A Netherthong Story – A Bit of a Do – by James R. Gregson

  In June 1921, the Express published a “Netherthong Story” in serial form which was spread over a number of weekly issues. It was titled “A Bit of a Do” and written by a James R.Gregson. Christine Verguson contacted me – January 2015- to give me more information about him.  “James R (Dick) Gregson later became a pioneer of radio drama – not only writing and producing plays and other radio features on a freelance basis in the Leeds studio in the inter-war years but, with the resumption of regional broadcasting after WW2, he became the North Region’s first ever Senior Drama Producer. He also served for a time as a councillor in Huddersfield.”

The story is quite entertaining and written in the style of the time and, as it refers to Netherthong, it clearly warrants a chapter of its own. Because of the concern these days about Health and Safety and Political Correctness, I have been  advised to inform  you that the story does contain a lot of Yorkshire dialect words.

1. We get going.

  This story is going to be a teaser to write. You see, it isn’t mine – it’s Simon’s mostly – and what isn’t Simon’s is Drucilla’s and I want to give it to you in such a fashion that you’ll feel you’re in the house with me, listening to them and seeing their homely faces and getting all the flavour of their homely humour. And yet I won’t give it to you exactly as I heard it, for it would become to tedious to read, just like any conversation that was reported verbatim. So I’ve to cut it all over the place and piece the best bits together neatly.

  Simon  and Druscilla live at Nether Thong (or is it Netherthong?). They were  born there and have lived there all their lives, getting schooled, falling in love,courting and getting married there. They’re natives in short – although the ” short ” really applies to Druscilla, who’s 5′, owing as Simon says when he gets cross with her, to ‘them’ at made ‘er  tekkin’ moost  of ‘er length for ‘er tongue. Druscilla is small – all ways. She reminds me of a rather shabby little sparrow, for she has the sharp movements and glances and not a little of its “nowtiness “.

 They say that when Simon courted her he used to seat her on a wall, or stand her on a millstone to kiss her and one can easily understand the necessity for some such means for he is a mountainous man. Of course when he was younger he may have bent down to kiss her – but he can’t do it to-day, perhaps because he got out of practice. Be that as it may, a great contrast in a married couple would be hard to find, she is small and sharp and all a -twitter and a-flutter, he so large and slow and all placidity, and quiet good humour. But they jog along quite comfortably together and although they have no children of their own, the house is never silent for they are “uncle and aunt ” to all the neighbours’ children as well as to their ” blood relations”.

   Netherthong stands on a hill – at least it always does when I go there – it’s a very inconvenient habit for a village to acquire although I must admit that the view when one gets there is ” good enough to be getting on with”. I have heard that there is an ‘Upperthong’ farther on and I am content to take this statement on trust. I have never seen it but I have a shrewd suspicion that it is the lower of the two, their names with our oblique Yorkshire humour have been mis-applied. Simon and Druscilla live, according to Druscilla, in the most uncomfortable house in the village – to me it is the cosiest little house in the world. I do not intend to tell you which it is, you’d be up there before Druscilla knew where she was and she’d spoil the muffins in her ‘frustration’. I was there only the other week-end and the hill seemed stonier than ever. I arrived in the dark, chilled and rather wet by a sharp shower and more than a little anxious about Simon who had been laid low by a dose of rheumatic fever. But on lifting the latch and dropping down the one step into the kitchen I was doubly cheered. The kindliness of the house rushed to greet me, steaming my glasses so that I should not be blinded by the brilliance of the polish ( or elbow grease as Druscilla says ) that makes the furniture and brass shine like mirrors.

   There was something good for supper too or my nose deceived me. And there was Simon, as I perceived when the mist cleared, who smiled broadly and held out a large white paw for me to shake and said ” Ah’m reight fain to see thee lad”. Ah and here is Druscilla – ” ” Ah niver yerd thee cum in. Ah were thrang gettin’ t’bed ready. Weel, hah does to think ahr Simon’s lookin ? Just like a big babby gettin’ his teeth. Big babby. Tha should ha’ seen ‘im a month sin cryin’ becoss t’clock were spittin’ at ‘im. That‘s what he fancied, tha knows. Eh, dear , it’s been a reight do, an’. Ah’m fain ‘e’s on t’ mend for Ah could dee fifty times ovver wi’ less bother than ‘e’s been”.  And all the time she is talking, she hops about from the gas-ring on the sink to the tea- caddy ( with pictures of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Spring denoted by a farmer sowing. Summer by a girl swinging . Autumn by a boy stealing apples and Winter by the girl skating and a robin on a twig), from the tea -caddy to the oven and from the oven to the table and presently supper is ready.

” Nah then square rahnd lad, doan’t bother aakin’ for nowt, reich it for thysen.’Ave a bit o’ this chicken – ahr Simon’ll leave awf on it. It’s last o’ t’ cockerels bar one, Ahm savin’ for ahr Maggie”. Suddenly she rises and goes upstairs, returning immediately with one serviette, which she placed by my side and which I don’t use because I’m busy picking that chicken – as busy picking as ever the chicken was.  “So tha thinks ‘e’s looking better? Eh, but ‘e’s a prince to what ‘e wer’. It’s browt ‘im to a shadder.An ‘is een stood aht on ‘is ‘ead like them dresser knobs”. I murmur my sympathy, inarticulate with chicken. ” Ah’ve had some dos wi’ ’em but nowt so bad as this. Nowt”. ” Ah, it’s been a funny affair lad “, confirms Simon slowly, ” Queer things ‘as been appearing to me”. ” ‘E means ‘is ramblin’ ” explained Druscilla, ” ‘E ‘as carried on”. ” Tha can call ’em ramblin’, if tha like lass, but to me – well, they’re moor not that. A lot moor “. ” Well, niver mind ’em nah! Get thi supper. I can’t bide to see thee lookin’ like a rail although tha’s been more like a lath, when tha wer at t’ worst”. ” An’ Ah’m nooan so crack, so lass. Ah wer lookin’ at misen this morning when Ah had a bit of a bath, an’ believe me lad, mi belly’s that slack Ah could wipe mi nooase wi’ it “. ” But these ramblings of yours…..”, I prompted. ” Tha’s what she calls ’em but Ah believe Ah’ve had a glimpse o’ me o’ mi past lives —– moor nor one, to tell t’truth. When tha’s finished eightin’, Ah’ll tell thee abaht ‘e”. ” Tha’ll do nowt o’ th’ sort “, said Druscilla sharply, ” Tha’s stopped up behind the time as it is.”  ” Nah, lass —- “, began Simon pacifically.” Ah’m nooan goin’ to let thi’ throw thisen back into bed—–“. ” But Ah’st be better if Ah get it off me chest  —- “. ” Tha’ll be better if tha gets a bit moor o’ that chicken on to thi chest. Just look what a saucy plate tha’s left “.

Simon , with a twinkling eye, picked a bit more while I started on a huge helping of apple – pie. After a gustatory pause, he resumed as Druscilla left the room.  “They say that no man’s a ‘ero to his valet but Moses’ll allus be an ‘ero to me”.  “Moses which ? “, I queried. ” Ah’m in t’bible. Ah were his valet, tha knows”.   “Sethee! “, it was Druscilla with her ‘ paddy ‘ out. ” Sethee, off t’bed this minute. If tha’ goes on to that tale o’ thine, tha’ll talk all t’neet. Pike off”.  And so he ‘piked’. And so did I  — to a bedroom where windows were tapped and swept all night by trees restless in the wind.

