Ammon Wrigley - "An Orderment"

The following text was originally transcribed for the "Lancashire Dialect" section of the Dunkerley-Tuson and Goldenthread Website:

The following is a transcription of a work by Saddleworth poet Ammon Wrigley (1861-1946).

An Orderment

Few people in the dales knew James Eastley by his baptismal name but everyone knew him by his byname of “Owd Soul”. One day in the lane, he met the local church parson who complained that he had 1,030 souls to save in his parish and received only £155 a year for the work. Jim figured it out on a barn door with a piece of chalk, and said “It’s very little for sure mester. It’s about three shillings a soul, but that’s more than some of ‘em are worth. There’s a lot like “Powran” and “Dick o’ Scrater’s,” their souls arn’t worth savin’. I wouldn’t give a penny piece for ‘em. What yo’ want to do, mester, is to get some gradely good owd souls like mine an’ then you’ll have less wark to do.”

The parson told a few of his congregation what Jim had said and he was known as “Owd Soul,” to the end of his days. When he died, his sons, Joe and Jack o’ th’ Owd Soul’s, went to live at Cold Crags, a little cottage that stood on the edge of the moor and is now a heap of ruins. They were big, strong, outdoor workmen, what the dalesfolk call rough masons and drywallers. They could both build and use a chisel and were never known to do jerry work. That, and their honest straightforward ways, made them respected wherever they were known.

It was rare to see one and not the other, and it was told in the upland inns that Joe once began to make love to a woman who lived at a neighbouring farmstead, and every time he went to court her he took his brother with him for company. The farm folk were ever chaffing the woman about it, till one evening in the mowing time, she told them to go home and run sheep.

One night in early August, Joe died from pneumonia, and Jack became a changed man. He fell into loose slovenly ways, neglected his meals and took no care of his health. Sometime he would work for weeks at a stretch, and then leave it and sit drinking in lonely moorland alehouses, till he had spent his last penny. He had no love for company, because he talked a great deal to himself and always of his dead brother and bygone days.

If he were sober, he did not care to sit alone at night by his own fireside. He told in the inns, that he could hear strange whisperings outside his windows, and above his head he could hear Joe’s feet stepping softly along the chamber floor. If he looked towards the kitchen, he saw the dim faces of his father and mother peering at him out of the darkness. He neglected the house and when storms blew the windows out he did not even take the trouble to stuff the frames with rags and old hay. The quarrymen who sheltered in his house in rainy weather said that it was so draughty on Jack’s hearthstone that they had to go outside to light their pipes.

He went his own careless way for years till at last he grew withered and little in his clothes. One rough March night when the wind was shaking the old house and swishing the rain in at the broken windows, he lay ill, with a neighbour, Ned o’ th’ White Stangs, watching by his bedside. Ned had stuffed some of the frames with rags but the wind still blew candlelight level and made the tallow gutter down one side. The door fitted badly and he had jammed an old carpet against the bottom and weighed it down with a stone mop. It was well for him that there was a fair stack of dry turves in the kitchen, or he would have had to shiver all night by a poor fire.

All through the afternoon Jack had been “slummerin,” and rambling in his talk; living his boyhood over again. One moment he and Joe were gathering blackberries in the hedges and the next they were playing at horses and galloping down the lane. About midnight he grew sensible and said feebly, “Ned, where are yo’ lad?”

“I’m here old friend, do yo’ want yo’r phsic?”

“I want to mak’ a bit of an orderment. I’m done for, Ned. I’be got to th’ end o’ my tether. It’s no use o’ botherin’. Get a bit o’ papper, lad.”

“Keep yo’r pluck up old lad, yo’ll pull round th’ corner agen.”

“Never agen, Ned, never agen. I shall be gone when th’ cuckoo sings o’ yon’ hillside. That owd oak cupboard cracked one neet, an’ I knew my time had come. It cracked when eaur Joe fell il.”

“I don’t believe i’ sich signs, “ Ned said. “it’s moonshine.”

“Nay it isn’t, Ned, there’s some queer things i’ this world. When yon barn door at Toplone opens when there’s nobody near it, there’s a grave to mak’ for one o’ owd Lang’s breed. Rachel i’ th’ Clough says if a picture drops deawn i’ her house, there’s sure to be a death i’ th’ family.”

