Hannah accidentally meets Percy in the woods
Twenty-nine years old, Amanda Blows, lived in a small two bedroom cottage in Tatham’s Fells, near Boston, Lancashire, with her two daughters. All the cottages were primitive in that they had no running water. No toilet or bathroom. Water was obtained from a single pump at the horse trough in the village square.
Amanda’s eldest daughter Hannah was ten years old, and her youngest daughter Charlotte, six year old. The children’s father had long since taken off and not been heard from again. Life had been hard, but the same could be said for hundred’s of families who barely scraped a living. They worked long hours in the spinning factories, and the bleach works or in one of the titled gentry mansions.
Caring for her two children had fallen to Amanda almost from the time the girls were babies. Fortunately, she had always been able to rely on her mother, Jean Blows, whom the children lovingly called Nanna. Amanda was still very attractive. Her eyes violet in color was brushed by long lashes. Her long blond hair was partly covered by a kerchief to help keep it from falling over her face as she leaned over the scrub board in the small scullery. These days, she always appeared to wear a troubled look on her face, but this did not subdue the brightness in her eyes as she pulled up the corner of her apron to wipe the perspiration from her forehead. After all, the children were happy even though they were very poor and daily barely able to make ends meet.
The cottage, situated on a lane adjacent to a large wooded area, was owned by Lord Hauntmont as was almost all the property around that area.
The Hauntmont family had owned the land at Tatham Fells for four generations. They also owned two of the largest cotton mills.
The nearest neighbor to the Hauntmont estate was Wilfred Ainsworth of Smithhill Hall. The hall had been built of sand coloured bricks and consisted of twenty eight rooms. The house was Tee shaped and had two tall ridiculously large chimney stacks. There was a stable large enough for six horses Wilfred Ainsworth also owned the Bleach Works in the picturesque area known as The Small Valleys at the bottom of which there was fast flowing water and overlooked an area known as the Turton Fields.
During medieval times, Bolton was a center of the woolen trade. Spinning factories were now being built. Fine muslins and calicoes were being produced. Girls as young as eight and nine years of age were employed in many of the factories. The girls worked very long hours for pitifully low wages.
Amanda had worked in one such factory until the owners of the factory installed modern machinery that replaced much of the need for human labor. Men and women were laid off and this caused wide spread discontent. It also led to a crisis time when the machinery was deliberately smashed by enraged mill workers. These were known as the Luddies. The Luddies were led by a man from Sherwood Forest called Ned Ludd.
Troops were brought in and many arrests made.
These circumstances also necessitated Amanda’s mother, Jean Blows, to move out of the general area, to the outskirts of Bolton, to a one bedroom cottage quarter mile from Amanda.
Amanda called out to Hannah, who was playing with friends, “Hannah, go to the edge of the woods, and collect more wood for the fire under the copper boiler, it has burned very low. Do be quick, because I still have a lot of washing to do and when you get back, you will have to go to the pump for more water!”
Hannah was a healthy if somewhat thin ten years old. Her curly blonde hair hung down her back in braids. Her eyes were a hazel color. Her skin matched the finest Dresden china, with cheeks brushed by nature, a soft coral pink.
Hannah was enjoying the brief time she had to spend with her friends who worked in one or the other factories, or were too young to go to work. She wistfully said to her mother, “I wish us didn’t have to take in other people's washing, ironing, and mending!”
Her mother quickly retorted, “If us didn’t, us would have no food, and I would not be able to pay the rent, so be off girl, and get the wood: Things be now so hard for us lass, that soon I will have to send you off to work in one of the factories or in one of the rich people's homes.”
“Mammy, I know’d Charlotte be only five, but her is old enough to help me collect wood.” Hannah said.
“If you take her to the woods, make sure she is by your side, for you know’d what a little terror she be for wandering off.” Hannah’s dirty faced, and snotty nosed, friends did not want to help to collect wood. They were either too young, or too tired, from working long hours at their various jobs, and their time off were both seldom, and for short periods only. Her best friend Felicity was also ten years old. She worked at one of the cotton mills in Bolton for fifteen hours a day, six days a week. Felicity said, “Ta ra, Hannah. I be not knowing when I will get time off again, from yon factory, and by then, thee may be working; they always be looking for more girls.”