2. We start again.

   Sunday morning in Netherthong is composed one- half of church bells and one- half bacon and tomatoes.I don’t know whether the noise or the smell wakened me, but I opened my eyes on a low beamed ceiling that was a riot of changing green and golden sunshine. And so downstairs to the sink and Druscilla, who negotiated the tomatoes and bacon, whilst I performed feats with a safety-razor that made her shudder. Breakfast was ready by the time I was dressed and Druscilla said,  “Simon’s down t’garden, if tha’ll fetch ‘im in”.  The garden was long and Simon was at the far end. Everything looked ‘ like t’ back end ‘ — raspberry canes in need of pruning, cabbages bursting, the trees rusting and the poultry looking queer in their partly – cast plumage — there was one old bird strutting about with a solitary feather where its tail should be. But everything was clean, sparkling and the view over the valley was rain-washed and clear. And Simon said, as I opened my lungs appreciatively , ” Ay, it’s a rare morning “. Last night’s chicken must have been a hungry bird and must have passed its hungry qualities on for I felt I could ‘ eat a hunter off his horse’. That particular fare not being available I did quite well with the bacon and tomatoes. ” What are yer goin’ to do this morning ? “, asked Druscilla, as we slowed up. ” Simon can’t walk far yet”. I trotted out an old gag ” I’m going to peel the potatoes for you, and see that you don’t burn the beef “. ” Oh, arta? Tha’rt nooan stoppin’ in this kitchen — nawther on yer — Ah’m bahn to tidy up a bit – it looks fair offald”.

    So presently I filled my pipe and Simon commenced a long and involved process with a jack-knife and a plug of twist and we sat in the sunshining garden and browsed. Simon’s first pipe after breakfast is no light matter and I know better than to spoil it with talk but presently it came onto rain and we were forced back into the kitchen with Druscilla and the smell of roasting meat. And there at the first opportunity, I broached the matter of Simon’s ‘ramblin’s’. Simon began between puffs ” It’s noa joke bein’ poorly “. ” Not to them ‘at’s been nursin’ thee “, piped in Druscilla. ” Nor to me, nawther, lass. Ah used to get fair tied up wi’ it. Ah were allus wishin’ Ah were somewheer else fro wheer Ah wer. Ah, but it made me sweeat, Ah can tell thi Ah thowt Ah should nivver get mi limbs straight ageean. Ah fair roared wi’ it “. ” Tha did that! Mrs . Mossop across t’ passage, had to change bedrooms becoss tha wakkened t’ babby wi thi’ racket “.

   ” Ah can weel believe it, lass. Ah couldn’t sleep misen for t’noise Ah used to mak. Ah used to wish scores o’ time Ah wer aht on it. An’ one time Ah were ——-“. A tentative suck on the unlit pipe brought a gurgle from the stem.  ” Ay ……. reight aht on it  …… but Ah didn’t tumble to it all at once, than knows …. There were one pain that went across mi’ shoulder blades — nobbut, it wer’ underneath ’em, if tha’ follows me  — an’ Ah used to think it wer’ like someone floggin’ me ……Well suddenly when it gate very bad, I thowt dang it’s somedy is floggin’ me. An’ thet wer’. Two on ’em “. ” Two? What ?”, be sure I was quick with the required prompting. ” Infidels “. ” Fiddlesticks ” from Druscilla,  ” No, lass, but thet wer’ nearly as thin “. ” Do you mean Egyptian ? “, I asked.  ” Ay. But we allus thowt on ’em as infidels “.  “We? “. ” Ay, us “.  ” Who were you ?”. ” Hebrews. Ah wer a Hebrew, and ahr Druscilla wer’ a Shebrew or a Hebrewess “. ” Nah, dooan’t try to drag mi into thi’ daft tale”. ” Theer’s no need, lass, tha wer theer but tha dooant really come into it until later on “. Druscilla banged the oven door with such emphasis that the damper fell down.

Undisturbed by this little display, Simon resumed. ” It wer very funny passin’ ovver like that. Although to tell t’truth Ah didn’t pass ovver for Ah nevver forgate  Ah wer’ poorly at whooan — tha might say that Ah’d a fooit i’ another shop – mind thee, Ah wer’ in booath places at once an’ altogether an’ Ah missed nowt o’ what was goin’ on in booath at whooam an’ abroad … Ah’ve nevver struck nowt so funny i’ all mi life. fancy seein’ two Druscillas at once! Not a double Druscilla like a druffen chap but two different ‘uns an’ yet boath th’same”. ” For heaven’s sake, shut up “, cried Druscilla, ” tha’ll drive me potty wi’ thi gassin'”. “Another queer thing “,  went on Simon imperturbedly, ” wer’ t’ question i’ mi mind as to which wer hurtin’  me t’mooast – t’ rheumatic fever at whooam ot them cruel devils ovver yonder. They laid it onto me to some thickness. Ah can tell thi, an’ at first Ah wer fair bothered thinkin’ that they’d surely cut ahr Druscilla’s red flannel bran bags to ribbons on mi back.Ah wer fair terrified when she came to change ’em, forfear she’d get a swipe wi’ t’whips an’ Ah yelled aht like a stuck pig to ‘er to get aht o’ t’rooad.”  ” Ay “, chimed in Druscilla, “Ah remember that verry well but there wer nowt theer though. Ah must say that t’way tha screamed fair crilled me. Anyway, it wer nobbut thi fancy.” ” That’s what tha thinks lass, an’ we’ll let thee ha’ thi own way… Queer, weren’t it ?”, he asked, turning to me. I agreed. ” But it gate queerer still. Tha’ soes, Ah could understand their tak an’ all, an’ it weren’t even English, let alone our own language. An’ Ah knew all abaht misen, an’ everybody ovver theer, an’ what it wer all abaht together. But at first, what wi’ bein’ i’ two sheps at once, Ah could nawther mek ‘ase nor cowk on it …. Ah DID get used to  an’ it didn’t cap me a bit when Ah saw that Ah wer nobbut a nipper. Ay, a Hebrew nipper, just turnin’ into mi teens. An’ two big infidels lashin’ into me like fiends. Ah don’t remember hah monny swipes Ah gate, but mi’ back wer in ribbins when they finished. Ah went fan sick wi’ it but Ah just managed to keep conscious long enough to gasp aht – when it was ovver  – ‘let my Lord Pharoah live for ever’, and then under mi’ breath, ‘ in Hell’. “But what had you done to bring the punishment upon you ?”.  ” Ah’d been larkin’ wi’ one o’ Pharoah’s dowter’s children — Moses “.  ” Well of all the daft …..” began Druscilla, but an amazing sniff from me towards the oven, cut her off short and saved the story. ” Eh, ‘t WERE a rip, wer Moses. An although he wer one o’ Pharoahs household — an we, all on us hated Pharoah an’ all ‘is belongin’s, like slaves allus hate their miserable maisters  — Ah worshipped t’verry grahnd Moses walked on. Eh ‘e wer a bonny striplin’, an’ we’d some rare pranks together, for ‘e took to me same as Ah took to ‘im. But us Hebrews weren’t supposed to do onny laikin’ tha knows. We wer slaves — an’ Ah confess it to mi sorrer — we deserved to be for we wer a spineless lot. We did nowt else all our lives but build an’ dig, an’ pull us guts aht, an’ get lashed wi’ whips — whips like bit cats an’ nine tails — we hated us maisters an’ we hated misens. T’ mooast o’ mi’ short life we wer building monuments — what does tha call ’em — them things like four triangles all leanin’ together an’ proppin’ one another up … ?”  ” Pyramids “.  ” Ay, pyramids. It wer t’fashion just then among t’Egyptians to be buried in ’em. An’ we built scores o’ ’em in mi time. Big ugly things they wer, an’ all. Ah’m buried in one o’ ’em , nah Ah come to think on it”.   ” Simon! Simon !. Wheer evver doesta expect to go to when tha does? ”  Druscilla’s voice was almost a wail. ” Ah’m waitin’ for thee to mek THY mind up lass an’ Ah’m bahn wi’ thee”. Druscilla’s only reply was to crack an egg- viciously – into the pudding basin. I took this opportunity of asking, ” But isn’t there a story?”. ” There is an’ Ah’m bahn to tell it thee lad. Ah’m bahn to show thee hah Moses an’ mi, in us young silly fashion, made history. But to tell it reight, Ah’ll begin at t’ beginnin’ — wi’ Joseph”. ” Joseph , eh “.  ” ay, Ah nevver met ‘im but Ah know all abaht ‘im, an’ ‘e began all t’bother. So we’ll start off wi’ i’m”. 