Ned could not find a sheet of paper, but he found an old leather bound Bible with blank pages at one end. Having sharpened the stump of a pencil, he said, “I’m ready owd lad.”

“Well Ned, yo’ know I’m th’ last o’ th’ owd Langmoor breed, an’ it’s been a wild breed on these hills. I believe some o’ my uncles were buried on th’ moor. But I want to be buried wi’ my father an’ mother an’ eaur Joe. We lived together an’ we’ll lie o’ yon hill together an’ go to dust together.”

“Ay, an’ yo’ shall do, Jack. Don’t bother abeaut that.”

“Well, I want “Meyl Lad” to mak’ my coffin. Just like eaur Joe’s polished oak, an’ brass hondles, an’ a brass plate wi’ my name on.”

Ned began to write and in a few minuets he said, “Go on Jack, but don’t be in a hurry. Let me lift yo’ up owd lad.”

“Ay, that’s better, tell Betty o’ th’ Crootlone to mak’ my shroud, wi’ frills deawn th’ front an’ reaund th’ wrists, an’ put pearl buttons on same as eaur Joe had.”

When Ned had written that down, he said, “What’s next owd lad.”

“Get Sarah o’ th’ Green Clough to bake th’ bread an’ 47 buryin’ cakes. Eaur Joe had 47 an’ tell her to put plenty o’ butter in an’ mak’ ‘em shine. Wait a bit, I’m winded.”

“Ay rest yo’ Jack. I’ll put some turf on th’ fire.”

As soon as Ned had made the fire up Jack began again.

“Tell Mary o’ th’ Bonk, to brew three pecks o’ malt. Ten quarts to th’ peck. Not a drop more. I shall come back if it’s poor burrin’ ale. Ay, an, ay, yon’s a lark, singin’ singin’. It’s a lark, summer, summer, ay, it’s a lark, um, um, up i’ th’ blue sky. Our Father which art in Heaven, the power an’ the Glory. It’s a lark, it’s it’s um um.”

A great gust of wind blew the smoke down the chimney into Ned’s face. He drew his chair back and waited till Jack had given over rambling. Then he said. “Is there to be some snuff?”

“Ay, a half a pound o’ snuff, an’ three pounds o’ bacco. An’ get Mally o’ Cotes to roast 40 pounds o’ good beef. Let me touch that whiskey, Ned.”

Ned placed one arm round Jack’s shoulders and raised him up as gently as he could and having moistened his lips with whisky and water, said, “Just hearken that wind an’ rain. It wur a neet like this, when Ben o’ th’ Four Trees, an’ his wife, Ann wur drowned i’ that roaring weir at Black Bridge.”

“Wind an’ rain,” Jack murmured, “an’ I shall hav’ to go o’er yon black moor before mornin’.”

“I fear yo’ will owd lad,” Ned said to himself.”Yo’ll never see another day break o’oer th’ top o’ Wringbank.”

“Bygone days, bygone days. I do feel weary. There’s somebody i’ th’ kitchen. It is a long neet. It’s it’s it’s.”

Ned waited again and then he said, “What else hav’ I to put deawn?”

“I keep wanderin’, let me see. I want thee an’ “Robin o’ th’ Lungbarn,” an’ “Jack o’ Pinder’s” an’ “Johnny mi Laddie,” to be carriers. Yo’ carried eaur Joe an’ yo’ll carry me. An’ wear black hatbands an’ rosemary i’ yo’r jackets.”

“I’ll see there’s plenty o’ rosemary,” Ned said. “Owd Ellen grows it for funerals.”

“Well there’s burrin’ folk. I want thy wife an “Dick o’ th’ Broo,” to walk first at back o’ th’ coffin, an’ tell ‘em to keep as near to me as they con. Then Jim o’ Broth’s an’ his wife an’ Churn Joe an’ Rooster’s widow, an’ then Alf o’ Pow’s an’ his dog, owd Shep. That dog used to sit i’ th’ house wi’ me for company an’ look into my face ust like a Christian. Let other neighbours walk as they want an’ don’t forget one. Just moisten my lips wi’ that whisky. Where is it?”

