© Moronic Ox Literary Journal - Escape Media Publishers / Open Books
Moronic Ox Literary and Cultural Journal - Escape Media Publishers / Open Books
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'You must raise your right hand over your right eye. If there be another Luddite in company, he will raise his left hand over his left eye, like so,' the older man demonstrated. 'And then you must raise your forefinger of your right hand to the right side of your mouth; the other will raise the little finger of his left hand to the left side of his mouth.'
The younger man nodded. 'He will say, what are you? The answer, determined. And he will say, what for? Your answer?' 'Free Liberty!' the younger man said, smiling, his silver-blue eyes glinting in the dim light of the candle. The senior man took up a book that was lying on the table. He held it out. 'To seal your being twisted in, Mr Gordon, you must swear on the Bible. Repeat: I swear I will use my utmost endeavour to punish with death any traitor or traitors who rise against us, though he should fly to the verge of existence. So help me God to keep this oath inviolable.' The young man held the Bible and repeated the oath. 'Now you must kiss the book.' Mr Gordon lifted the book to his mouth and kissed it. He closed his eyes.
About the author
Brought up in Lord Byron’s childhood home town of Southwell, UK, Christy Fearn was fascinated from an early age with the local poet. She studied English Literature and Drama at Clarendon College and then York St. John University. Her dissertation focused on William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Byron and the Shelleys.
After graduating, she performed in the play “The Weathercock” which toured Greece as part of the Britain & Greece festival. The play was a revival of the production in which Byron himself starred in 1809.
More recently she has given talks about Byron, Shelley and Coleridge as part of Lowdham Book Festival as well as at the International Byron Society Festival. Framed is her debut novel which tells the story of the Nottingham Framebreakers. Byron is a character in the novel, stepping in to aid the local Luddites and making his maiden speech in the House of Lords.
A self-confessed Byron nut, Christy has a tattoo portrait of her hero on her arm, including the line from his poem “Maid of Athens” – Zwή µou σaς aγaπώ which in Greek means “My life I love you.”
Lizzie drew the curtains against the chill of the evening. She finished folding the pairs of stockings she had made. By the light of the candle she checked that they were all perfect; neat rows of stitches. She placed them in a basket next to her stocking frame and stretched her arms above her head. Her shoulders ached. St Mary's bells chimed six o'clock. Ten hours she had worked today. Robert would be home soon with their wages. There had been talk of another reduction. God knows how they would manage on any less. She took up a knife and began peeling potatoes and parsnips for supper. She cut them into small pieces and placed them in a pot, added water and hung it over the fire. Looking up from the hearth, her eyes rested on her father's portrait. It was a miniature painting of him as a young man at about the same age as she was now. She wondered who had painted it and wished that she had asked him. Her rosary hung on a nail next to the portrait, in the space where her mother's picture had once been. Papa had taken that with him. Around the room were other empty shadows on the walls; ghosts of other pictures sold to buy food and firewood. Lizzie glanced at her stocking frame and remembered her father teaching her how to thread the needles. How difficult it had been to co-ordinate her small hands and feet which were barely able to reach the pedals. Her brother had always found it easier, despite his unwillingness to sit still. Such memories seemed like dreams when cast against the harsh realities of the present. What might the future bring? Lizzie moved to the dresser, intending to fetch herbs for the stew; instead she opened one of the drawers. How long had it been since she had read her cards? She brought out the small wooden box, placed it on the table in front of her and slid open the lid. She removed the pack of decorated cards, shuffled them. She closed her eyes and cut the cards, then dealt them one at a time onto the table. The first card was the Queen of Swords. The young woman depicted was frowning, holding the sword out in front of her in defense. Lizzie knew it meant that she would become involved in a conflict, a disagreement or an argument. The recent past was represented by the Four of Wands. On the card, the wands were standing vertically on the ground, a garland of flowers around the top of them. Any happiness or celebration was behind her. Something was coming to an end. What was the present problem? Lizzie turned over the next card. It was The Wheel of Fortune. La Roue de Fortune. Gold letters in ornate calligraphy above an image of a blindfolded woman turning the wheel. Unstoppable change. Something that would challenge and disturb. The following card was La Maison Dieu. The House of God. Lizzie blinked. How could this be the solution to the problem? A tower was being struck by lightning; the card showed the building crumbling and falling. It meant taking radical action, destroying something longstanding. Lizzie turned the penultimate card. The near future. It was Le Fou. The picture showed a young person—Lizzie had never been able to tell if it was male or female—stepping off a cliff. The Fool did not look afraid. A little dog was apparently barking to warn the character, but The Fool was taking no notice. She would have to trust her instincts and be courageous. The Knight of Cups was the final card. He would be someone Lizzie had yet to meet, in the far future. The youthful man on horseback was clad in silver armour and bore a large chalice rather than a weapon. He was someone who was passionate and idealistic. Lizzie became aware that the stew was boiling rapidly, steam escaping from under the lid and wafting across the kitchen. She stirred the pot. The potatoes and parsnips were almost done. Their diet had been unchanged for over a month now. Occasionally augmented by beans or barley; it was becoming monotonous. She had discovered a patch of wild garlic growing near St Mary's last summer and she added the last of the dried bulbs to the stew. She replaced the lid and returned to the table, collected her cards and placed them back in the drawer.
Lizzie sat down to read the Nottingham Journal. General Napoleon was advancing and the English soldiers were on the march. She turned the pages. Further on there was a strange story about an undergraduate called Percy Bysshe Shelley, who had written a pamphlet called 'The Necessity Of Atheism.' It had apparently been on sale in a bookshop near Oxford University for only twenty minutes before being removed. She crossed herself.