Hannah took Charlotte by her hand, and with the other pulled a little two wheeled cart for any wood they found. They marched past the village water pump and horse trove and on to the woods. Finding sufficient fire wood was becoming more difficult all the time. In the past, they had sometimes collected small pieces of coal dropped by the coalman on the few occasions he had delivered coal to one of the cottages. But there had been no coal delivered for a long time. More and more of Amanda’s neighbors, sought what little wood there was to be found. It meant they had to go a little deeper than usual into the woods. The woods belonged to the estate of Lord Reginald Hauntmont and were out of bounds. Hannah and Charlotte could be charged with trespassing. Hannah hoped the gamekeeper would not see them and run them off or worse, have them charged.
The Hauntmont family owned over three thousand acres of land. Some wooded, some pasture, some rented to tenant farmers, and some rented to the peasants. The rest of it was moorland.
Hannah loved her little sister as she loved her mother. She also had a special love for her Nanna, who visited them as often as she was able and almost always had a small sweetmeat treat for them.
Nanna was tall. She had spent a hard and troublesome life. But it had not robbed her of her good looks. She also had long blond hair and blue eyes, and she was proud of her long slim body.
Of the few fallen branches they found, Hannah soon discovered, were too large to carry or drag. She tried laying them across a rock and jumping on them in an attempt to snap them in two. She was busy carrying out this task and then bending to pick up the pieces now easier to carry.
Being very busy, Hannah had not noticed Charlotte had walked deeper into the woods. She called out, “Help me collect all the pieces Charlotte!” There was no reply. Hannah looked around and could see no sight of Charlotte. She then began to panic. “Charlotte, you are naughty, remember what mammy said to us, “go to the edge of the woods, but not deep inside; then come back as soon as possible.”
Hannah dropped the sticks that she was carrying. “Charlotte.” She was now panic stricken as she as she ran from tree to tree calling for her sister. She suddenly spotted Charlotte talking to a boy with long and tussled ginger colored hair. He had a pug nose and was dressed in clothing the likes of which she had not seen before. Hannah judged him to be either thirteen or fourteen-year’s old.
Hannah was angry as she hurried to her sister, scolding her for leaving her side and talking to strangers.
The boy shouted out, “Leave her be, her ain’t doing notin, and I were only asking for her name, and where she do come from?”
“It be no business of yours for us have come to collect sticks of wood, so clear off, and leave us be!”
The boy stuck out his tongue and put his hand up to his nose. Hannah was still upset over her sister drifting off into the woods, therefore, gave him a push which sent him flying backwards and caused him to fall with a bump, to the ground.
Hannah, grabbed Charlotte’s hand, and started to walk away. Charlotte was curious to know what all the fuss was about. Suddenly there was an almighty shout. The boy leapt up from the ground shouting and holding his bottom. Hannah and Charlotte looked back and started to laugh when they saw him jumping up and down screaming, “Me bums been bit!, me bums been bit!”
Hannah had pushed the boy into an unseen nest of what are known as Split-tongue or wasp like bees. These bees made their hives in the ground and he had landed right on the middle of one. And the angry bees had defended themselves by stinging the thing that had disturbed their home.
The girls not realizing he had been stung a number of times, burst out laughing.
“Don’t thee laugh stupid girls, help me for I be stung on me bum by bees or summat?”
“What can us do if you are stung on the bum, and who be you?”
“My name be Percy. Be there anyone at your cottage who could help I?, for it do sting summat bad like!” Tears were now rolling down his cheeks.
“Our Nanna is visiting us today; she be wise and knows about all things. If she be at the cottage, maybe her can help you. Now I must go back home with sticks for the copper fire.” She and Charlotte hastily collected as many sticks as they could carry. “Now follow us.” Hannah still wanted to laugh, because he was now walking strangely and holding onto his bottom.
Nanna was at the cottage when they arrived. She was busy helping Amanda to pin wet laundry on the line. Nanna and Amanda stopped suddenly, when they saw there was a boy with the girls.
“We met him in the wood’s Mummy, he were rude to me and I pushed him and caused him to fall onto a ground bee’s nest, and they have stung him on his bum!”
Poor Percy not only had red hair, but his face was now very red, as he hopped from one foot to the other with his hands held to his bottom.
