A Weaver's Web
by Chris Pearce
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: December 6th, 2013
Handloom weaver Henry Wakefield, his wife Sarah and their five children live in abject poverty in the Manchester area of the UK in the early 19th century at the time of the Industrial Revolution. Henry hates the new factories and won’t let his family work in them. He clashes with Sarah, a factory agent, a local priest and reformers, and son Albert runs away. The family are evicted and move to Manchester but are even worse off, living in a cellar in a terrace and have another little mouth to feed.
Henry’s love of money overrides his hatred of factories and he starts one of his own, but it is beset with problems. The Wakefields eventually become quite wealthy, but Henry holds the purse strings and this has a devastating effect on the family. Albert is caught stealing and is transported to New South Wales. Her baby’s death, Albert’s unknown fate and society parties become too much for Sarah, who hears voices and is taken to the lunatic asylum. Son Benjamin faces eviction from the family home for having a baby with an orphan girl too soon after their marriage.
Family members, including Sarah who has got out of the asylum and Albert who has returned to England unbeknown to Henry, have had enough and seek revenge.
Excerpt from A Weaver's Web
A young woman he couldn’t help notice hobbled along the footpath just ahead of him. She reminded him of the cripples in the factories he worked in as a child. Benjamin still feared his father might one day make him work on the factory floor. If it happened, he was sure he would run away for good.
There was something familiar about this girl. He wanted to speak to her, but was worried she might think he was going to rob or assault her. Just then she must have sensed his eyes were on her, for she spun around and faced him.
‘What are you looking at, Mister?’ she said.
He recognised the voice, then the face. How could he ever forget the little factory girl who was caned by the masters, crippled by the system, and fell into the machinery and was almost killed, yet came up smiling and joking. It had to be Charlotte, the orphan who always called him mister. It didn’t matter to him she called all males older than herself mister. He hated master, and boy was even worse. To be called mister made him feel like he was grown up and important, someone who commanded respect.
‘Charlotte,’ he said.
‘How do you know who I am?’
‘We worked in the same factory. Remember?’
She looked at him closely and took a step back. ‘No.’
He could see fear in her eyes. He had forgotten he was dressed in a good suit and hat and she wouldn’t recognise him in such clothes. She was in her rags, and that was how he too had dressed when she knew him. Benjamin realised she might think he was one of her old masters who had been cruel to her in the past and had caught up with her.
‘It’s me – Benjamin,’ he said. ‘I was the one who talked to you and the other orphans at meal times. Don’t you recall?’
She stared at him again. Slowly her eyes brightened. ‘Yeah, I do.’ But she became defensive again. ‘Why are you dressed like that, and what do you want?’
‘Nothing. I ...’
‘Then go away.’ She limped off.
He stood and watched her and was about to call out, when he asked himself why he would want to have anything to do with an orphan in rags who was crippled and probably slept in the street. She was grubby and small and slow. But he was intrigued. He set off after her and quickly caught up.
‘My brother Albert worked as an orphan,’ he said, walking just behind her, ‘in the same factory as us. I told you about him. Remember?’
She ignored him.
‘He was kidnapped off the street and taken in a cart to the factory. He was kept there, locked up, and he worked nights.’
‘It must’ve been terrible.’
‘No worse than what I went through.’
‘That’s true,’ Benjamin said, realising she too couldn’t leave the factory. He kept following her. ‘Where do you work now?’
‘None of your business.’
‘You can’t still be a factory orphan, or you wouldn’t be here, walking along the street.’
Charlotte didn’t respond, so he stopped. Again he watched her wander off and again something made him catch up to her. He still wasn’t sure what it was. It wasn’t her appearance or her manner towards him or her gait.
Knowing she wasn’t going to get rid of him, she decided to use her streetwise ways and try and get whatever she could from him. ‘You got any money, Mister?’
He patted his pockets and shook his head. ‘No.’
‘What? All dressed up like that and you’ve no money.’ She sounded upset, but then she turned and giggled at him.
He blushed. ‘I had a ten shilling note, but ...’
‘Ten shillings!’ She stopped and looked at him, wide-eyed. ‘I’ve never seen one. Where did you get it from? What did you do with it?’
She was quite pretty, he thought, for an orphan. ‘I ... had to give it to someone.’
‘Did you have a debt? It’s not good to have debts.’
‘Oh no, it wasn’t a debt.’
‘You had a ten shilling note, just to give away?’
‘No, it was to ... to care for someone.’
‘When you get your next ten shillings, can you give it to me?’
‘I won’t have any more money.’
‘But you must work somewhere.’
‘For my father.’
‘He must be rich.’ She reached out and touched his jacket. ‘Good quality, but look, it’s got a hole in it.’
Benjamin knew he must have torn it climbing over the asylum wall. He went to brush his jacket where she had touched it, but took his hand away. ‘It’s only an old one.’
‘You mean you have more than one?’
‘A few, for different occasions. Not much good if you’ve got no money though.’
‘I’m broke too.’
They walked side by side along the narrow footpath. He lifted his hat to anyone who did the same or wished him a good afternoon. She acknowledged nobody. He wondered where she was going after they had gone several streets and had left the older part of town behind and were passing endless rough brick terraces. Residents sat outside or stood in groups talking, no doubt to escape the stench and the squalor inside, things that brought back vivid memories for Benjamin. He thought of his family’s house now – two storey splendour and more than a dozen rooms set on several acres.
‘Going home?’ he said.
‘Yeah, it’s getting late.’ Soon she stopped outside some steps leading to a cellar.
‘Who lives here?’
‘Me and a few others. Some of us work at the factory over there.’ She pointed to a nearby mill casting a shadow over the whole terrace. Dirty smoke came from its chimney, the breeze blowing it onto the houses.
‘Can we meet again?’ he said as she hopped down the steps.
Charlotte looked up. ‘Maybe.’
‘How about ...?’
But she had gone inside.
About the Author
Chris Pearce was born in Surrey, UK in 1952, and grew up in Melbourne, Australia. He has qualifications in economics, management/marketing and writing/editing. He worked as a public servant (federal and state) for 25 years and in the real world for 12.5 years.
His inspiration for writing A Weaver’s Web was a postgraduate creative writing course he topped from 30 students in the mid 1990s. After unsuccessfully targeting many literary agents, including one who compared his manuscript to John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, he decided to publish it as an ebook.
He also has a non-fiction book (print only), Through the Eyes of Thomas Pamphlett: Convict and Castaway, which he plans to publish as an ebook later in 2014. He is writing a book on the history of daylight saving time around the world and has some notes towards a novel set 80 years into the future.
His other hobbies include family history and tenpin bowling.
Chris and his wife live in Brisbane, Australia.
1 Kindle, ePub or PDF copy of A Weaver's Web.
Ends November 16th (midnight GMT).
Contest is void where prohibited. Entrants must be 13 or else have parent or guardian’s permission to enter. Winners will be notified via email and will have 48 hours to respond or another winner will be selected. The winner will be posted on this page after the winner responds. Winning entries will be verified for authenticity.