—…Ah, my friend [he did not look as though he was anyone’s friend!], not my cursed business! If you are paying to have it copied, that is good enough for me – there will be no further questions asked. You’re willing to pay for the job; it’s as good as done!

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The winter then came in more serious fashion to Grindleton and to me it seemed that it came harshly, like a dull thud all around for that is what it did to all sounds. If it did not really do that, it was impossible to tell for the ears fell cold and the wax within them hardened in mimicry of the external ice. There were no sounds at all beyond dimmed echoes. In many ways it was a delayed start to its real depths, one long since predicted by the abundance of fruit upon the rowan[1]. But more than anything it was simply sudden.


One night, standing alone in Chapel Garth, I looked up and saw the Milky Way; it was as clear as anything. I knew that would signal a change in the season – it was the same further down the Ribble as well – but I could not judge at that stage just how cold Grindleton would be and, indeed, how very cold, my accommodation would become. I should have guessed, I suppose! Deep down I had always known: there would be a point when the grip of winter made that place barely survivable. Yes, the barn had been improved but it was certainly not prepared for that deepest of Yorkshire winters and by ‘deep’, I mean really deep. In reality, next to nothing could have defended it. Being nestled against the side of the Pennines afforded no shelter in the harshest of seasons. However, to my considerable distress and trepidation for the longer term, those who had always lived there believed it to be a relatively mild winter – certainly there had been harsher there – but perhaps they had warmer accommodation than I did. True, it was not the coldest even of recent winters (I could see that) and a few miles further north, where the land lies higher, harsher and the curves of Bowland twist the trails of the threads of winds a little more – perhaps even in the relative civilisation of settlements such as Slaidburn – there it would be significantly colder. I had rarely thought about Samlesbury since my departure from there but now I found myself with a tendency to do so even if only for the memory of a marginally milder clime at this season and a cosier spot on which to lay once darkness had set in. I tried not to though for Brierley’s sake. It brought out the melancholy[2] in me for it was dark there anyway for much of the span of the hours at that time of year.


And, of course, I had to continue with what I had already come to know as ‘women’s work’ but to which I already gave relatively little thought. Until then, that is… when I began to see how it might be affected by the harshness of winter. It meant that on a particular occasion I found myself headed for the market at Clitheroe. At best it always seemed a bit of a waste of time to me – and not just for me either; for the Brierleys as a whole. True, it was not much of a walk but anything was an effort in the depths of winter. We had nothing to sell and little to buy from there. I lie a little: there were things we needed to purchase from the market. But it seemed an awful lot of effort for a few things of so little value. As for Clitheroe at that time of the year, sometimes I sensed it might be that fraction milder, a little more akin to what I had been accustomed in Samlesbury, but that was really all that ran in its favour. On this particular occasion, at just past the half way mark it came to my attention that I had not returned the key to Brierley before my departure from Grindleton. If he needed to access the chapel for his own purposes, then he would be completely incapable of doing so. How much did it matter? I considered going back. But it seemed pointless. One did not add to one’s journeys at that time of the year in a location such as that simply for no reason. The likelihood was that he would neither need nor wish to access the chapel – in which case my additional walking would have been utterly wasted.


All sorts of folk headed for that market in Clitheroe – even at that hideous time of the year – and not even just those from the immediate locality either. One got journeymen passing through too, looking for business – and, in general – they got plenty of that there. I was actually about to leave town when I saw one such journeyman – a cutter of keys and a journeyman locksmith in this case – and made an instantaneous decision based on the fact that I had inadvertently brought the chapel key into town with me. There had perhaps been half a dozen separate occasions upon which I had turned up at the chapel myself only to find that I did not have the key upon me. And, to be fair, on none of those occasions had it created any serious problems. Indeed, why should it have done? But it had been an inconvenience. An additional key could therefore only have been to my overall benefit. And why should Brierley really care if I were to have my own copy? He need not know, of course. In fact, there was no point in even mentioning it to him.


The journeyman was certainly a rough type. They were not all like that. There were plenty who were clean-cut and clear in their speech even if their fingers were cut and raw. Not him though. I do not know if I treated him as some beast simply because he had the look of one. Perhaps more likely I was simply insulted a little by the prices he was charging. Shall we say that he made his journey to Clitheroe worthwhile? A different look and a politer attitude and I might have felt more obliged to part with such money. As it was his charges were almost enough to force me to change my mind about the whole idea. But I was there and so was the key…


He cut some fair vision of his trade though, that was for sure! In spite of the exceptional cold (exceptional to my standards anyway!), his face appeared to be covered in some unusual mixture of his own sweat – the simple result of too many layers of clothes to suit such exertions of the Flesh – and the dust from metals of his own working. The combination of the two meant that the sweat caused that dust to stick to the root of every hair upon his face. And he was frozen, motionless now; his eyes fixed upon the key itself. I was fairly frozen too but it had absolutely nothing to do with the key! I was accustomed to that thing – it was a familiar object to me, a part of my everyday life. I never gave its weight or ancient form, or even its origins a second thought. Now that I did come to do so I could see the root of all his concerns. It was an enormous object: twice the size of what might have been expected today. And the width of it too reflected such magnitudes. But then – he copied keys, did he not? So what was really the problem? Did it pose some difficulty for him in his labours? Or did he suspect that I had no right to be in possession of it. Ah, suddenly I realised his concerns were probably slanted towards the latter. I tried to ease his worries.