The door opened. Robert entered the room and dropped his coat on a chair. His shoulders were hunched against the chill evening, his coal-black hair flopping over his forehead. Lizzie observed that tiny lines had appeared around his eyes; he would be displeased by that, having always been vain about his appearance. Ever since they were children he had been the one to spend the most time in front of the looking-glass. Lizzie would tease him, calling him 'Garçon jolie'. A little shorter than average in height, at least he was unbowed by working at a frame every day. His faded linen shirt hung loosely around his chest. The collar and cuffs were beginning to fray. Robert usually had money for ale; nowadays rarely for clothes. His arms still looked strong, although his cheeks were as hollow as hers. He shook a handful of coins from his purse onto the table. 'Il fait mauvais,' he said. His voice was resigned and hinted at apology. Lizzie surveyed the amount. 'Is that really all there is?' She shook her head in disbelief. 'That's both yours and mine.' 'Both?! Are you sure?' Lizzie's eyes met Robert's. 'Or have you been to the Angel on your way home? Did you lose at cards again?' 'I'm not a child.' Robert's expression was surly. 'One of us has to be the responsible,' Lizzie snapped. Robert grimaced. 'You're only two minutes older than me; I'll do what I want with my money.' 'When you gamble away your earnings, we both lose.' She could not believe he had been so stupid. 'How much did you lose?' Robert was silent. He had not intended to lose, but neither could he see the point in saving. 'How much?!' Robert looked up from under his dark brow. She could read his expression; it was the mirror of her own. 'La totalité?! All of it?!' Robert watched as Lizzie scooped up the coins. She placed them in a drawer of the dresser and locked it. Then she put the key in her pocket. 'You are not going to lose mine as well.' Then she took the pot from the fire and began to ladle the stew into bowls. 'I wouldn't do that,' Robert said. 'How can I be sure?' She passed a bowl to him. Robert began to eat, his stomach growling with hunger. He tried to eat more slowly in order to make it last. Steadily their meals were becoming more meagre as the money appeared to be worth less every day. Bread was simply unaffordable. Prices rose, but wages did not. Why should a man be unable to afford to feed himself properly? Why should he not be able to have a game of cards now and again? Yet Robert was grateful that she was able to make a decent dinner from a few vegetables. He looked up at Lizzie. 'I'm sorry.' His dark eyes were like those of a deer. Lizzie's heart softened a little. He was still her jumeau, her mirror image. She would always have to look after him. She remembered how she had warned him about climbing into the trees in the churchyard to collect chestnuts; he had fallen, of course, but made her swear not to tell Papa. Lizzie wondered why Robert felt the need to take risks all the time. He was also careless in his choice of friends. Her stew was too hot for her to eat so she blew across it. 'All right,' she said, 'but you will please promise me that you will not gamble anymore. Especially with Ben Harwood; I don't trust him.' 'Ben's a good friend,' Robert retorted. 'If it wasn't for him, we'd have even less.' 'How is that?' 'He's asked his uncle to keep us on. They're getting rid of stockingers left, right and centre.' Lizzie did not like the idea of being beholden to Ben or to Mr Betts. 'Our work is good enough to speak for itself, surely?' she said. Robert shook his head. 'No, only tonight when I went to collect the wages, the factor said they're replacing half of us with colts.' Lizzie almost dropped her spoon. 'But they're untrained! They don't know how to do anything!' 'I know. But that doesn't matter. Betts isn't bothered about quality any more. All he's interested in is quantity. Profit and speed.' 'Ridiculous,' Lizzie hissed. 'So what'll happen now?' 'Well, as you're paid less, they'll probably keep you on. I might be out of a job by the end of the year.' Robert wiped his bowl with a crust of bread, and sat back in his chair. 'That was delicious, by the way,' he said. Lizzie rubbed her brow. 'They're replacing some of the frames at the workshop as well,' Robert said. 'What about Papa's?' She glanced over at the frame she had worked every day since he'd gone. 'You'll be keeping that for the moment. I think even Betts knows that your silk stockings will make him a decent return. He's on about exporting the best stuff.' 'What are they replacing the other frames with?' 'Larger gauge.' 'So they can make more for fewer wage,' Lizzie sighed. Robert nodded. 'And if we object, they'll just get rid of us,' he added. Lizzie finished her stew. 'We must be able to do something.' 'Well, some of the men are having a meeting. I'm going. I see no reason why you can't go along as well.' Robert paused. 'Although, I think they might be planning something more than just talking.' Lizzie frowned. 'What do you mean?' Robert's expression was devious. 'Getting rid of what's threatening our jobs.' 'Sabotage?' Lizzie's eyes were saucers. 'In a manner of speaking.' 'Do you think you could get away with it?' 'As long as it was under cover of night and unidentified, I think so.' Lizzie considered what he was saying. 'But it would only be the frames that would put us out of work?' 'Yes. Just the ones in the workshops. We'll dismantle them, stop them being used for cut-ups.' 'And I just carry on as before? Pretend I know nothing about it?' 'You must,' Robert asserted. 'After all, one of us has to be the responsible one.' He smiled. 'You will be careful, though,' Lizzie said. 'You are still my little brother.' 'Only by two minutes,' he laughed. He took her hand. 'Of course I'll be careful. And I promise I won't gamble any more.'
From the novel
by Christy Fearn
Published by Open Books (2013)
Read article in Leftlion
by James Walker
Photos by Carla Murphyre to add text.