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My apologies for startling you, Sir. [Still I said nothing, almost transfixed and staggered by the sudden unnaturalness of such an unanticipated situation]. But I know who you are and why you are here. It is a blessing from God that you have chosen to come here now. I thank the good Lord above for it, Sir!

She meant that for she had a smile upon her that only the blessed know as she spoke those words. Meanwhile, I was actually mildly insulted by her directness (and what unpurged vanity was that in me?) but more stunned still by the soft beauty of her voice. A maidservant she might have been but of the type which had grown up amongst the best of the godly and by that I mean perhaps even within the house of some Calvinist minister. She had certainly not been raised amidst the uneducated and ignorant masses. Nevertheless, I could hear from the tones in her voice that she had not been brought up in the immediate vicinity of that awful town. But I could still say nothing and, witnessing my silence, she continued.

You would be Mr Brearley, Sir, would you not? …I am right, am I not?

That situation had my mind a little upside down. I was about to shake my head and point to the spot beneath which the man I knew simply as Brierley lay – or for that matter, mention some other relative of her minister – but then I realised that she meant not him, but – obviously – me. In truth, I had simply been thrown by the situation for there was absolutely no way that I did not realise that. Then I came to my senses and started to behave in a more logical and consistent manner. From nowhere I felt the need to introduce myself more formally. ‘Formal’ is not quite the right word though for we were still upon the cold, stone floor of the church.

…Matthew Brearley, late of Friday Street off Cheapside in the City of London and now… [only then did I realise that I had nothing with which I could finish that sentence. Matthew Brearley, now of nowhere! Fortunately, she did not actually require me to do so.]

…Yes, Sir, I know very well! You may not recall but we have actually met before and I believe you to be the one for whom I have been waiting. I doubt very much that you will remember me but I do recall you well enough. [I stared at her almost surpassing any boundary of politeness in godly society (just as she had also done only moments beforehand), searching my tired mind for some relict of her familiar face – that was perhaps a little changed, a little older, than when I had last seen her – but the corridors of that dazed mind of mine were as empty as a the Long Ridge in the clenched grip of a frozen winter[1] but, as I have already implied, there was something familiar about her.] He was good to me when my father passed away. You see I was his maid…

Whose maid?

No sooner had I said that than I realised that, of course, she meant Brierley’s. I tried to think to that week some three years previous. Why could I not recall her? I found my head involuntarily turning towards that spot and she caught my movement, nodding.

You see, Sir…

There’s no need to call me ‘Sir’! [I retorted all too abruptly in a rather agitated fashion, although I cannot say precisely why.] Those days will not last forever, you will see…’

The stroppy agitator within me was still alive then and mixing with some of those who had also meddled with politics from the Parliament of capital alehouses had left some unfortunate mark upon me and upon my manners too. She seemed unperturbed though and only then did I begin to recall her a little more fully from my earlier visit.

…You see, Mr Brearley, the minister was not well towards the end although he was not so very old as you well know[2]. But he was struggling to write at all over those final days, poor man! He needed a lot of care…

I felt terrible – not for her, you understand! For him! Not only had I not been there for him – an old friend, a familiar face – I had not even remained in contact. He had probably come to see me even as yet another enemy in a world that seemed wholeheartedly to have turned against him. Perhaps that was a mild exaggeration but at least as yet another who had formerly been a friend but who had fallen away into diverse thoughts: one who had followed first Shaw and then Everard and, more recently still, Webster[3] – and everybody else – over the theological cliff edge, out beyond the hedge which for him had fringed Eden.

On the other hand, he had abandoned his own, distinctive position, a position which for me – and I dare say, for many others – had defined him. Perhaps in the end, it was all he deserved. After all, he had had a maid to take care of him which is more than can be said for a lot of folk (folk who had balked at the cosy option of the life that the Church offered and taken the harder, narrower road, away from its protection – indeed, one might even have said directly into its line of fire!) and he also had the great and the so-called ‘good’ of Burnley society around him, no doubt with their magnanimous gifts. Very probably they had all been there for his funeral, that day upon which we all come to realise that there can only be one whose graces and gifts are worth anything and that the remainder are all just counterfeit benefactors. Perhaps I had felt sorry for him only to assuage my own inherent sense of guilt? But his one-time maid was continuing, regardless of any of my unstated but meandering but hardened opinions…