“You had better come in boy, I know just what to do to kill the pain of bee and wasp stings: You girls wait outside.”
“But Nanna, what can you do for him?” Charlotte cried out. She was now feeling very sorry for the boy.
“When we get inside, I am going to cut an onion in half and he is going drop his breeks’s and I will rub the onion juice on the stings, it never fails to work.”
“Won’t his bum stink of onions?”
“Yes but that’s better than being in pain: Come inside lad and tell me your name and where you come from?”
“I be Percy Knockers and I works at Hauntmont Manor House.”
Once they were inside the cottage. Nanna found an onion and cut it in half. “Well don’t just stand there if you want my help, drop your breeks’s!”
At first, Percy was shy about dropping his breeks’s in front of a stranger, but when he saw her tapping her foot and looking impatient, he quickly turned, dropped his breeks’s and bent over. “My, O my”: You have a number of stings: You are a poor lad, but the onion will soon put things to right”. Having said this, she quickly rubbed the onion juice over his bottom.
“Ooh. That do feel better, um pain’s gone!”
“Pull up your breeks lad and tell me your name, I can see by your clothes that you work at the Hauntmont Estate. Nanna knew from the uniform the boy was wearing, that he worked at some menial job at the stately home of Lord and Lady Reginald Hauntmont.
Hauntmont House had been erected in the seventeenth century. It was built of grey stone and consisted of one hundred and thirty nine rooms. It had mullioned windows. There was ornamental details and terra cotta busts and well tailored lawns .
Nanna had worked there for a short time as a child, and knew the hardships and torment suffered by the lower staff members.
“As I told ee, me name be Percy, and I helps in the stables up at the home of milord Hauntmont: I were giving an hour off work because I had been rousted from me bed in middle of night, and I were sent to fetch the doctor to tend to Lady Helen, his Lordships mother. Cos her’s had taken a bad turn: Now I must be getting back or I do be getting a cuff round the ear hole’s, and I will lose me job.”
“Off you go lad. I’m sorry about the stings, but they should give you no more trouble, and be a good boy, keep quiet about the girls collecting wood in milord’s woods!”
“I do think her who pushed I down, be a rude little cuss, but seeing her did bring me here, I will not tell anyone about the wood you did steal. I should tell ee though, there be a job going at the big house for a scullery girl, and that should be just right for her: Me Ma’s, the undercook there and she could put a word in for her, if I do mention it!”
“I will tell her mother what you have told me, now be off with you lad.”
Nanna told Amanda about the job at the house. “It will be very hard work for her, but it could mean a little extra money coming in every three months: they will feed her, even if it’s the scant left over after the upper staff’s have had their fill: They also give the lower staff, four hours off once a month.”
Amanda had been finding it very difficult to earn enough money washing, ironing and mending other people’s clothes. The three shillings and sixpence Hannah would receive every three months would be of great help to her.
Two days passed before the boy Percy came again to the cottage. Hannah opened the door in answer to his knock and on seeing him, a smile spread across her face. Before she could stop herself, she blurted out, “How’s your bum?”
Percy‘s face turned very red as he looked down toward the ground. “Be your Mam here?” After saying this, he muttered very softly, “Me bum do be fine now!”
Percy had arrived to tell Amanda if she wanted Hannah to work at the house, she was to make sure Hannah is there no later than three in the afternoon, and be prepared to start work at once.
Hannah being unaware of the hard time she would face at the stately home said, “Mammy I don’t mind going to work if me doing so, would help thee: Nanna, has told me all about working there and I will be able to see you, and Charlotte and Nanna for a few hours once every month.”
Amanda needed the extra money. She was also saddened when she was agreed to let her go.
“Can I pop over to visit Nanna before I go?”
“You had better; she would be upset, if yea left without saying good bye.”
Nanna again explained what would be required of Hannah when she worked at the Manor. “You are only a little one, and a bit skinny, but your size will make no difference. You will be expected to carry out all the work you are given, and you will have to be quick: just do as you are told: You may have to stay out of that boy Percy‘s way, because he will not easily forget it was you who pushed him onto the bee’s nest, Do your best to avoid trouble dear.” Nanna cried a little after Hannah had left to walk the four miles to reach the home of Lord Hauntmont. “Poor little soul, she will find it so hard, and the hours so very long; if only we were not so poverty stricken.”