3. The Story of Joseph.

Simon cleared his throat and began to clear and refill his pipe as he resumed —–  “Ay, Joseph began t’bother — ‘E wer too eager to pleese t’ Pharoah o’ ‘is time — not that ‘e weren’t brainy — far from it! — but like t’mooast on us, ‘e didn’t look far enuff i’ t’ front ….”. A pause whilst he rubbed up a dose of twist, then———.”Ah don’t know whether tha remembers owt abaht Joseph, but if tha does tha’ll remember that ‘is father made a bit o’ a favourite on ‘im and that led to rows i’ t’house, an’ finished up wi’ Joseph bein’ selled as a slave to Potiphar. Tha sees over then , Hebrews weren’t liked by th’Egyptians. They’d cause for it to my thinkin’, for even in mi time we wer an ignorant lot, an’ Ah reckon Joseph knew nowt much when Potiphar bowt ‘im. Whereas the Egyptians wer far more civilised —  they lived i’ buildings — not skin tents  — they could weave after a fashion an’ make glass an’ they ‘ad a written language, an’ worst of all they ‘ad a church and clergy. Ah’ll bet Potiphar looked on Joseph as we used to look at niggers. Anyway t’lad had good brains an’ good looks an’ t’latter gate ‘im into trouble an’ landed ‘im i’ jail, wheer ‘e stopped for a bit …. ‘E gate aht o’ jail by explainin’ some dream ‘at Pharoah ‘ad ‘ad —- seven fat bulls met seven thin uns —–“. ” Ay, Ah thowt tha’d trip thisen up, ” exclaimed Druscilla, with what would have been glee had it not been so much temper”. ” Hah does ta meean?”. ” They weren’t bulls at all.” ” Who says they wer ?”. ” T’Bible doesn’t say they were bulls”. ” What does it say then ?”. ” It says they wer kine “. ” Well, what’s kine ?”. ” Cows”. ” Well , aren’t cows bulls ?”. Druscilla laughed heartily at this and Simon enjoyed such a huge grin at his own expense, that good humour restored instantly. ” Anyway “, resumed Simon earnestly, ” these kine wer bulls — Ah’ve seen scoores o’ picters on ’em – the Egyptians wer determined nivver to forget what they reminded ’em on an’ they drew ’em on their plates an’ house-sides an’ all ovver. Well t’Pharoah dream t’ seven thin bulls ate t’seven fat uns and didn’t shoe for their feedin’ – like thee lass – and Pharoah wanted to know as we all should what it wer abaht. An’ Joseph telled ’em that there wer goin’ to be seven good harvests an’ then seven bad ‘uns – an’ he also gave ‘im an idea as to how to deal wi’ it —– So, promptly Joseph became Prime Minister, an’ wi’ Pharoah’s name to back ‘im, ‘e made a corner i’ wheat. ”  ” Made a what ?”, I gasped. ” Collared all t’corn an’ t’wheat.” ” Yes, but it was the only thing to do to save the country from starvation and famine.”  ” Happen so lad — but what a way to do it.”  ” What do you mean, he bought the corn when it was plentiful and sold it again when it was scarce and by doing so saved the life of Egypt.” ” Oh, ay, Egypt saved its life but it lost its soul — liberty!. Nay lad, listen — let me tell thee — tha doesn’t know owt abaht it. An’ Ah do, for Ah’ve suffered through it .”  ” Eh dear, eh dear,” wailed Druscilla. ” ‘E thinks it’s true!” 

” Think woman – ah KNOW! Ah’ve been stung bi’ t’whips, an’ toiled an’ moiled like a nigger. Ah’ve been driven an’ driven till Ah couldn’t be driven onny farther bi’ t’ fowk that remembered hah their forerunners wer treated by Joseph, an’ that used insults wi’ every stroke — insults that their father’s fathers ‘ad nobbut dared t’think: that theer fathers ‘ad whispered an’ that they, livin’ under a Pharoah, they knew not Joseph could bawl aht an’ spit after — to clear ther mouths.” Simon’s warmth and sincerity was amazing and silenced us all. After a somewhat shamefaced pause he resumed doggedly. ” There wer seven years when t’harvest wer better no anybody remembered — an’ in them seven years Pharoah, or Joseph actin’ for ‘im, bowt  every grain that fowk would sell. An’ ‘e bowt it chep  — there wer moor sellers nor buyers.”  ” But why did they sell when they knew what was to follow the seven good years. ”  “Dosta think they would have selled if they’d know or believed what ‘ud foller.” ” Were they told what was expected?”.  ” They allus said they weren’t. But whether they wer telled or not, they selled chep. An’ when they ‘ad to buy back, they bowt dear —- DEAR —-. There came a time when t’brass wer done – Ah mean t’ ready brass tha knows. An’ there wer plenty o’ corn in Egypt an’ plenty of empty bellies wantin’ it. An’ fowk began to try an’ sell whatever they could to keep theirsens alive. But t’trouble wer that what they wanted to sell, other fowk wanted to sell an’ all and there wer nobbut one place wheer they could buy corn — Ay Joseph — So they came to ‘im to put their case, and their case, puttin’ aside all the ‘ Let my Lord Joseph live fro evvers ‘ and ‘ May my Lord’s seed be as the sand o’ t’desert for number ‘,  wer they wanted summat to eit. An’ they ast ‘im to buy their cattle, an’ after thinkin’ it over , ‘e did…. An’ in a bit they wer as bad off as evver, an’ they selled their land and their bits o’ property for corn — an’ finally they selled their own worthless selves to keep theirsens alive. They became slaves o’ purpose to live. But they did worse not that — they selled their unborn children into slavery — Eh lad, Eh lad. Man liveth not by bread alone.”

Simon fell into a brooding silence. ” Well,” I prompted. ” Even in mi’ time , one-fifth o’ t’harvest belonged to Pharoah becoss o’ what their forfathers ‘ad done. They do say though that towards t’end o’ t’famine, it gate so bad that it looked like bloodshed an’ revolution, but Joseph gate to know — ‘is spies wer everywheer — an’ so ‘e made ’em move abaht, shiftin’ them into districts wheer they wer strangers an’ didn’t know t’others. Families wer split up an’ t’husband separated from ‘is wife and t’children from booath — i’ my time, they’d onny amount o’ songs abaht it – an’ wailin’ things that make yer cringe – they’d sing ’em at neet, wi’ t’darkness listenin’ an’ tryin’ to sing back …. Anyway Joseph smashed up onny attempt at combination by ‘is craftiness. Ah dooant know owt that ‘ud beat his trick o’ makin’ ’em exiles ‘n their own land. If tha can imagine t’time ‘n Yorkshire when t’ hill fowk used to be at feud wi’ t’dalesmen — or when a North – country chap couldn’t speak civil to a Norfolk ‘ yaller – belly’, tha’ll have some idea o’ ‘is craftiness. But craftiness isn’t statecraft.” ” what else could he have done?”  “The country had to be saved.” I began. ” Well, ‘e could have lent it to ’em for one thing, an’ let ’em pay him back when t’harvests gate better  … ‘E drove a hard bargain and t’result wer that everybody wer a lot worse off, booath them that starved an’ ’em that didn’t. Joseph didn’t starve, nor Pharoah, nor t’priests that ‘ad their portion fro’ Pharoah. T’priests hadn’t to sell their land — becos they’d selled their sowls t’first happen ….”. I confess, frankly, I was nonplussed. I think it was Simon’s intensely belief in his story that made it difficult for me to reason. Druscilla, however, had no compunction.  ” Just a pack o’ nonsensical notions, ” she declared, ” gooin’ agooan t’Bible an’ all. Ah’m capt tha’s cheek to say it, if tha’s so little sense as to think it.”  “Ah dooant know whether Ah’m gooin’ ageeant t’Bible or not,” Simon began, but I interupted him. ” Let us see if you are, ” I suggested. So Druscilla brought the Bible from under the plant pot and fancy cover on the sewing machine and we hunted and found the story of Joseph. I read aloud : … and there was no bread in all the land – and Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan for the corn which they bought. And Joseph said, give me your cattle — and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for the horses and for the flocks and for the herds — they came unto him the second year and they said unto him – our money is all spent: and the herds of cattle are my lords , there is nought left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our lands … buy us and our lands for bread, and we and our land will be servants to Pharoah … and the land became Pharoah’s. And as for the people, he removed them to the cities from one end of the border of Egypt, even to the other end thereof. Only the land of the priests bought he not…..”