…It’s a chapel key.


His dark brown eyes – almost as darkened as his Moorish-looking, leathery skin[3] – stared at me, not exactly accusingly but hardly in much of a pleasant manner either.


Chapel? …Chapel key, is it?


For the first time, I felt some degree of guilt about actually having it in my (temporary and unauthorised) possession.


I assist a curate out on the other side…


He cut back in long before I had time to finish.


…Ah, my friend [he did not look as though he was anyone’s friend!], not my cursed business! If you are paying to have it copied, that is good enough for me – there will be no further questions asked. You’re willing to pay for the job; it’s as good as done! Mind you, it’s like nothing I have ever had to work with before… Not going to be an easy job but I’ll give it my best… [I thought at that moment that he might suddenly come up with some ‘small additional charge’. That would have been enough to have pushed me over the edge on the exchange.] Whatever happens, it has my guarantee so if there are any problems with it, I’m here alternate market days.


He could not be fairer than that. And for all his rough manner and unwholesome appearance, he was a skilled craftsman – I will give him that: the way he poured the heated metal[4]. Watching him I had my own doubts that it could ever work. But once he had cooled the metal down, he held the two keys up to the invernal sun’s rays, tidied a few unruly edges and held them up to the bitter, unforgiving light again…


…That should do it!


I was actually still far from wholly convinced. I thought I might be having to see him again upon another market day. That was probably how things would work: I would come back to Clitheroe to take up his ‘guarantee’ and he would be nowhere to be found. I could not actually recall ever having seen him before and his accentation was so gruff; from somewhere else completely at one time I should imagine: somewhere a lot further south. If I ever stumbled upon him again, it would be an accidental thing in some other market town and he would still insist upon denying that he had ever previously encountered me!


But, actually, I was wrong to doubt him.


Of course, it was the first thing I checked on my return to Grindleton. Indeed, I avoided the cottage completely, carrying my few other purchases just that bit further, and even made a point of taking the lower path across the Garth to the chapel. Obviously I was careful to take the best of looks through the glass, distorting as it was, before even touching the door. Brierley was definitely elsewhere. Only then did the full logic hit me: he could not have been there since he had no means of access. I had completely forgotten that amidst my faint pangs of guilt. The key fitted the lock or seemed to do so.


Then I turned it…


And at that point there was nothing – no engagement with anything whatsoever. I was firmer in my turning – and still there was nothing. Perhaps he had not been so skillful after all. Perhaps his greatest talent was simply as a competent trickster? I withdrew the key and inserted it rather more delicately, slightly less far than upon the previous occasion. There was a different sound and, at that point, I turned it again. This time the mechanism engaged and my shaky fingers sensed the raw weight of the bolt as it drew itself from the dark depths of the stone wall[5]. He had done a good job on a difficult task after all! Of course, I would make all attempts to utilise the ‘official’ key. This additional one was ‘just in case’!


I held the key in my hand – one which could potentially unlock any treasures[6]. I put it in my satchel[7] and returned to the cottage. Only Anne was there. Very guiltily I asked:


Has Brierley been trying to get into the chapel at all today?


—Not to the best of my knowledge, Matthew. Why? What makes you ask?


Did she sense something? No, very probably she did not. Why should she? That was merely my perspective of guilt upon things, was it not?


Oh, nothing really! I forgot to return the key here this morning and dragged it all the way to Clitheroe.


I think he has been too occupied with other things to have noticed, Matthew! Therefore no harm done! [She looked at me directly and smiled reassuringly.] …He spends too much of his time in that place these days anyway, in my opinion. It is good for him to spend the day doing other things occasionally. Even if he has tried, you have probably done him a favour…


Done him a favour? If only she had known….




[1] Fruit upon the rowan: The rowan tree (Sorbus aucuperia, otherwise known as the ‘mountain ash’ in Britain – although that term describes a variety of other species of tree in other countries) occupies a special place in superstitious thought. It was considered to have strong anti-witchcraft properties and when the fruit upon the tree was plentiful it signalled a cold winter was on its way.

[2] Melancholy: the black bile humour from the Greek. The modern day meaning is far narrower than that understood in the seventeenth century. The thinker can become so involved with ideas that he becomes obsessed with the cruelty and bitterness of the World. However, this is also a creative humour.

[3] Moorish: from the late Middle English, ‘morys’. As already discussed with reference to the noun, Moor, it usually described the Mediaeval inhabitants of North Africa and for a long while parts of Southern Europe (especially Sicily, the Iberian Peninsula and even parts of modern France).

[4] The first mechanical key manipulation unit did not come into use until 1917. However, most systems of copying keys prior to this relied on a simple combination of a casting material (for example, a molten metal) and an impressioning material (such as wax).

[5] Note here that until the vast improvement associated with Robert Barron’s double auctioning tumbler of the late 1770s, locks were noteworthy for their failure to be especially secure. Nevertheless, locks actually have a long history dating back 4,000 years to Nineveh.

[6] Note here the similarity – presumably intentional from the sentence structure – with the words of John Everard in Gospel Treasures – more properly, ‘Some Gospel Treasures Opened’ (published in 1653 and which will be outlined in more detail later) and, most specifically, the sermon within it, ‘The mystery of Christ crucified’: “a key in your hands that unlocks all treasures”.

[7] Satchel: a word which came into English in the mid-fourteenth century from Old French, implying a ‘small bag’.