“It’s here Jack, just lean yo’r back agen my arm owd lad. That’s it.”

As soon as he had settled down on to the pillow again he began to ramble in so low a voice that Ned could only catch a word now and again.

“They are long, weary hours,” Ned said as the clock struck one. “But I guess somebody will hav’ to stop wi’ me when my turn comes.”

He piled the fire up with turf and lit his pipe. There were no curtains to the windows and as he sat watching the rain stream down the panes, he began to wonder how to pay for the funeral. He had known Jack to be hard up for a shilling and his “orderment” would cost pounds. There was the furniture, but it had been neglected and was of little value.

When Jack had dozed and mumbled to himself for an hour, he woke in a fright. “What’s that?” he asked in a startled whisper. “There’s somebody knocking outside. Hush! They’ve come for me, Ned, they’re whispering, see who it is, Ned.” To pacify him, Ned went to the door and shouted “Hello! Hello! Who’s there?”

A gust of wind and a patter of rain answered him. When Jack had calmed down again, he said, “Ned, we’d forty pounds i’ this house when eaur Joe died, an’ I spent twenty on his funeral. He wur worth it for he never did anybody a wrong or ever hurt a living thing.”

“That’s true,” Ned said, “an’ folk can say the same about yo’ owd lad.”

When everything had been squared up, Jack said feebly, “I put twenty sovereigns in a tin box an’ buried it under yon cow-stone i’ th’ top field. It’ll pay for my burrin’ an’ then thee, an’ Alf o’ Pows, an’ Churn Joe can divide what’s left, for yo’ve been very good to me.”

“I’ll see that every penny’s paid an’ everything done honest an’ straight.”

“I know, I know yo’ will, Ned. God bless thee lad. Don’t forget to order some burrin’ cards like eaur Joe’s wi’ black reaund th’ edge an’ a weeping willow on. An’ tell Broody’s wife to tidy th’ house up a bit an’ put some blue pappers round those brass candlesticks. O dear I’m finished, Ned. Prop me up agen another pillow. That’s better.”

As soon as he had been raised up, Jack fell asleep again. Ned sat smoking and staring into the fire till he began to feel drowsy. To keep awake he got up and went to the window. It was still raining but the wind had settled and a few dull streaks of morning were broadening o’er the sullen heights of Wringbank. There were a few lighted windows at the farmsteads on the other side of the valley for the farmers had to get up early and take their milk along rough hill roads to a town five miles away. He was listening to a stream in flood as it roared down the clough from the moors when Jack woke suddenly.

“Ned, Ned, stick to my hond, stick to it,” he said in fear. He thrust a thin worn hand out from under the bedclothes and when Ned touched it he shivered for it was as cold as ice.

“Leet another candle, it’s goin’ dark,” Jack said in a whisper.

Ned got a spoonful of whisky and put it to Jack’s lips but it all ran down his chin on to the bedclothes. He rallied for a moment and Ned said “Jack don’t yo’ know me, Ned o’ th’ White Stangs?” Jack’s lips moved but no sound came, and he looked on Ned with glazing eyes, his head fell forward and he had gone o’er the black moor to meet his brother Joe.

Ned stretched his dead friend out and in keeping with an old dales custom, put a silver coin on each eyelid. Then he took a white sheet from a drawer and fastened it up to the windows so that when daylight came, the hillside folk would know that Jack was dead. As he went down the lane he called and told Betty o’ th’ Crootlone that Jack had gone o’er the moor.

In the afternoon, he and Churn Joe took a spade and found the twenty pounds under the cow-stone. “Good old Jack,” Ned said. “Many a time he hadn’t a penny to bless his rags, yet he kept this money so that he could be buried like his brother.”

When they got back to the house, Churn Joe uncovered Jack’s face and said in a faltering voice: “Jack, owd lad, we were schoolmates together an’ we’ve had some happy hours on Reelton hill. Yo’r Joe an’ thee were the kindest hearted lads that ever lived. I hope when I go o’er yon moor I shall meet yo’ two i’ heaven.”

Ned turned away for he saw tears glistening in Churn Joe’s eyes.