” Only the land of the priests bought he not “, repeated Simon. ” Tha sees Joseph not only bowt th’Egyptians, but ‘e selled ‘is own kindred. Th’Egyptians weren’t th’ only ones who paid for that corner i’ wheat for they remembered fro’ one generation to another, an’ when they gate t’chance they made us pay an’ all, wi’ interest on t’top.”

4. Pharoah’s House.

  It is unnecessary to detail the long and weary argument that followed Simon’s recital of the facts concerning Joseph. Simon was voluble, good humoured but stubborn. Druscilla was equally voluble, exceedingly angry and no less obstinate. I was voluble I fear; polite I hope ; reasonable I am certain. Simon brought it to a sudden termination with the ultimatum, ” Nah , look ‘ere, if yo two’s bahn to argy abaht it , Ah’m gooin’ to leave it to yer. Awther Ah tell this tale or else Ah leave it alone.”  I apologised and Druscilla commenced washing pots making a rare clatter at the sink. Had it been any other day but Sunday I’m sure she would have polished all the brass in the house – she was so mad.  ” Nah, let’s leeave Joseph alone,” began Simon. ” Ah’ll go back to what Ah wer sayin’ abaht me own life amang t’Egyptians, Ah’ve tried to gie thee one or two ideas abaht t’life we lived. Ah’ll get right on to mi tale nah. T’first thing Ah knew, as Ah telled thee, wer that Ah wer bein’ leathered an’ to some tune. When t’leathering wer ovver, Ah fainted. Ahr Druscilla browt mi to wi’ givin’ me summat to sup – i’ this life Ah meean — but at t’same time as Ah saw her leanin’ ovver t’pillar, Ah saw another Druscilla, younger but no prattier for ‘er age, leanin’ ovver me i’ t’other life as Ah lay on t’sand wi’ a bleedin’ back, raw an’ tingley, wi’ flies botherin’ me an’ all. When they booath left me, Ah lay quiet a long time an’ t’Simon i’ t’haase ‘ere disappeared, an’ Ah forgate all abaht ‘im, an’ wer just that lad tryin’ not to whimper moor nor Ah could ‘elp…. “

   As Ah lay theer mi mind went back to the very first thing Ah could remember. Ah wer nobbut a little toddler, full o’ nowt nor innocent mischief, when Ah happened to get i’ t’road o’ some Egyptian big-pot, an’ gate kicked aht o’ the road ageean, sharp …. We wer muck – just muck. Another thing I remember is mi father deein’. Ah dooan’t know what ‘e’d done. Nowt, mooast likely. But ‘e wer bein’ punished. An’ when ‘e’d been flogged silly, they jammed ‘is face in an ants’ nest – an’ they ‘eld ‘im theer. Nowt happened for a minute, but as soon as t’fresh torture browt ‘im rahnd ‘e screamed…. God! .. That scream!… ‘is face wer covered … wi’ little squirmin’ ants — thousands on ’em.  It didn’t seem to me that we wer buryin’ mi father .. it’s ‘ard to think o’ a thing without a face as thi father, lad ….”  ” Simon,” begged Druscilla earnestly, with real concern, ” let be. Ah’msure it isn’t good for thee to recap it all up like this.”  He turned to me, quickly for him, with , ” If Ah’d telled thee that bein’ a slave then ‘as made me a soft-hearted chap to-day — does tha understand? Ay, Ah thowt tha would. Eh, well we buried mi father. Ah shouldn’t be aboon ten year owd then. An’ after that mi life seeme to ha’ been filled with mi playmate, for we hadn’t much chance to do much taikin’. ”  ” Ah, dooant remember when Ah first come across ‘im  — Moses, Ah meean. ‘E seems to have been i’ mi life all t’time. ‘E certainly filled it. Nowt else, nobody else, mattered to me but ‘im. An’ scarcely a day passed but we managed some road or another to get a minute or two together. T’neets wer t’best time, for then we could rooam moor freely an’ talk, ay, an’ laik … As Ah gate to know ‘im better, an’ saw t’differences there wer between us, Ah badly wanted to see what Moses haase wer like, an’ one neet some time after that floggin’, instead o’ gettin’ aht into t’open, we sneaked an’ dodged like a couple o’ shadders reight up t’gates … Pharoah’s haase wer like a village – a lot o’haases, big uns an’ little uns, scattered up an’ dahn a big yard, an’ a wall all rahnd, an’ gates ‘ere an’ theer for t’bairns to peep through as  Ah thowt when Ah first saw ’em. There wer a soldier at this gate an’ Ah had to press missen into a corner o’ t’wall that t’moon filled with shadder, while Moses crept on’is belly to see if ‘e wer asleep.’E wer. An’ it weern’t two ticks afoor wi wer inside that yard, an’ snakin’ up t’wall side. It seemed to me that we crept rahnd three sides of it afoor wi come to t’place we wanted … It wer a grand place. Tha went in through a little door an’ into a room that oppened aht on on a bit o’garden, an’ t’haase wer sort o’ built rahnd it. Well we roamed all ovver that place, an’ Ah fingered fine cloths an’ rare glasswork an’ rolled on rugs of all sorts o’ wild beasts. Tha couldn’t help feelin’ that Moses ‘ad ‘ad a gooid bringin’ up becos everythin’ wer so fine-off. We didn’t seem to have been in that place monny minutes afoor it wer time for me to be off. So we started – after arrangin’ to go on wi’ t’same programme the followin’ neet. Ah started to get away back to mi own bit of a ‘oil but that wer easier thowt abaht nor done. There seemed to be sowjers everywheer an’ to mek matters worse, it wer nearly dayleet. Ah can tell thee, we looked fair flummoxed at one another – but suddenly Moses face lit up wi’ an’ idea, an’ ‘e pulled me back into t’haase, hurried to ‘is own chamber an’ pullin’ some rags to one side showed me a square stone or flag.”

” Thou shall ‘ide i’ theer, ” he said ” until tha night, ” “An’ i’ less nor no timr, that stone wer up an’ Ah wer squeezin’ misen through t’ ‘oil  — it wer a tight fit but Ah gate in, an’ fun misenin a varry shaller place under  t’floor that stank shockin’. T’flag was put back for the time bein’, while Moses could come to see hah Ah wer gettin’ on, an’ theer Ah wer left.”