…he had just watched his brother die a few weeks before. Draper he was, you know? [I nodded knowingly (as much as anything, just to reintegrate myself with her discourse) – that was Abel. I wasn’t sure he would have called himself something as lowly as that: draper!  – certainly, his father-in-law[4] would have preferred something more along the lines of merchant trader in the finest of textiles! Not that he was vain himself; simply proud of his son! That was how I would have wanted things had I had a father too! Abel himself would have preferred to focus on other matters, doubtlessly[5].] He had wanted to take a trip to Halifax to visit someone who he had once known in Kildwick and some old minister who he considered a mentor from his childhood. But then, he had been in no state to go and they had had to visit him. He took to the fevers. Even at that stage we had to consider getting a scrivener in immediately[6]. There was worse to come but at that stage it seemed that he might die in much the same fashion as his brother had done only weeks before. However, that was not to be. He made a point of sticking with life for the time being. He was not going before writing copious volumes of epistles to those who mattered most to him either[7].

It all had the feel of the everyday tittle-tattle[8] of housemaids and maidservants even though I should have been more than interested in what had been the fate of Brierley and his younger sibling. It was the way she presented it that gave it the feel of some meaningless banter. I was barely listening and my eyes were surveying the church walls whilst she spoke. Those eyes had adjusted to the miserable lack of light by then and I saw things afresh. It was the first time I had been in a church since leaving London and there was an inner beauty that is always absent in London, even there in that most sombre of spaces you could see it…. once you had adapted a little… darkness had become just that bit lighter…

…and then he went and left me twenty shillings for which I was obviously very grateful [I smiled and nodded – that was Brierley; he must have thought really well of her for that had been nearly a month’s labour’s pay for me at one point of my life in Lancashire[9]] …but there was a condition with that which could not be written in the will for fear that it might open up old wounds in the Church but to which he made me promise – not swear mind, he had ceased to be of that way outside the most formal and legalistic of occasions – but promise to find you. [I suddenly awoke from my musings, my ears pricking up almost as those of a sharply-honed hound. Before his death he had made her promise to find me? And not swear either, of course!] …I thank the Lord that you came this way at this moment. I was beginning to think I would have to find someone going to London to make contact with you and who might that have been? I have no idea how I might have gone about that, Si’… [She clipped the end of that last word, remembering that I had already asked her to have nothing to do with it in my presence.] …I did not know how long I was supposed to wait in silence for your coming!

‘Wait in silence for my coming!’ Why me? What had I got to do with it? And why was Brierley making conditions that could not be written down. What sort of strange behaviour was that on his part? That was exactly the purpose of such documentation, was it not? It was all so long ago – at least for him. Come to think of it, what did I have to do with any of this? Nevertheless, the church seemed brighter still now. It is uncanny how the eye grows accustomed. When the light changes, everything seems to shift: some things move into the foreground; others recede into the background. Brierley’s maid more than ever in the foreground though and, maid or not, she was a very plain and pretty young woman[10]. By then I did recognise her as the girl from four years earlier but my memory was still hazy, fogged not so much by time as by the initial exhaustion of that visit and subsequent disinterest. I had seen her shortly after my arrival in Burnley putting fresh sheets on the tester for me but I had been so tired that morning that nothing had really sunk in and, after that, she had done her best to keep herself out of my presence. Other than that vague memory I could only assume that the angle of her bonnet and foreheadband had prevented me from noticing her again on the occasion of my last visit. In reality, it was far more likely that she had simply aged a little since then for she would have been fairly young upon that earlier visit.

Please… remind my flagging mind of your name!

She hung her head low before even attempting to respond such was her humble coyness. She might even have been somewhat taken aback by my sudden focus upon the personal. That was not why she was present.

Janet Foster[11].

She made almost no separation in speech between her Christian name and her family name. That was right though: ‘Janet’; I remembered now. Brierley had actually mentioned her to me on several separate occasions – and always in a good light – when I had been up there. Mind you, most of the time he had just called her ‘my servant girl’ but, every once in a while, he had mentioned her by her christened name. Indeed, he had said that name in a manner very typical of a man from Rochdale so that the word ‘Janet’ sounded almost as two words, ‘Gen-It’[12], sounding somewhat diverse from her. He had some very distant relative, long dead and gone, in Rochdale who had gone by that very name and it had been pronounced in that typical manner. Now that she had told me her name, I could hear him saying it with his accentation upon my previous visit to that town[13]. The very imagined sound of his voice made me smile – just a little. It was though she in some manner sensed my change of mood and I sought to gain control of the situation once again lest she might consider that smile might actually be one that mocked her for there were many such folk around. There always are! But it was far from that for I was remembering more now: the return of the Master and such other things.

