‘If my child lies dying (as poor Tom lay, with his white lips quivering, for want of better food than I could give him), does the banker bring the wine or broth that will save his life?’
– Mary Barton
“Are we in ‘eaven muthah?” the little boy asked wondrously, Martha Sitwell shook her head, she dabbed at her eyes and cheeks with a hanky, t’was all she could do to stop herself from bursting into tears,
“If ever I dies mutha an my soul is in good standing with Jehovah,he shall lift me gently into ‘is everlastin arms and t’will be such a place as this that he will bring me to! I know it!” he crumpled the last fragments of his third sugared bun into his mouth, and slid off his stool. Martha Sitwell half blushed with shame, for now there was food to be had little Martin had taken on the habit of eating like a pig at the trough. Cramming every pastry, pie, and pudding, quickly into his mouth, and then devouring it, as if at the next minute there might be none to be had. All fine and good on an ordinary work day, but today they had visitors.
“Well Martha Sitwell what think you?” Martha inclined her head shyly, she durst not look at the gentle eyed man on her best stool; the very fact of his presence made her nervous, as did the idea that she might wake up one morning and find this to be nought but a dream.
“Madame Sitwell speak! You ave a voice Madame! Use it!” Madame Le Breton furrowed her brows and adjusted her shawl irritably.
“T’is just as our Martin says” she murmured, “t’is like ‘eaven”
Madame Le Breton clapped her hands together in delight!
“C’est bien! Now I want ze grande tour! You will show me all you know and when I tell Maggie of all you show me she will be at peace!” Martin giggled, he clapped his plump little hands together with glee, Madame Le Breton noted the healthy flush in his cheeks, and the brightness of eye, indicating the positive effects of an abundance of fresh, healthy, air, combined with a hearty diet.
“Not you my child” admonished his mother, “Off to work with you!” smoothing out his newly starched smock and snatching up his ploughman’s lunch, Martin skipped merrily off to the Cotton Mill which lay just down the road from their little cottage.
Standing by the door Martha watched her son skip merrily to work and tried to recall the pale, wan, listless, child he had been, she could not. A profuse number of tears slid down her cheeks, clasping her worn hands to her sodden breast she turned suddenly to Mr Robert Owen, her benefactor and her son’s employer,
“I don’t know how to thank you sir and I have nought to give ye but these two hands, worn as they are!” Mr Owen shook his head,
“Here at New Lanark we prize happiness, health and dignity above all else. Are you happy Mrs Sitwell?” wiping her eyes she nodded, “Now are you healthy? Do you feel your dignity restored to you ?” again she nodded,”Then that is all we at New Lanark can ask, it is all we dare ask. I have spoken with Mrs Emilia Joseph, the school ma’am, she tells me that if you wish it, you may spend your days attending her at the village school”
“Oh sir!” cried Mrs Sitwell her face a-glow “I do wish it!”
“Quite so, tomorrow then at twelve?” he clasped her hands in his and smiling gently squeezed them, at which she burst into tears once more and had to be comforted by Madame Le Breton,
“What a philosopher! What a genius! Such kindness! Such generosity of spirit! All zee people fed! All zee people paid well! All zee people turning a profit! La! This is not genius! This is witchcraft! ‘Ow iz it possible madam?” Mrs Sitwell shook her head,
“I know not! I ain’t left the cottage since you an Lady Grid-Iron brung us ‘ere, I keeps thinking if I ever tries to leave the cottage it’ll go up in a puff of smoke an I’ll find myself back in London, in that ‘owse! The one Lord Grid-Iron owns” a cloud descended upon her brow, but it was soon gone, she smiled tremulously.
“Owned” Madame Le Breton corrected her,”Zat evil man is gone” or at least by tomorrow morning he would be she thought, “And your old life is over” she said, getting to her feet and extending a heavily beringed hand, “All my days I ave wanted to see what a peoples’ republic would truly look like, come, show me this wondrous place!”