4. Pharoah’s House.

” Ah dooan’t know hah long Ah stopped i’ that ‘oil, but Ah know this, that Ah weren’t theer varry long afore Ah fun aht Ah weren’t by misen. For one thing , theer wer a rare collection o’stinks, noisy enough for a political meeting. Ah could have sworn they wer ‘avin’ a conference. Still, Ah felt ther wer nobbut one thing to do an’ that wer to bide ’em an’ Ah think Ah should ha’ managed that, if it ‘adn’t been for abaht a hundred different sooarts o’vermin that started tekkin’ notice on me. Ah gate so excited killin’ ’em that Ah sweat like a bull.”  ” Ah’d wish tha’d remember, lad ,” interrupted Druscilla, addressing herself to me in a most pointed manner, ” that nearly all ‘e’s tellin’ thee wer only ‘is ‘ramblin’s’. Them insects for instance. All one neet – me an’ ahr Sar’ Emma saw ‘im – ‘e kept standin’ up ‘n bed an’ crackin’ insects on t’wall – Ah wer fair worried at first, for it looked as if Ah din’t keep t’haase clean – but it wer nobbut ‘is fancy. Ay, an’ Ahm’t t’only one that knows what Ah’m talkin’ abaht. Dooesto remember hah monny tha fancied tha killed? ”  ” No.”  ” Well, Ah do.Tha gate up to eight hundred an’ three, an’ fell fast asleep grinnin’ an’ sayin’ ‘ Eight hundred and three, not aht!’  ” It’s funny.”  ” Nowt o’t’ sooart. Th’art nooan t’only one that’s ‘ad t’rheumatic fever. ”  ” No, but Ah’m th’ only one that’s been back an’ looked at ‘issen as ‘e wer thahsands o’ year sin.” ” Ah, tha art ‘opeless.” And Druscilla gave up in despair. Quite unmoved, except for a twinkle in the eye nearest me, Simon resumed.

Eh, but it did get ‘ot  i’ that ‘oil. An’ Ah began to wonder whether Ah should be smothered afoor Moses came back. Thinkin’ on ‘im made me think o’ t’flag i’ t’floor. Ah put up mi hand to touch it, but it weren’t theer. Nowt wer theer. Nowt Ah could feel. Ah gate up to mi feet an’ reached aht ageean but couldn’t touch nowt. Ah can tell thee Ah forgate all abaht beein’ ‘ot. Ah wer still in a sweat but it wer a cowd un. Well Ah groped abaht for years, as it seemed to me, but Ah couldn’t tell whether Ah wer goin’ or comin’. An’ then all on a sudden Ah copped missen a bank on t’nooas that made me hie watter. Ah come up ageean a soort of wall, an’ Ah began to foller it never lettin’ loose on it, tha can bet, till Ah walked on to summat that weren’t theer  an’ Ah dropped down till Ah come to it. Tha talks abaht havin’ thi bones rattled, Ah felt as if Ah’d abaht seventeen funny-bones and they’d all been banged at once. Of course bi this time, Ah’d no moor idea as to wheer we wer nor that puddin’ tin. But while Ah wer tryin’ to study t’thing aht an’ wonderin’ whatever wer comin’ to me next, Ah yerd someone talkin’ verry quiet and cautious like. In that darkness Ah couldn’t tell wheer they wer – t’noise seemed to come from all rahnd at once but Ah listened an’ said nowt. It’s a queer thing tumblin’ into a conversation like that an’ it teks a gooid while to pick up what’s been said afoor. An’ Ah couldn’t get everything nawther but Ah soon recognised one voice – hate made it certain – one voice wer Akhet’s , one o’ their top-nobs, an’ a priest into t’bargain. T’other voice wer a woman’s, an’ a freetened woman’s an all “.

  ” My Lord Pharoah knoweth all,” she ses, all tremblin’ as Ah could yer. ” More than all, having heard it from your enemies, ” he rasped aht. ” She gave a bit o’ a scream but awther ‘e or ‘er ‘ersen smothered it. An’ then ‘e began talkin’ i’ a sharp low way, an’ all Ah could catch wer ‘fool’ and things like that an’ ‘e kept sayin’ ovver an’ ovver ageean , No! No! No! ” ” Then ”  ” Have done with fear ”  ‘e ses. ” Is not this thing sure?” ” Too sure ,” she whimpers. ” What meeanst thou?”. ” Is he not my fathet? How can I do this thing, Akhet.” “An’ she trailed off into sobs ageean. Ah can tell thee but Akhet did some mutterin’ after that. Ah’d nobbut mi ears to help me but Ah could see ‘im bendin’ ovver ‘er, like ‘e bent ovver us helpless ‘Ebrews – ‘is een jus’ blazin’ wi’ crulety, an’ ‘is thin lips stretched tight an’ ‘is quick tongue lickin’ ’em. Ah can’t say Ah wer reight concerned abaht what Ah could yer. Ah guessed of course that sum ‘arm wer intended to t’Pharoah, an’ that Akhet wanted it – whatever it wer – to ‘appen. An’ Ah guessed an’ all that yon villian wer lyin’ to that woman for ‘is own end. But when all wer said an’ done, Pharoah wer nowt t’ me to be sure, Ah hated Akhet moor nor Pharoah only becos Ah’d seen moor o’ ‘im, an’ if Ah could Ah might have upset ‘is ideas jus’ for t’pleasure on it but Ah think tha’ll agree wi’ me that mi own affairs wer enough for a nipper like me to ‘ave to digest.”

   ” Hahiver, Ah stretched mi ears till they twitched to catch what wer bein’ said, but beyond a word or two heer an’ theer, Ah gate nowt worth while from ’em. But all at once it struck me that ther wer summat else in that ‘oil – if it wer a ‘oil – beside me. An’ whatever that summat wer, it wer comin’ towards me. Every drop o’ sweat that had dried on me melted in a twinkling, but, although Ah wer freetened, Ah couldn’t move a limb. Ah tried ‘ard to stand up but Ah couldn’t manage it except mi hair, an’ that stood up so sharp, it’s a wonder it stayed on mi’ yead … That thing came steadily nearer an’ nearer an’ just when Ah wer fit t’drop supposin’ Ah hadn’t been on t’floor to begin wi’, a voice Ah knew whispered mi name … Ah wer that relievedthat Ah simply yelled wi’ delight but Moses clapped ‘is ‘and ovver mi mouth.It wer too late hahivver, there wer a bonny scuffle up ahoon an’ Moses just ‘ad time to whisper, ” ‘Fight … struggle… fight’ afoor that ‘oil were flooded wi’ daylight, an’ then lookin’ in wonderment an’ suspicion from aboon on us two feightin’ loike cats, wer Akhet an’ one of the bonniest women Ah’ve seen. T’woman spoke first, ‘ Moses’ she called. Moses kept a grip on me , an’ ‘e answered, ‘ Yes, Mother.’ Ah wer that takken aback at this that it wer a bit afoor Ah took much notice what Moses wer sayin’. What ‘ad Moses’ mother to do wi’ that villain Akhet? What ‘ad she been cryin’ for? What was intended for Pharoah? A thahsand questions an’ ideas that gate wilder an’ wilder flashed through mi’ mind. Ah wer fair mazed. But ah wer pulled up sharp by ‘earin’ Moses speak about this dirty ‘Ebrew. Does ‘e mean me ? Ah thowt, an’ wer bahn to give all t’game away by smackin’ ‘im across t’maath for it , when a warnin’ squeeze on mi arm shut mi up, an’ Ah ‘ad to listen to t’smartest an’ untruthfullest tale Ah ever yerd .”