Janet, why are you telling me all this and why did you feel the need to ‘find me’. After all, is it not I who has chanced upon you?

She shook her head, unexpectedly sombrely, which I took as her response as to whether anything happened by chance or was a part of God’s plan for us. Then she looked around; a final check that we two were really alone – I had missed her presence therefore perhaps we could both have missed the presence of another but it was not actually so. We were indeed alone. She began what was a short story but told in a long, round-about way so I will condense it in order not to subject you to too much tedium. For better or for worse in the situation, she did not yield me such a grace. Conciseness is a virtue but – in spite of her natural quietness – it was one she had yet to develop. However, although round-about it may have been, once again, she did not come over as either ignorant or poorly-bred and she insisted on a degree of clarity that ensured that I could not misunderstand one single thought. Indeed, her precision was admirable (thereby lengthening the telling of everything just that bit more, of course!) There was not the slightest doubt in my mind that she came from that sort of background. Later I would understand that the simple task of recounting a tale was not one she relished much as she saw the manifest benefits of quietness. Therefore, when pressed into a situation of need the words tended to just rush out too freely – not chaotically; she was far too ordered to ever merit the use of that word, except in the manner of her physical movement wherein she suited that word well enough. However, once forced into a situation in which she had to speak, she struggled to condense all her thoughts into sensible sentences – initially. Struggle she might have done; she would press on, nevertheless,

The good minister [That was Brierley; it could not have implied anyone else!] told me that many years ago there was a man who shared his own surname who had come across the fell to Grindleton from beyond the Long Ridge[14]. I believe that man was you – also the very man who came to visit us four years back [I nodded]; the one who arrived exhausted. …You see, I do remember you. [I smiled to think that I had been so recalled. I didn’t even register the geographical content!] That time he told me to make up a clean bed for you and to treat you as his returned brother. There was to be no trouble spared for you. Your welcome was to be like that of no other! Later, he advised me very clearly that you took a great scholarly interest [I wanted to shake my head at the very use of the term, ‘scholarly’, for that was certainly not me] in a text on which the late minister was engaged upon at the time of your years in Grindleton – one in Latin, a work that goes by a name which I cannot mention…but you know of what I speak, I think?

…The Theologia, the German text[15].

She looked horrified that I would actually mention it by name without even a second of caution in an open space – especially that particular type of open space. But I had become fully accustomed to doing so, even discussing it with Old Sir John when the occasion merited it[16].

Hush, Sir, please! …But yes, that book. [She took another look around…]

 

 

[1] Longridge Fell: a fell above the town of Longridge on the very southern edge of the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), not far from Preston. Its summit is 350m. above sea level.

[2] Fifty was not actually that bad an age in the period although average at death was distorted by all sorts of factors.

[3] Webster, although not seemingly ‘converted’ until 1635 moved very quickly beyond Brierley thanks to a wide variety of esoteric, alchemical and Hermetic interests.

[4] Father-in-law: Street. Note here that the relationship status term is used in spite of the fact that Abel married Jane Street only immediately after her father’s death.

[5] Abel’s will of 1637 actually described him as ‘parish clerk’ of Rochdale. It is not quite clear how long he had held this role. Robert Bath had been presented as minister to Rochdale in March 1635/36 to replace Dr Henry Tilson, a Laudian and supporter of Bridgeman. However, in spite of this, the Oxford-educated Bath was to join the Presbyterian Party, be expelled from his post in 1662 and afterwards preach as a dissenting minister. Abel’s will was signed by none other than Benjamin Welsh, Brierley’s assistant and Robert Bruer. Bruer had been a churchwarden at Burnley in the previous year and (if we can accept a mistranscription of Edward for Edmund or vice-versa) would seem to have been Bruer, Brierley’s earlier assistant’s brother, born June 1589.

[6] Scrivener immediately: presumably to write a will. It is not clear whether a scrivener would really have been the appropriate person to perform this role. It is quite possible that Janet has simply used the incorrect term and may have intended to imply someone with rather more advanced legal knowledge! Alternatively, the scrivener might conceivably have been the ‘emergency’ option in a bit of a backwater and this may be the interpretation which has to be accepted on the basis of evidence in later chapters.

