« The Parrot Died | Main | Bartók - Seven Romanian Folk Dances »

Luddite Spring: Episode 16 - Gledhill's Vision

Ronnie Bray continues his novel concerning the growing unrest of downtrodden workers in the early days of England's industrial revolution.plea for

Gledhill’s Mary was not the only child to have been maltreated. Mill children were routinely ill used. Being strapped, beaten, and kicked was a normal part of a working child’s daily experience. They didn’t like it and neither did their parents, but they were helpless to prevent it, preferring their children to be beaten rather than have their wages docked. Abuse was the stuff of their lives as much as tattered clothing, unkempt hair, snotty noses, rude speech, knowing that crying only brought further beatings, kicks, cuffS, and blows, and the knowledge, born of experience, that while life was miserable, it could, and did, get much worse.

Workers old and young were trapped in a world in which they were forced to believe that all was well and that they would survive. Perhaps they might even prosper in it, but only on the condition that they ignored reality. A essential element of this delusion was that the nightmare would end and life would be good, as it had been when they worked in the fields. By yielding to this delusion they avoided insanity for if the delusion dissolved, the harshness of life initiated a flight from reality and the mind disintegrated into madness. They had learned by harsh self discipline to believe that fortitude and perseverance would be crowned with respect, dignity, and decent wages. The rich were firmly entrenched and just as firmly in control. The poor were trodden underfoot by the heels of those with more power than God had. It was dangerous for the downtrodden to speak of their ill-treatment. There were, however, rational men in whom passion and outrage burned because of the injustices visited upon the poor by masters. The feelings of these men were fanned to furnace heat from the knowledge that even as they breathed, moved, and toiled, they were little more than rotting corpses, inches from the charnel house, because of the iniquitous burdens that crushed their lives, stifled resistance, extinguished their hopes, and mocked their condition.

One visionary whose power and hope, though sorely tried, were far from spent, was Mary’s father, Seth Gledhill. Seth had called on heaven for help, but discovered that an Omnipotent God had no interest in the plight of the poor because the old High God of his fathers in concert with His divinely appointed mortal representatives was distinctly on the side of Masters, Parsons, Magistrates, Government, Church, and King. Long hailed as a Christian nation, England failed to live up to its Christian responsibilities by refusing to love and nurture its estranged populace. Revolts by the poor were almost daily reported in newspapers and handbills. Most were moved by reading of things done in other places whose needs they reckoned close to their own. Illiteracy was becoming less widespread as educational institutions for the poor opened, and adults could read, write, and reason, much to the chagrin of masters whose intention was to keep the poor ignorant, to maintain workers in subjection. Yet a sea change was coming in which the sowers of fear were themselves to be made afraid.

Gledhill lodged a yearning for this change in his inner heart and, for the time being, kept his silence.

Reynolds Staithes marked Seth Gledhill as a hothead without witnessing a hint of the fire that stoked his cropper’s outrage. Like all workers, Gledhill never looked into the eyes of master or overlooker. Yet, there was something in the iron frame and bland face that put observers on notice that he was a man that fear did not rule. Gledhill's self-awareness instructed him that he must and would fight against the depravity that marred the lives of workers. However, for the time being, he lacked a substantive weapon with which to fight the monstrosities.

Gledhill was especially dangerous because although he harboured a sense of dread about what he might be driven to do, he was not made afraid by it. He grew to believe that what he would ultimately do was inevitable because a season of retribution would come. All he knew about natural justice proclaimed that it must. “The day of their condemnation and our revenge will come – sometime!” he muttered through clenched teeth under his breath at each internally recorded offence against his class.

“Sometime! Sometime! It will come because it must!”

Anyone that had been privy to his thoughts would have learned that the revenge he longed for involved more than repayment in kind for tyranny, because his vision of a better time included a levelling that would make men equal in respect and dignity of the worth of every man, woman, and child, and their conspicuous right to be fed, clothed, and housed in ways that preserved their health and secured their futures. He reiterated the mantra, “Sometime! Sometime! It will come because it must!”

Even as he uttered these hopeful words to reassure the courage and his hope that dwelt in him shoulder-to-shoulder, it came to pass that in the lustrous fires of other men’s’ minds a weapon was being forged that would find its way into his hands. Therefore, his ‘sometime’ would not only not be long in coming, but was even now almost at his door!


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.