  ” Moses talked like a lord …. ‘ This mean slave ‘ad actually dared to let ‘is degraded shadder fall across my Lord Moses’ path, an’ so mi Lord Moses ‘ad chased ‘im wi’ a view of teachin’ ‘im ‘ow to behave to one of us masters, an’ t’rascally slave ‘ad taken refuge among the foundations of the haase.’ ‘E went on at a rare pace like this for a bit, an’ Ah did all Ah could ‘elp it on , wi’ whimperin’ an’ callin’ ‘im mi Lord an’ misen ‘is miserable slave. It wer plain to both Moses an’ me that Akhet didn’t believe us , an’ we both cringed when ‘e said, ‘ Let t’Hebrew be beaten to death. Call t’guard.’ ” 

   Simon sat back and chuckled, ” Eh, lad , it wer a terrible minnit – but it nobbut wer a minnit. Although for all t’thowts an’ ideas that flashed through mi mind, it might ha’ been an ahr or two. Ah doesn’t know hah it is but Ah seemed to think a lot sharper ‘n yon long-past life nor Ah do ‘n this, an’ that awful minnit wer long enough for mi to come to t’conclusion that it wer all ovver wi’ me, an’ to remember a lot o’ things that Ah wished Ah ‘adn’t done an’ see picters o’ a lot o’ bonny things Ah might nivver see ageean. An’ all t’time Ah wer seein’ an’ rememberin’ , Ah wer wishin’ like mad that Ah could kill that wolfish villain wi’ ‘is tight lips an’ grinnin’ teeth. Eh, it did seem a long time an’ yet it wer no time at all, becos nobody livin’ could ‘ave counted to ten between Akhet sayin’ ‘ Call t’guard ‘ an’ me turnin’ and boltin’ into t’dark – like a rabbit, mi tail last, but nobbut just behind mi nose. Moses, Ah could ‘ear, wer close behind me – so close that when Ah stumbled ovver summat ‘ard, ‘e stumbled ovver me, an’ as Ah gate to know when Ah came rahnd – ‘e gave me such a knock on the head that Ah lost mi senses for awhile. Ah came rahnd all at once, as tha might say, wi’ a jump an’ a shiver but a warnin’ squeeze rahnd mi neck kept mi quiet. When Ah could get mi breath, Ah whispered, ; Moses.’ ‘Simon’, he whispered back, an’ we gave one another a good hug. ‘Wheer are we? ‘, Ah asked next, and ‘e said, ‘Safe’. ‘For how long?’ ‘ Until the neet comes.’ ‘ What , is it not neet – Night – yet?’, Ah asked, fair flummoxed for ages, an’ Ah could scarcely believe ‘im when ‘e telled me it wer nobbut but abaht nooin then. When Ah’d got used to t’idea, Ah gate another shock for all of a sudden Ah felt shockingly ‘ungry. Ah’d had nowt to eit, tha knows, sin’ t’neet afore, but as Moses said there wer no help for it – we should ‘ave to bide it while neet – an to distract mi thowts, ‘e asked me what Ah’d been roaming abaht for. Ah couldn’t tell ‘im much abaht that but t’question browt back to mi mind what Ah’d yerd between ‘is mother an’ Akhet, an’ then it wer ‘is turn to sweat …. “

”  E didn’t say much, hahevver, just a few sharp questions after Ah’d told ‘im mi tale an’ then he sat varry still a long time an’ said nowt. ‘E sat so long like that, that at t’finish Ah nudged ‘im an’ asked ‘im what ‘e wer bahn to do. ‘We can do nothing until Ah have seen mi mother ‘, he muttered ‘an’ Ah can’t risk seein’ ‘er until t’household is in bed.’ An’ so we sat an’ waited through t’longest an’ t’darkest day i’ mi life, nobbut movin’ to straighten an’ rest our limbs. It wer verry wearisome Ah can tell thee lad, so much so that i’ spite of an empty belly Ah must ‘ave dropped off to sleep. Ah remember bein’ awakened bi Moses some time after. ‘E verry  quietly shook me an’ whispered,’ Foller me.’ So Ah gate up an’ guided by ‘is ‘and crept off i’ t’darkness. ‘Wheer are we gooin’? ‘ Ah whispered. ‘To prison ‘ ‘e answered, an’ as Ah stopped short at that, ‘e added, ‘ There’s food and safety theer.’ Well, Ah reckoned it couldn’t be war nor wheer we wer, so Ah let ‘im pull me forward till presently Ah could see summat o’ t’tunnel we wer in becos o’ that leet that came from a lantern carried by one of t’ugliest chaps Ah’ve evver seen. ‘E wer long an’ lanky an’ ‘is nose ‘ad a big nick across it that ‘ad been made by a spear in ‘is young days when ‘e ‘ad been a sowjer. ‘E wer waitin’ at t’bottom o’ some steps, an’ we went up those an’ through a hoile in t’floor and so gate into t’prison.”

  ” Ah can tell thee lad, it felt fair grand to ha’ some solid earth beneath mi feet instead o’ on t’top o’ me. An’ t’air wer a few coats sweeter an’ all. An’ to cap it all, there wer summat to eit. Ah made no bones abaht it but set into it straight away. Ah could ha’ eaten owt that ‘adn’t eaten me t’first. But Moses made to go off. ‘ Will not my Lord refresh himself?’, asked t’jailer. But my Lord wouldn’t. ‘E nobbut stopped long enough to tell t’jailer to look after me, an’ to tell me to be quiet till ‘e came back, an’ then ‘e wer off. Hah long he wer away, Ah’ve no way o’ tellin’ for Ah fell asleep ageean after eitin’ mi fill, an’ dreamed Ah wer bein’  chased through sludge up to mi waist bi a pack o’ wild dogs, an’ on ’em wer faces like that villain Akhet. But Ah wer sooin wide awake for Moses ‘ad a tale that oppened mi een, an’ a plot to foller it that made mi ‘air stand on end. Tha sees a lot on t’pictures especially American pictures abaht what they call ‘frame – ups’. Well , Moses’s plan against Akhet wer a frame – up. Of course , not altogether, for there’s no doubt ‘e ‘ad some games on fooit – what Ah’d yerd proved that – but not knowin’ enough o’ t’truth to go on wi’, Moses invented t’details to suit ‘issen. An’ o’ coorse, it suited ‘im to shield ‘is mother for one thing, so ‘is mother gate off scot free, innocent or guilty. Ah nawther know nor care. She gate off an’ some chap or another – one of Pharoah’s men servants wer accused in her place.” ” Do you mean he was falsely accused and convicted ?”, I broke in amazed. ” Ay an’ moor nor that ‘e wer executed for it. ‘E was convicted on mi evidence an’ Ah’d do t’same ageean if it came to the push. It wer t’only way we ‘ad a’ getting at Akhet, an’ after all, what wer one Egyptian moor or less to me. Of course t’whole plan wer Moses’s. Ah lacked t’brains for that sort o’ thing. An’ Ah varry near lacked t’courage to carry it through – but Ah knew it wer awther Akhet or me, so Ah decided i’ favour o’ missen. We spent all that neet inventin’ mi part, an’ gettin’ it word perfect an’, as Ah learnt later, Moses’s mother spent very near all t’neet gettin’ bits o’rumours gooin’ abaht t’whole ‘ousehold o’Pharoah.

  Nah there’s no place i’ t’world like kings’ palaces for gossip an’ tittle-tattle. It beats a barber’s shop, a sewin’- meetin’ an’ a newspaper office all put together. An’ i’ t’mornin’, between wakkenin’ an’ gettin’ ‘is breakfast, Pharoah heard o’ a dozen plots ageean ‘is life. T’only thing ‘e weren’t telled wer news of ‘is own death, although ‘e wer in a funk big enough to make ‘im believe that. The funk ‘e wer in wer nowt to t’funk Ah wer in when a guard o’ big hefty chaps fetched me out o’prison and yanked me afoor Pharoah. When Ah gate into t’big ‘all , mi knees let me down o’ theer own accord, an’ Ah fair dithered ….. anyway t’frame-up came off all reight. Easier nor onny o’ us expected as a matter o’fact. Ah stuck to t’tale Ah got off bi heart. Hah Ah’d ‘idden under t’floor becos Ah darsent be seen leavin’ t’Palace i’ dayleet an’ hah Ah’d yerd two voices plannin’ mi Lord Pharoah’s death, an’ hah mi Lord Moses ‘ad collared me an’ hah mi Lord Akhet ‘ad copt us beneath. Eh, Ah went through it like a play-actor stoppin’ to whimper an’ snivel, when Ah stuck for mi next words. An’ they believed me – all but ’em ‘at really know t’truth o’ coorse – but t’others swallowed it – theer’s nowt harder to believe nor t’truth. What made it more believable wer that Ah wouldn’t tell who it wer that Ah’d yerd plottin’ Pharoah’s death. Ah let on to be too freetened – an’ Akhet, at a word from Pharoah, stepped up to me an’ said ‘Slave’. ‘ Have mercy mi Lord’ Ah screamed, ‘ thy slave ‘ad no thowt o’ betrayin’ thee’.

