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Luddite Spring: 42 - Terrors

...Staithes’ never found rest easy to obtain. That is because his mind was always preoccupied with getting ahead, staying afloat, and making money...

Ronnie Bray continues his epic novel concerning a workers' uprising in the early days of the industrial revolution.

Luddites robbed Staithes of his sleep. There were too many uncertainties and variables of what might happen to him staggering around in his head. “Those accursed Luddites” that he had flippantly dismissed, he now knew to be real. What was worse, he was forced to admit that they were also nearby, and possibly closer than that! Report after report narrated their depredations and gains in the district. They were such a threat that he wished he had never heard of them. What was more, he wished there were none! However, even a man as mentally adroit as Staithes, that was possessed of the capacity to create his own versions of reality, was unable to make Luddites vanish no matter how he contorted his mind. His personal hobgoblins had come home to stare him in the eye!

Staithes’ never found rest easy to obtain. That is because his mind was always preoccupied with getting ahead, staying afloat, and making money. He had a plan to someday to sell the mill and live an easy life down to a grand old age in a picturesque seaside town where industry was unknown, the population was small, and he would be completely unknown. He had, he frequently reminded himself, pulled himself up by his own bootstraps, he had not relied on anyone for help and he didn’t have to rely on his workers for his fortune.

Not only was he not grateful for his filled pockets, but he did not trust any one of them, not even his mill manager, Humphrey Sutcliffe, a solid textile man who liked people too much for Staithes’ liking. However, the mill would not run itself and when Staithes went to market someone had to hold the reins tight or issues wouldn’t be settled, goods would not be despatched, looms would go out of tune, and the mill could grind to a halt. If that happened, the music of coinage dripping into his coffers would cease, and his world would likely end, or threaten to do so.

To be unable to trust anyone but, having no choice other than being forced to do so, was a depressing quandary for anyone. But when added to Staithes’ natural distrust it was an insufferable burden. The weight of the world pressed down on the poor man because failure threatened him on so many fronts. And then there was the secret that plagued him so, that whether waking or sleeping he was a man in torment.

When Staithes did sleep, night terrors visited him. When he did not sleep, he visited them. Even when his fears and troubles were quiescent, he suffered from pendant anxiety and a sense of doom that worse would fall upon him than even his greatest fears spawned. He wondered whether he might be going mad, but argued himself out of that possibility by telling himself that a lunatic could not run a successful business, and he did.

There had been a time in his life when he cared for humanity. But that was long ago. Once, he had been at the heart of his family with a wide circle of acquaintances and friends. Once, he came close to losing his heart to a lovely young woman that returned his attentions. He had swept aside all these associations and travelled on alone after his first real taste of success in business. Needing to repeat that success, he made financial accomplishment the sole aim of his life at the expense of all other pursuits.

The success he achieved was by his taking a risk when working for his father. He took an unsanctioned gamble with his father’s stock by selling a large amount of it to a foreign agent at an abnormally high price. He gave the businessman a considerable amount of unsecured credit in infringement of his father’s principles and practices as to who credit would or would not be advanced. Both the foreign agent and the company he represented were unknown to his father. The transaction was against the established rule that unless an agent was known and trusted through reputation and previous dealings, or could present a formal letter of credit from a reputable bank, no business would be done.

Young Reynold explained that he ‘had a feeling’ about the transaction. Whilst it had turned out advantageous, it was not the kind of risk of which his father approved. His father was displeased with the matter, but waived his dissatisfaction with the warning that no business was ever to be contracted in that manner. The commission on the deal had been substantial, and Reynold persuaded the elder Staithes to grant him the whole amount to set himself up in an independent business. His father agreed, commending his son for his success but with a grave warning that feelings were a poor foundation for business, telling him that he must never trust his feelings again if he hoped to succeed.

Soon after this arrangement was made, Staithes bade farewell to his family and friends and moved from the middle reaches of the Holme Valley to the village of Holmeside where the mountain streams converging into one river had enough force to turn water-powered machinery all the year round. He called his manufactory Outcote Mill after an area where he had played as a youngster when every day seemed pleasant, sunny, and well favoured.

In pursuit of his worldly ambitions he neglected his family, his sweetheart, and his friends, and set about the business of cloth making. At first, he manufactured woollens for working garments, but as his expertise in worsted suiting for the middle and upper class trades grew, he concentrated on quality cloths. Eventually he developed an interested in fancy cloths that sold well in the expanding markets for men’s high fashion. It would be true to say that Staithes ate, drank, and slept cloth. He enjoyed extraordinary success and it could not be denied that he became a major player in the West Riding textile business. His fortune grew and his genius in textile production became the stuff of legend. He was envied by many and over the years he had consolidate his position as an important clothier.

Yet, his success was blighted by melancholy because a phantom from the past haunted him. The spectral visitor diverted his attention from business and imposed itself, clothed in the gloomy familiar to those overtaken by reasonable fear. He experienced bouts of fury marked by pain and alienation. His moods darkened as years passed. When overtaken by one of these bizarre moods, he seemed absent from himself, unaware of his surroundings, and heedless to any words addressed to him. His face changed from its customary sternness into what one would describe as unnatural.

If anyone had seen the spectre that materialised in Staithes’ mind, he would have recognised that the phantom was Staithes’ former partner, Thomas Marsden. Marsden was long dead, but they would not know why Marsden tormented his former business partner. Only Staithes knew, and that was the dread secret that haunted him.


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