Archive for category Fictional Illustrations
Read Part 1 first (Here)
Ned looked upon his wife. Nell was dishevelled, her hair a nest upon her head. Her dress stretched across her swelling middle. But what shocked Ned the most was that her eyes had no life in them. She was a mess, her life had little meaning. She looked as though all hope was gone. He supposed he looked the same to her.
It struck him as a blow to the very pit of his stomach that his family was neglected. What was happening here? Did he not give his wife money each week for food? Did he not work hard for them? He didn’t beat them. Was this not enough?
Clearly it was not. They needed his care, and attention too.
He ate in silence, his mind turning somersaults. He wanted to get up, and go back to the pub, forget all this. But that never helped for long. Instead he reached in his pocket and gave his wife the few pence he would have spent in the pub. He spent an unaccountably restless night in bed.
Next morning Nell couldn’t wait for her husband to leave for work, the few coppers jangling in her pocket made her heart sing. She had things to do. First she got the kettle on for some hot water and got her and the little ones scrubbed up as best she could. Then she tried to get a comb through their hair. Finally they got into their best clothes… cast off from other families and mended many times but relatively presentable.
The Friday market was bustling and she had a job to keep hold of her wild little charges but she did. She ignored the derisory looks of the ‘respectable’ women with their heaving baskets of goods. She couldn’t wait to get back home and get stuck in.
It was wages day, all the lads were off to the pub. Ned trooped along with them but his family was still on his mind.It was as though he’d really seen them for the first time last night, at least the first time in a long time, and it unsettled him. The men he worked with teased him about his mood and this time he had no patience with them. He made his excuses and left early.
The house was quieter as he approached it down the path in front of the seeming unending row of two room cottages. He felt the warmth and peace as he came in. Nell looked different tonight, with a little glimmer of light in her eyes. She smelled different too. The cottage was cleaner warmer and brighter. And there was the unmistakable smell of a bacon joint boiling on the hob.
He slept well that night, holding his warm wife to him. In the morning the children landed on him and for once he didn’t seem to mind. He felt a little stab of pride at his son’s strength. As he left for work Nell enquired whether he would be coming straight home. “Lets see shall we?” he said and off he went.
Over the next few months the pub became less important. The coppers saved were put to good use by Nell and the cottage was warmer, the food a little more filling, the children grew like weeds. The new baby took it out of Nell so Ned put more time into helping out. Strangely he found he liked it. He found he started talking about growing food with the older men at work and learned a lot. Eventually Nell asked whether they ought to start going to church. Mainly for the Sunday School of course, some children were learning to read there free of charge!
Within a few years Ned’s newfound respectful attitude and appearance earned him a reputation for reliability and a promotion to overseer. Nell’s smile was back, the whole family went to Church regularly. Ned’s daughter read to him from the gospels and he knew his children were blessed with a future.
Everyone marvelled at how ‘lucky’ the family had been. Ned of course gave all the credit to God, and His travelling preacher, for helping him do the right thing, just once, just one small decision one day after work, and giving him that tiny seed of strength that was just enough for him to heed the little voice setting him, and his whole family, on the right path.
“Never mind turning water into wine” Ned would say “He can sure turn beer into food and clothes”.
Once apon a time, well in the 1880’s actually, there was a general labourer who lived in a fairly average town somewhere in northern England. His name was Ned.
Ned had grown up in a fairly rough family, fourth of nine children living in a tiny cottage. As a boy he remembered being mostly cold, hungry, dirty and being scolded by his mother and, on the odd occasion that he didn’t manage to avoid his father, “feeling the back of his hand” searing across his head.
Ned had an ambition to have a better life than this and to give his children a better life. Nothing grand maybe but decent food, warmth, safety and security. Ned couldn’t read or write but he was strong and he could work. With the advent of the railways Ned decided to become a Navvy (navigational engineer) and be involved with building the new railway! He worked hard too. He also drank hard. He was ‘a good lad’ he liked the pub, he liked that beer stopped his aching limbs ache quite so much. He especially liked the warm softness of a lass in his arms.
Ned eventually had a wife and a child on the way. Clearly he couldn’t follow the railway with this ‘ball and chain’ so resentfully he found a labouring job and a small cottage to rent. By the time his third child was on the way, Ned saw that his children’s’ lives were now pretty much the same as his had been. He still liked the pub after work, the comradeliness of the working lads there. It made it easier to go home to a whining wife, and generally his children were at least asleep before he got there so he didn’t have to deal with them. That was his missus’s business anyway.
He couldn’t believe how much she’d changed in only five years. She always used to be up for a laugh and a cuddle. Now all she did was moan about not having this or that. On and on she went. And more often than not when he climbed into bed she’d turn her back to him.
One evening after a long day he popped into the local tavern on his way home, as was his custom. And why not? He worked hard,he deserved a drink or two. As usual the lads were bantering by the bar. Their talk was, well pretty base, and tonight he found it tiresome, perhaps because he was tired, worn out well before his thirtieth birthday. A travelling preacher sat at the window table, having a meal, reading what Ned thought must be a bible. Ned thought preaching must be a good job as the man was about his age but looked ten years younger. He was clean too, and looked decently fed.
The preacher noticed Ned too. He motioned him over, offering him a seat. ‘May as well take the weight off my tired legs’ Ned thought and sat down. The preacher asked Ned about himself, his story and nodded with understanding. He listened to Ned’s complaining. He even told Ned a bible story or two. He knew a lot about men like Ned, he was a travelling preacher, preaching to the Navvies. Ned like him.
The following day the preacher was in the pub again having his evening meal. Again Ned sat with him and the preacher told him all about how God could help him get his dream back on track, how his marriage could be healed, how his little ‘uns could have a better life. This seemed pie in the sky to Ned, but he liked the preacher and he did enjoy his time with him.
On the third night, the preacher’s last night in town, Ned prayed with him, quietly at a corner table that Jesus would save his soul. To be honest he didn’t hold out much hope, and he was very glad ‘the lads’ never saw!
The next night he was on his way from work to the pub when a little inkling at the back of his mind prompted him to think he might just as well go home and see how his wife was, pregnant and all, and maybe see just how his kids were.
He heard the shouting and whining as he turned into his row of cottages. His two were running riot in the kitchen, grumbling about their bellies. He was surprised how scruffy they were though, and thin. The cottage looked pretty tatty too. What did his wife do with all their money???
Nell saw her husband coming in and panicked… He never came straight home, something must have happened. Nell braced herself for bad news, or at the very least a hard time off him for the state of the place. She knew he wouldn’t understand she had no soap to clean anything or anyone never mind clothes and that. The fire was tiny but it was all that they could afford, tea was a stew with barely any meat in it, mostly just onions which were cheap at the minute and there was no bread left.
Nell backed into the shadows of the fireplace as Ned came in.
To be continued… (part 2 here)