The cry of the baby, always another baby as soon as one was ready to explore, the pitter patter, stop, and then more pitter patter of those newly exploring feet on the wooden floors, the creek of the beds with Mary, and David trying to find room to play, all of these sounds greeted Thomas every morning without fail. The smell of the baby’s napkins, constantly needing to be washed, the acrid smell of the coal stove, the familiar smell of the same porridge day in day out were a constant, and without change every day.
They weren’t all bad sounds and smells though. David was incredibly creative in how he finds ways to play. He could entertain the girls, to their delight, for hours with a small ball of string and his imagination. And Mama, she always cared so for her babies, giving them her every ounce of attention that she could. Watching little ones grow day by day was really a miraculous achievement especially with as little room as we all had. Thomas wondered how it was with the new Queen Victoria and her brand new husband, Albert. How did they take their breakfast? I am sure that they must have more variety in their day with the amount of rooms at the castle.
But it was tiresome. There was no excitement, no newness, nothing to shake oneself out of the knowledge of the next thing that is going to happen. The stove gets fired up, we sit and eat, then we go off to work, leaving Mama, David, the girls and the baby here to go about their day. At least the world is new for baby Ellen, and for the girls, with the imaginative worlds that David creates for them. Mama often said, she would go off her chump, if it weren’t for David entertaining the girls. She often said he reminded her of James, with his constant imagination.
As it was, the brothers went off to the ropewalk with Papa every morning. 9 year old Daniel with a bit of a spring in his step, contrasting with Thomas’ slower one. It’s not that he hated rope-making, he didn’t, but, it was always the same. Different smells, different sounds and sights then at home, but the same nonetheless. James moved along with them, accepting his fate.
“Trading in the smell of the constant stove smoke and baby napkins for the smell of jute and hemp in the ropewalk,” thought Thomas as he walked into the ropewalk and he got to work.
“Daniel, let me show how to tie this knot.” Thomas said as he walked over to Daniel with a piece of rope. James came over and stood nearby watching.
Daniel looked up at Thomas as he threw his rope down on the floor. He was getting frustrated. He wanted to learn how to tie more knots. Cleaning up around the ropewalk was getting boring. So, he was practicing his rope tying. Perhaps he could help tie some knots at the ropewalk. Though, he was only 9, he wanted to do more than sweeping. Thomas was 16 and was almost as good as Papa at rope making.
“First you have to measure out the right amount of rope to hold.” Thomas held the end of the rope on his outstretched arm while holding the other end of the long rope in the other.
“Then you let it go.” Thomas dropped his arm and the rope fell to the side.
“Then you form a loop in the rope.” He grabbed the rope forming a loop.
“You see, it’s like a rabbit hole, “ said James
Daniel took his rope and copied Thomas. “Like this?”
“Yes, exactly, “ said Thomas nodding.
Thomas then took one end of the rope and put it through the loop.
“Don’t forget to go around the tree,” said James
“Then you take it around and bring it through the same loop.”
“Through the other side of the rabbit hole, “ said James making funny bunny ears.
Daniel copied Thomas with the rope and smiled when he did it.
“Let’s do it again.” Thomas untied the knot.
Remember, go up through the rabbit hole, around the tree and right back down the same rabbit hole.” Thomas tied the knot again quickly this time.
Daniel untied his knot and then tied it again.
“Great job, Daniel!” James clapped.
Daniel bowed like a gentlemen as everyone laughed.
The sun was starting to set, and Daniel was cleaning up and James walked the ropewalk checking all of the capstans. Thomas was still working the machines, his muscles pulling and twisting as much as the ropes.
“Papa left for the day,” said Thomas, “He had to go to the market and buy more hemp.”
“Can you teach me how to feed that rope into the capstan?” Daniel got up and walked over to where Thomas was working the machine.
“Watch that you don’t get caught in the machine,” James called to his brothers.
“You should just watch me. I’ll explain as I go,” said Thomas.
Just as with the rope, Thomas described each step of the process to Daniel as he performed it.
“You really want to be a master rope maker, don’t you Daniel!” James said as he walked over to his brothers.
“Now, watch this part carefully, it can be tricky to get the right thickness. As Thomas turned the capstan the machine made a grinding noise and the the thread twisted and turned into itself. Thomas turned the knob and continued on with the process with each piece of thread, over and over again.
“Can I try? Please? Papa is not here. He won’t know.” Daniel asked.
“I cannot let you, little brother. Save your hands. You will be a master rope maker soon enough. If that is what you want.”
“Yes, of course, that is what I want, what else would I do?” Daniel went back to his chores.
“There is plenty to do. Plenty of places to see.” Thomas continued working.
‘What places?” said Daniel.
“India, where they have all of the pretty cloths that we see. America, even!”
“I would love to see America!” said James.
“I would like to stay here, in England, with Mama and Papa and all of my brothers and sisters!”
Thomas looked at his little brother with affection. He had a decision to make.
Thomas sent Daniel home and James looked at Danial and whispered, “Good luck brother. It’s not an easy choice.”
He walked down to the alley near the canal. He stood waiting listening to the sounds of the city. He could hear the din of factories, the sound of carriages and horses in the street and by the canal and the voices of people chatting or selling their wares. He wondered if he could really leave it. The day before, a man had walked into the ropewalk looking for men to work on his ship, Thomas watched and listened very carefully.
“We need strong men to work on our ships. You can see faraway lands such as India, “ said the man as he talked to several men.
When his family wasn’t looking, Thomas approached the man and asked him about the job.
“it’s hard work, son. Long days, out on the sea.” The man looked at Thomas up and down.
“You look quite strong enough. Interested in seeing new lands, are you?”
“Possibly. How long would I be gone?”
“A year, at least. It’s 6 months to India. We sail around the tip of Africa.”
“So long!” Thomas thought. He turned away, thanking the man for his time.
“Why don’t you meet me after work tomorrow? Right down there,” he said pointing, “By the canal. I’ll explain some more about the work and what you can earn. It’s an exciting land, India. Ornate palaces line the streets! The scent of the most intriguing flowers is everywhere. You have to see it to believe it. There’s something new everyday.”
Thomas looked back and hesitated, then he nodded and hurried off before his father asked where he was.
Now, here he was waiting for the man. Thomas thought of his brothers and his baby sisters. Who would teach Daniel how to tie knots and work the machines? Sure there were plenty of other people, but Daniel was attached to him. He took care of him a lot the first year he was born. What would Jane be doing in a year? What about Ellen? Would she even survive her first year? She already had so many coughs. He thought about his mother and how she would miss him if he went to the other side of the world. She had already suffered in life, he didn’t want her to suffer any more. Who would teach his brothers how to tie the ropes and work the machinery?
“Perhaps someday,” thought Thomas, “but not now.” Thomas turned and began walking home.