Authors: Yelena Kopylova
Catherine Cookson was born in East Jarrow and the place of her birth provides the
background she so
vividly creates in many of her novels.
Although acclaimed as a regional writer—her novel
The Round Tower
won the Winifred Holtby Award
for the best regional novel of 1968—her readership spreads throughout the world. Her
work has been
translated into twelve languages and Corgi alone has 31,000,000 copies of her novels in print, including
those written under the name of Catherine Marchant.
Mrs. Cookson was born the illegitimate daughter of a poverty-stricken woman, Kate,
believed to be her older sister. Catherine began work in service but eventually moved
south to Hastings
where she met and married a local grammar school master. At the age of forty she began writing with
great success about the lives of the working class people of the NorthEast with whom she had grown up,
including her intriguing autobiography, O
. Her many best selling novels have established her as
one of the most popular of contemporary women novelists.
Mrs. Cookson now lives in Northumberland.
Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.
To Tommy Bates, whose Langley Dam inspired me to write this story, my warm thanks.
My thanks to Mrs. Ida White of Langley and to Mr. Jack Young, also of Langley, for
providing me with
supplementary information covering the area as it was in the early nineteenth century; not forgetting my
debt to Forster’s Strata for guidance on lead smelting.
PART ONE. The Children
PART TWO. Youth
PART THREE. The Stalled Ox
PART FOUR. And Hatred Therewith
Peter Greenbank threw back his head and sniffed; then, looking down at the small boy he was holding
by the hand, he said, “There’s the smell.
God! yes. It’s a stink. I smelt and tasted it as a boy. It’s a different smell altogether from the coal
dust; it chokes you does the smell of smelting And they built a wall round the mill
thinkin’ to keep the
smell in. Did you ever now know anything as daft as that? “
“Are we far from this place now, Da?”
“Far from it... Langley? We’re in it, boy, we’re in it. You are standing now in the Barony of Langley,
although I can see why you don’t recognize it from my tales of it, for by! it has changed.
Oh yes.” He
nodded his head now. That was all open land there’—he pointed into the distance ‘but
now they’ve got
it under trees. And it’ll be pleasing to look upon when they reach their age, which won’t be for a year or
two yet I’m thinking.”
“Is it far to this house, Da?”
“Why? Are you weary?”
“No, no,” the boy lied valiantly as he looked up at the tall man, a mixture of awe and adoration showing
on his face. | This was his father who had come back into his life not three days ago and transported him
into a wide new world. He was five years old when he had last seen him and he
remembered him vividly:
he had stood by the side of his mother on the Newcastle quay and waved frantically to
him as his boat
sailed down the river to Shields, from where it would go into the wide sea. Now he was seven and a half
years old and the man looked the same to him exactly as on the day he had waved him
goodbye: he was
tall and strong and bright of countenance, with big dark brown eyes. His mother had
always said he
himself had his father’s eyes and would one day be exactly like him. He wanted to be like his father. Oh
yes, he did. So he added now, “I could walk ten miles... more, twenty.”
His father cuffed him gently on the head but in doing so knocked his cap off and when
they both stooped
to pick it up their brows touched for a second and they looked into each other’s eyes and laughed. Then
hand in hand again, they walked on over the narrow uneven path in silence for some way until the boy
said, “The castle. Da, will I see the castle?”
“In two minutes you’ll see the castle, boy.”
And it was after exactly two minutes that Peter Green—bank brought his son to a halt and pointed,
saying, “There it is, over there... the castle.”
The boy stared long and hard at the pile upon pile of stone, and when he made no
comment his father
said, “Well, what d’you think?”
“Aye, lad, it’s old.”
“And it wants mendin’.”
The tall man burst out laughing as he said, “Right again, it wants mendin’.”
“Does nobody live there?”
“Not any more. You’re disappointed in the sight of your first castle?”
“It isn’t me first castle. Da; there’s a castle back in Newcastle, a fine one.”
“Yes, you’re right, you’re right.” Peter Greenbank cuffed his son’s head again. This time the boy
grabbed at his hat with both hands, and once more they were laughing together Well
come on,” said his
‘it’s evident you’re not impressed. We’ll have to see what you think of the smeltin’ mills.
“That’s where you said you used to work. Da.”
“Aye, that’s where I used to work.” Peter Greenbank nodded his head and kept it nodding for the next
ten paces the while his mind went back to his days in the smelting mill. He had gone
there when he was
sixteen after he had left the coal mine up on the hill, and it had been a case of from bad to worse. They
had lived in Allendale at the time and he had walked the four miles every morning, hail, snow, or blow,
and dragged himself back the four miles every night. For six days a week all he had
seemed to do was
work, eat and sleep. He hadn’t, at that age, drunk heavily like the other workers, many of whom had
further to walk, some living as far away as Hexham, but some of them never reaching
there was an inn that acted as a half-way house, and a load of beer on top of their physical weariness
would cut off their legs, and so they would sleep where they fell, perhaps in a barn, until the next day.
But he hadn’t as far to walk as had his father, because he worked in the mines up towards Allenheads;
at least he did, until the day they carried him in his box to the cemetery, another victim of the lead.
It was after his father died that his mother moved them near to Catton. This still left him two miles to
walk, but that seemed nothing. Yet, he had never been settled in himself after his father went and he had
become obsessed with an unusual craving, he wanted to go to sea. But he knew he
couldn’t do this
because he was his mother’s only support.