  Nowt could ‘ave saved ‘im  after that. Theer wer a deadly silence for a second, then Pharoah nodded an’ a dozen sowjers leapt at Akhet, but ‘e wer too sharp for ’em. ‘E drew ‘is own sword an’ with a scornful grin that stretched ‘is tight lips till they should ha’ cracked, ‘e sheathed it in ‘is own miserable carcuss. Moses allus let on to mi that Pharoah felt varry grateful to me but Ah nivver believed him. But theer wer one result to this affair that made things more bearable. Ah gate promoted from a common or garden slave, toilin’ an’ starvin’ i’ t’oppen air, to a court – flunkey slave, waiting on Moses, an’ wearin’ fine linen, an’ livin’ delicately – ay, an’ treadin’ very delicately an’ all. Ah think on the whole, it wer an improvement – anyway. Ah stuck it for at least ten years, happen more, before a silly bit o’ fun caused mi deeath”.

  ” Eh ,” I queried, scarce believing my ears. ” Ah said Ah lived i’ Pharoah’s haase as a sort o’ super-slave till Ah gate killed in a silly bit o’ bother over a lass”. ” You were killed?” ” Ay, stone dead, an’ buried t’boot”. I must confess that at this point I exchanged glances with Druscilla. I began to feel a little sorry for her. Simon saw something of this and burst out, “Aah, it’s no use lookin’ at mi i’ that pityin’ way.Ah didn’t ask thee to listen to me ——–“. ” I’m sorry Simon but you will agree with me — your tale is a bit thick”, ” Thick or thin, it’s true. An’ Ah’m nooan so particular abaht finishin’ it, if tha aren’t”.  I hastened to smooth him and before long he resumed his story. ” There’s good points abaht bein’ a slave tha knows. That is, if tha gets t’reight master. It’s a poor look-out for those if tha doesn’t, but if tha does – there’s monny a worse life. Ah’m sure that Ah wer happier as Moses’s slave nor Pharoah wer mi master. We both gate our meals regular, we both ‘ad soft beds to lie on, we both could ‘ave a bit o’ fun on t’quiet but — an’ here’s t’difference — ‘e’d more to be fleyed on nor me. It wer nobody’s interest to kill me, becos nobody wanted mi job – but it wer everyone’s interest to kill Pharoah. Ah talked it ovver wi’ Moses monny a time. Ah need to try an’ point t’moral on it to ‘im. Ah felt it wer necessary for as ‘e grew up towards manhood ‘e gate verry ambitious. Tha sees, there wer so monny princes – all o’them wi as gooid – or as bad – a reight to t’throne as t’other – an’ they wer all as touchy as six-month old cockerels. Moses wer no exception. ‘Ed do owt, varry near, to keep ‘is end up. Ah’d rare times gettin’ ‘im donned up to go aht to some big feast or other. An’ Ah’d some rare jobs carryin’ letters to this lass or t’other. An’ all this wer carried on underneath like. Ah doan’t say ‘at Pharoah didn’t know abaht it, but nobody let on to know abaht it. Well this sort o’ thing went on for years. Moses an’ me livin’ an idle extravagant, useless life at court — like everybody theer, thinkin’ o’ nowt nobbut number one. An’ while Ah wer gusslin’, mi own fowk wer bein’ lashed an’ ill – treated, an’ lettin’ fowk ill-treat ’em – an’ they an’ all, thowt o’nowt nobbut number one. It wer a sad condition for things to be in, nearly as bad as to-day”. ” Worse, I should say “, I commented. ” Nay, a bit better if only becos it wer moor naked an’ plainer to be seen. We saw it but didn’t care. We weren’t sufferin’ and didn’t feel inclined to trouble abaht other fowks … Mind thee, Ah allus felt that there wer big things i’ Moses. An’ Ah reckon that mi devotion to ‘im wer a credit both to ‘im an’ me. Ah’d ha’ deed for ‘im becos Ah felt ‘e’d ha’ done t’same for me.

    One day we wer comin’ back from a funeral – Ah think it wer Pharoah’s wife’s father’s cousin they wer buryin’ – we left t’procession to have a look at t’tomb ‘at Moses wer ‘avin’ built for ‘issen. We went all rahnd it, inside an’ out, an’ Moses expressed ‘issen as quite satisfied wi’ t’way things were gooin’. As ‘e wer givin’ a few instructions to t’chap in charge, Ah felt a big tug at mi dress an’ ‘eard a voice, varry low, whisperin’ to me ‘ My Lord’. Ah turned rahnd rather sharp – it wer summat fresh for me t’be called My Lord – an’ felt a bit mad when Ah saw it wer nobbut but an old ‘Ebrew slave. Ah wer just gooin’ to shake ‘im off, ay an’ order ‘im a whippin’ Ah fear, when ‘e whispers ageean ‘ Brother’. Brother. That name fair stuffened me. If Ah could nobbut tell thee one half o’ what Ah felt. For we really wer brothers – Egyptian whips ‘ad made us blood – brothers, an’ Pharoah’s haase all of a sudden became a very vile thing, an’ made me ashamed o’ missen. Ah hadn’t a word to say – Ah dooan’t know what Ah could ha’ said just then. But t’old man knew Ah wer listenin’, an’ ‘e made a pretence o’ gooin’ on wi’ ‘is work for a bit. Ah ‘ung abaht till ‘e passed me ageean an’ this time ‘e whispered, ‘ Here to-night’. Ah whispered ‘Ay’ an’ then followed mi Lord Moses. Of course Ah telled ‘im, an’ nowt else would ‘e do but came wi’ me when it gate dark”.

  “T’old man wer a bit tekken aback when ‘e saw who wer wi’ me an’ didn’t seem at all anxious to speik at first, but after a while he said, ‘It concerns my Lord Moses’, ‘Me , laughs Moses.’Ay , my Lord. I would have spoken first wi’ thy servant here, but truth may go astray in the passing from mouth to mouth. Maybe it is better that I tell you with my own lips’. ‘ Indeed it were better, therefore speak ‘ says Moses.  ‘My Lord believeth himself an Egyptian of the family of Pharoah?’ ‘ That is my mother’s belief’ answers Moses, varry ‘aughty. ‘ Thou hast never known thy mother’ says t’old man, varry quiet. Moses ‘ad a varry ‘ot temper, an’ a hasty movement towards ‘is dagger made me jump but t’old man without a wink went on. ‘ Thy mother is not of the accursed house of Pharoah. Nor art thou. Thou art Hebrew’. It took a bit o’ gettin’ used to, but there wer no disbelievin’ t’old man. ‘E ‘ad all t’tale off chapter an’ verse – an’ Moses wer too thunderstruck to talk a lot. ‘E listened to all ‘at t’old chap ‘ad to say, thowt a bit an’ then said. ‘I will be here at this hour to-morrow. Bring thou the elders of thy people’. — ‘OUR people ‘ , murmurs t’old man. ‘OUR people’ says Moses. ‘ Bring some one or two of whose integrity thou art sure that we may talk of this thing’.

  An’ t’old man went an’ we went back to Pharoah’s haase. Bur never a word fell from Moses’s lips until we gate within t’shadder o’ t’wall an’ then ‘e nobbut openned ‘is mouth to tell me to keep mine shut. We went to that tomb o’Moses next neet an’ t’ next neet, an’ for many a neet after that. As Ah said afoor, Moses wer ambitious, ‘is trainin’ an’ education made ‘im absolutely t’best man the ‘Ebrews could ha’ picked. Neet after neet they met an’ discussed things, slowly perfectin’ plans for a general uprising. Spears an’ swords wer slowly collected. Everybody wer numbered an’ to put it in a nutshell, a good beginnin’ wer made at what everybody knew would be a terribly long job. It turned out to be a varry tedious one an’ Ah soon gate sick o’ t’slow progress we seemed to be makin’. Ah wanted to get on wi’ t’feightin’.

