road to the manse to entreat the Reverend Walter Martin whether he would come and dispense comfort to his family in their distress. It was evident to Gledhill and to anyone else that saw her that Mary would die before the night was over. He was not sure that his own resources were of such strength that he could benefit Sarah in her grief. But perhaps a man of the cloth with his experiences of death and families could be able to do so. Death was a common part of daily life for ministers and he had been well practised since he was appointed to the Holmeside living.

It took him a little more than two minutes running and fast walking to reach the imposing residence of Holmeside’s parish vicar. Joan Martin the vicar’s wife answered his urgent knock. She was a large woman with florid features. A colour gained, it was told, from interminably exhorting her husband to common sense, which meant, her sense of common sense. She seemed unnerved by Gledhill’s presence on the doorstep. Working men rarely came to see the vicar.

“What do you want?” she asked coarsely.

“My little girl is dying, and my wife stands in need of prayer and comfort. I am asking if the reverend gentleman will attend her.”

“Wait there. I’ll ask him,” she said without any note of sympathy or understanding. “What’s your name?”

“Gledhill. Seth Gledhill and my wife is Sarah. It’s our little Mary who is dying. She was kicked by Master Staithes at the mill.”

“Then she must have deserved it. Mr Staithes is a gentleman and cares for his workers,” she replied rudely.

“She did nothing wrong!” declared Gledhill, outraged that she would even consider Mary’s treatment to have been justified. “It’s plain, bloody murder! That’s what it is.”

“Hold your tongue!” retorted Mrs Martin. “You should know better than to speak in that manner about your betters. Get away with you. My husband will not attend. I can promise you that.”

Reverend Martin thrust his face through the door. He had heard the exchange, or at least sufficient of it to know that on his doorstep stood a man in the habit of speaking ill of his benefactor, and by that token he was not one of the elect, therefore the church had no obligation to minister to him, whatever might have happened to one of his children. His mind was made up before he spoke to Gledhill.

“When was your child baptised?”

“She has not been baptised.”

“What, never?”


“Then I can do nothing for you. My services are only for those that are baptised into the fold of God. Goodnight.”

Another door closed on the disconsolate man and his needy family. Both Medicine and the Church withheld their understanding and help, offering not even a crumb of comfort.

Angrily, Gledhill ran back home exhausted from the distance he had run, forlorn that he had failed to persuade doctor and priest, and enraged at the double refusal of his ‘betters’ to extend a hand to his child that lay at the point of death and to his distraught wife. He could tell from his wife’s face and the wailing of their other children that he was too late. Mary’s soul had fled her battered body. She was at peace.

“You’re alone,” observed a tearful Sarah as he held her in the doorway.

“I am,” he wept. “They would not come with me. One because I could not pay, and the other because she was not baptised!” He spat rather than spoke these words, expressing much more than disappointment. Sarah understood. Had she not been drained of all human strength she would have agreed vocally with her husband. Instead, she remained silent in her grief. She folded her head down on her breast and placed her arms around Gledhill’s neck, holding on as if she would lose him if she slackened her grip. After a while, they entered their home, gathered their children to their knees, kissed them, and expressed their love for them, telling of their sadness that Mary had died. Gledhill then went upstairs alone to see his little Mary.

In death, she looked smaller and more vulnerable than she had in life. Gledhill’s heart burst. He flung himself over her on the bed as globes of tears ran from his eyes and fell on to her face. Between sobs, he addressed his darling girl, lost to him in death.

“My Mary, I don’t know when and I don’t know how, but I shall repay this debt with blood for blood. Some debts cannot be paid in coin and this is one of them. But I promise you by my life’s blood that you shall be avenged.”


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