When he confided this niggling desire to Mr. Makepeace, who was their nearest
neighbour, the old man
had said, “Thee must be mad, lad. You might think the lead and the coal mines an’ the
smeltin’ mills bad,
but the work in them is child’s play, aye, child’s play, compared with what you have to go through afore
the mast.” And he was speaking from experience, he’d said, for he had been at sea for ten years when
he was young.
It had never been known for any man in his own family to take to the sea; his grandfather had often
talked to him, not only of his own father but of his grandfather too. They had all been bred on the land
and died on the land: first as farm workers on the big estates; then, wanting a more
independent life but
not an easier one, they took to the mines. So he did not know from where it came, this craving within
himself for the sea. But not many days after his mother died, he packed his bundle and gave what pieces
there were in the house to Kate Makepeace, who was by this time widowed, and the rest
to Bill Lee
who had just got married and had a one-room shanty round the other side of the quarry
Then he had made his way to Newcastle, thinking that all he had to do was to go to a
shipping office and
sign on; that was the procedure, so he understood.
However, it was nine months later before he got his first trip on a merchant boat for
although he wanted
the sea he didn’t want to join the navy after having listened to what happened to press-ganged men, by
which time he had married the daughter of the little house in which he was lodging. Now, more than eight
years had passed, and during this time he had been only three times ashore in this
country, when the time
between tqps had, on two occasions, been but a matter of days, not’ weeks and a man
who has been
without a woman for years at a stretch does not waste time in longing to tramp the fells of his childhood.
So this was the first time he had been this far since the day he left the place. But this trip was different.
By God! yes, it was different.
His thinking was brought back to the present and he looked down on the reason for his
absentmindedly he said, “Aye?”
“How far is it to the old woman’s house?”
“You mustn’t call her the old woman. Her name is Mrs. Makepeace.”
“But you call her old Kate.”
“What I can do an’ you can do are two different things. Now, you ask how far it is. Well, after we cut
up here to the mills it won’t be all that far.”
In a matter of minutes they came to the first mill, then crossed a rough road and an open space and there
ahead of them stood a great group of stone buildings, some with chimneys, some that
looked like offices
and stables, and all around there was activity with men and horses, and, filling the air, a clamour of voices
and rumbling of carts and the clanking of harness.
When his father pulled at his arm, apparently intending to bypass all this, the boy said,
“Aren’t you going
to show me the mill. Da, like you said?”
“That’ll be another day. Come, the stink is enough; we must skirt it.”
And he held out his hand to help the boy over the iron tracks running into the distance, then past some
scattered cottages, through a thicket and onto a path running by a stream, where the boy exclaimed, “Oh,
Da, look! It’s bonny, isn’t it?”
“Yes, lad, it is bonny. It always was bonny. Beyond the mill there’s a rill and a canny little waterfall.
You’ll see it some day, but now time’s getting on, and it’s shorter this way.” He pointed uphill.
“And so let’s put our best foot forward, eh?”
By the time they reached the top of the long slope the boy’s step was dragging and he
looked with a sort
of longing to where in the distance stood a group of houses and he said, “Is that where she, the old ... I
mean, Mrs. Makepeace lives?”
“No, no. That’s Langley Top. You’ll see that an’ all come another day.
But now, here! “ He lowered himself onto his hunkers, saying, “ Get up. “
And the boy climbed onto his father’s shoulders.
Some way past the houses he stopped and turned to look down the valley, only to stare at a stretch of
water just below, and he muttered, “Why! I can’t believe me eyes. They talked of it, but now they’ve
actually done it.” And he walked forward again to get a better view of the water, and
looking from one
end of it to the other, he muttered, “Must come from Stublick, and goes out down to the mill through that
culvert.” He nodded. Then humping the boy further up on his back, he stepped back onto the track
again, only to stop abruptly and straighten his back so quickly that the boy had to cling on tightly to his
“Good lord! That must be the flue.” He pointed to what looked like a stone—built
chimney lying on the
ground and his eyes followed its length back towards the smelting mill. That’s what it is.
The wall was
This must take the gasses away. No wonder the-trees and grass look fresher. “
“Will I get down now. Da? Am I too heavy?”
“No, lad, you’re like a feather.”
But his son wasn’t like a feather: his son was thin but, like himself, he was big-boned and bones weighed
heavy. But he enjoyed the feel of him clinging to his back, for the aloneness went out of his body at the
proximity of his own flesh. Strange, how lonely he had felt these last few days. In all those months at
sea, in all those years at sea there had been periods of loneliness that almost made a man run amuck.
Yet it was a different kind of loneliness from what he was experiencing now because then he had known
he had a wife on shore waiting for him, and a son too. Well, he still had the son, but not for long.
They had now entered woodland again and because of the low branches crossing the
path, the man stooped and let the boy slide from his back, saying as he did so, “Another half mile and
we’ll be there.”
“Is this the wood you told me about, Da?”
“Aye, this is the wood above the quarry.”
“What’s a quarry like, Da?”
“You’ll see it in just a tick through a break in the trees. It’s just a big hole. Here we come to the first
opening. There, look, but don’t go too near the edge, it crumbles away.” He himself
stepped nearer the
edge and looked over, saying as he did so, “Yes, there’s been some landslides since I last ripped me
backside sliding down there.”
“You used to slide down there. Da?”