   An’ it wer just at that awkward moment when Ah wer ripe for mischief that Pharoah put a lass reight in mi road”. ” All your plans came to nothing then?”, I enquired. ” All to nowt”, Simon acquiesced. ” An’ all through my folly. Of course, it isn’t certain that ahr schemes would ha’ come off even if Ah ‘adn’t wrecked ’em. Ah’m inclined to think that they wer not only a bit too ambitious but they wer a bit too selfish. Tha sees, Moses wer aht for personal glory, an’ so wer all on us i’ different ways ; mine, for instance, wer mixed up wi’ a likin’ for excitement an’ a bit o’ fun. An Ah’ve noticed this monny a time, that if a thing is done for personal ends, that thing doesn’t last long even if it comes off at all. Anyway, ahr’s didn’t come off – my silliness put an end to it, an’ sent Moses off into another country to escape punishment, an’ as Ah believe, to learn hah to do t’job of freein’ t’Ebrews in a better way nor the first.  There’s a bit of poetry somewheer – Ah yerd a Local preacher spaht it at t’Chapel once abaht hah God works through men – usin’ their passions as His tool. My passions at that time ran pretty strong on lasses an’ there wer one lass – t’splittin’ image of ahr Druscilla when we wer courtin’, nobbut darker in colour, tha knows – eh!. She wer a grand lass, a bit saucy happen, both wi ‘er een an’ ‘er tongue, but varry fetchin’. Ah’d been runnin’ after ‘er for a fair while without gettin’ a bit nearer, for she wer as cute as she wer bonny, an’ she knew what ‘er price wer – an’ Ah couldn’t spring it. She wer nobbut a slave like me, but wi’ a face an’ figure she aimed varry high – she’d all her cheeks at whooum, an’ mi only ‘ope wer that she’d gie me, for pleasure, what she’d sell to others aboon me …. That may call me a fooil if tha wants, but Ah really thowt she liked me, an’ Ah weren’t a bit capped when she began to be kinder to me. Mi vanity led me straight into t’trap. Eh, lad, wheer’s a man when it comes to t’women. She ‘ad me on a string reight fro’ t’beginnin’, an’ Ah danced ‘ere an’ theer like a doll, just as she wished. Of course, Ah let ‘er into things a bit – tha sees Ah ‘inted that Ah shouldn’t allus be a slave – that Ah should sooin be as gooid as some that reckoned to be ahr betters – not that she gate to know a lot , but just enough to make ‘er a varry awk’ard customer. As is allus t’case, t’crash coom just when things looked absolutely easy. Everthin’ wer gooin’ on swimmingly both as regards love an’ war, as tha might say, when suddenly everythin’ came to a sudden end. It wer one dark neet after moonrise when it ‘appened. Moses an’ ‘is ‘Ebrew leaders wer ‘avin’ a long confab i’ that tomb that ‘e wer ‘avin’ built for ‘issen, an’ Ah wer on guard at t’only way in. All wer varry still an’ dark – there weren’t even a glimmer on the skyline, an tryin’ to see owt wer like tryin’ to find a blackcock in a coil-hoil baht leet. An’ listenin’ wer just as bad for t’neet wer full o’ t’still noises that we call quietness.

   A dooan’t just know what Ah wer thinkin’ on – an’ it doesn’t matter – but Ah suddenly began to wonder if Ah could ‘ear summat different – an’ Ah listened that ‘ard that Ah could ‘ear nowt at all nobbut mi own breath. Ah seemed to be makin’ enough noise for two fowk’s breathing, an’ so Ah stopped mi lungs for a second. Ther wer somebody else there beside me. But wheer? An’ who? Mi mind went rahnd an’ rahnd as fast as a rat in a cage, till it sooart o’ tripped an’ fell ovver an idea. Ah cowered quiet a minute, an’ then let owt a howl similar to t’call of a wild animal that sometime strayed in fro’ t’desert. T’Egyptians, Ah believe, ‘ad bred their cats fro’ it. Ah let out this ‘owl an’ listened an’ Ah yerd a gasp, smothered in a minute. It came fro’ mi right ‘and. Quick as a shot mi ‘and went out an’ collared a woman’s arms. Afoor Ah could see who it wer, a man’s arm wer rahnd mi throat fro’ behind, squeezin’ t’wind aht o’ me. Ah doubled an’ twisted, an’ wriggled an’ kicked till Ah sweated – but Ah couldn’t shift that grip. Ah knew it wer nobbut a question of a minute or two afoor Ah wer deead, but believe me lad, them toathri minutes wer like ages for me. Leets danced afoor mi een, mi ‘ead felt like bustin’, an’ that arm wer like a vice rahnd mi throat. Ah tried to scream but couldn’t. An’ then , sharper not it teks to tale, all mi strength left me, that arm jerked mi ‘ead back an’ brake me neck wi’ a shock that ran through mi body like electricity an’ exploded at t’back o’ mi een an’ blinded me. When Ah came to, Ah wer deead.”

 ” How could you come to if you were dead?” I began. ” Ah dooan’t know hah , but Ah did. Ah know that Ah wer dead. Ah could see mi own corpse i’ that tomb of Moses. An’ a queer feelin’ it is. Ah can tell thee, seein’ thissen fro’ t’ahtside for t’first time i’ thi life. An’ laid aht beside me wer a strappin’ Egyptian wi’ a gapin’ cut through ‘is ribs, an’ all rahnd us wer t’Ebrews busy gettin’ me ready for burial. An’ in a corner – ‘eartbroken – wer Moses cryin’ for me, ‘is slave, ‘is brother, ‘is comrade. Eh, all of us wer in a reight upset. T’ Ebrews freetened to death an’ lookin’ as sharp as they could ovver buryin’ us. Moses cryin’ ovver me, an’ me tryin’ to talk to ‘im what a sorry fooil Ah wer, an’ nobody seein’ or ‘earin’ me.’ Fly my Lord’, says one ‘Ebrew to Moses. ‘ For Pharoah’s wrath will be hot at t’death o’ ‘is kinsman.’ ‘ I will go when my brother is buried ‘ says Moses. An’ ‘e wouldn’t budge till ‘e saw me laid away decent. An’ Ah wer theer an’ all watchin’ mi own funeral. An’ Ah suppose some day somebody will be explorin’ , an’ they’ll find mi home, an’ they’ll  nivver guess that t’same chap is livin’ i’ Netherthong to-day. T’same chap that is mentioned in t’Scriptures.” What! “, I exclaimed aghast, thanking heaven that Druscilla was out of the room. Without a word Simon opened the bible again and pointing to a passage, bade me to read it.  Here it is. ‘ And it came to pass  in those days when Moses was grown up that he went out unto his brethren and looked on their burdens, an he saw an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren and he looked this way and that way and when he saw that there was no man, he smote the Egyptian and hid him in the dust…’ ” Tha haven’t gotten it altogether reight”, said Simon, ” but it’s near enough. Tha knows hah tales get altered i’ tellin’. Ah know Ah’m reight abaht it for Ah went ovver mi ‘Ebrew  while Ah wer what ahr Druscilla calls ramblin’. Ah dooan’t know what ‘appened after Ah wer buried but Ah’ll swear to what Ah’ve telled thee. It’s no dream. An’ it’s nooan ramblin’ becos Ah’d other experiences o’ other lives. An’ Ah’ll tell thee abaht ’em after dinner.” ” This is quite enough for the present”, I said with a grin.

Finis

 If you have reached the end of this story, may I offer you my congratulations and possibly my commiserations. It is 10,801 words long and if I’d known that when I started I probably wouldn’t have continued. Anyway it’s up there in the ether for all time.

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