[7] Brierley’s will was proved at the Prerogative Court in July 1637 and the scan available at the Borthwick Institute is badly damaged and seems to have been proved in Yorkshire. He asks to be buried in the ‘church or chapel’ of Burnley at the discretion of his friends. The will describes his younger (presumably, minor) children as: John, Abraham, Roger, Abel, Anna and Alice (although this last appears to be Alice born in 1618). His eldest son was Thomas. The will split a messuage in Marland into two. This was presumably the ‘close’ in Castleton identified in the 1620s as being held by him. By 1637 he held this messauage ‘etc.’ from Robert Holt of Stubley. Although he made Anne and Thomas executors, he made Hugh Currer of Halifax and Ambrose Walton of Marsden (one of the lay witnesses called to attend Brierley’s 1617 High Commission hearing) guardians of his children. One scrawled and inserted line in Brierley’s will left money for his maid. This was the line seized on by Bennett in his ‘History of Burnley’ where he identifies her as Janet Foster. It is accepted that it is especially hard to make out the lettering of that line, anyway – particularly from a scan. In actual fact her name appears more likely to have been Joan Foster but, for the purposes of this novel, her name has been kept as Janet. The will was ‘traditional’ dividing the legacy into thirds, putting his wife first. This seems to have been relatively common in northern Puritan culture but was actually usually known as the ‘Custom of London’ – see Fraser. Bennett produced his four volume, ‘History of Burnley’ over 1947 to 1951 under the auspices of the Borough – see ‘Lancashire historic town survey programme: Burnley – historic town assessment report’ (Lancashire County Council, May 2005).

[8] Tittle-tattle: literally, chatter to the most minute detail. ‘Tittle’ actually survives in the KJV translation of Matthew 5: 17-18.

[9] Unadjusted for price inflation, of course – which was rampant or would have been rampant were it to have been measured formally in any manner. Matthew makes absolutely no attempt to account for it here.

[10] Plainness could easily be seen as a virtue by large portions of Puritan society. Therefore the concepts of ‘plain’ and ‘pretty’ merge more easily than they might today. Indeed, the root of the word is very different to what might be envisaged today. In Old English, ‘prǣttig’ had implied ‘cleverness’, ‘cunning’, ‘skill’.

[11] As mentioned in a footnote on the previous page, I have chosen to retain what appears to be Bennet’s error in identifying her name. In actual fact, Brierley’s maid’s name may well have been Joan Foster – at least according to my reading of the microfilm version of his will in the Borthwick Archives. If so, it is one of many errors made by Bennett – including the year of Brierley’s birth – but his work was absolutely critical in establishing a base in terms of the history of Burnley and I have kept his supposed error regarding the maid’s name as a tribute. Although there were Fosters marrying and being buried in Burnley, there were no Foster baptisms there. A Janet Foster married John Whittaker in 1610 in Burnley and Samuel Foster’s wife died there before he married Isabelle Hartley there in 1635 (she too may have had some Whittaker connections). Although it was fairly common practice to take in relatives as servants, there is no indication that Janet was born either a Hardman or a Brierley.

[12] Genet Brearley was ‘of Moorland’ (very probably an earlier version of Marland) according to her will. Whether this particular character was actually a direct ancestor of Roger Brierley is unproven. But, if she really resided at Marland at the time of her death, it is at least possible. It is not clear from her will without substantial further research whether she was actually bor an Ogden or whether she simply had a sibling who married into this family.

[13] ‘Janet’ is very possibly the servant who Brierley has in mind in his sermon (in comparison to how we should prepare for the ‘return of the master’) in Sermon XXVI, the Barcroft funeral sermon based around Matthew 13: 35-36. She may have been the daughter of a deceased friend when she was taken on by Brierley although this is pure speculation.

‘We see it in all faithful servants, how careful they are to have all in readinesse, when the Master comes home…’

Note here that, in spite of the potential reference, Brierley does not make specific reference to his own servant being excellent in his sermon. However, he may still have been thinking of Janet if she was already working for him. And she may have been for Janet must have been at least twenty one years of age in 1637 for Brierley to have left her money directly.

[14] Again, this is essentially Brierley’s own geographical perception and far from a true representation of the direction from which Matthew actually arrived in Grindleton. But it is slightly more accurate in terms of Matthew’s original geographical source than most of Brierley’s own direct comments upon the matter!

[15] ‘The German text’ should almost be in inverted commas since it was almost an alternative name for the Theologia. Although the original version had indeed been in German, there is no implication here that Brierley had access to a German language version of it.

[16] With Old Sir John: under the circumstances this has to be assumed to be a reference to Lamb.

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