Chapter Twenty-six

Christmas Goose

In the new year, Lizzie Penwarden settled into their new home at Pendeen and her new life as a mine captain’s wife. She told herself that she did not get out and about much because she was too busy setting up house and looking after little Jedson, but really she was not yet ready to reach out to strangers. She liked the house more and more and quickly realized that what at first she took as unaccustomed spaciousness was actually emptiness unfilled by their scanty possessions.

Lizzie thought she would someday like to have comfortable parlor chairs with arms, but for now even a few benches and stools would be welcome. The house had been cleaned before it had been turned over to them, but she nevertheless went to work with enthusiasm to bring it up to her newly rewarding standards of neatness and cleanliness. She reminded herself to clean the new tripod skillet Addis had given her for Christmas. She would now be able to cook smaller amounts than before without using the big crock pot.n the new year, Lizzie Penwarden settled into their new home at Pendeen and her new life as a mine captain’s wife. She told herself that she did not get out and about much because she was too busy setting up house and looking after little Jedson, but really she was not yet ready to reach out to strangers. She liked the house more and more and quickly realized that what at first she took as unaccustomed spaciousness was actually emptiness unfilled by their scanty possessions.

The morning was bright and chill that first day Lizzie kissed Addis goodbye seeing him off to the Wheal Hykka mine. She realized she would have to become used to staying home. Her time as a bal maiden picking and sorting ore on the surface at the mine was over. Even after Baby Jedson became old enough to be left in someone else’s care during the day, Lizzie would not go back to work at the mine. However, she was determined to keep her promise to Reverend Perry and spare some time to help him with the new school. She was equally determined that young Jemmy would be one of the first pupils.

Her main job for now was to take care of her husband and her children, do the housekeeping, and get them settled in. For the time being Jemmy would stay home with her. She welcomed his company and found it useful to have an extra pair of hands helping around the house.

She called to her son. “Come on over ’ere and help me tidy up in the kitchen. Then you can ’elp me throw out the Christmas decorations.”

“Aw mum, I want to go out and explore,” said Jemmy. “Besides I told my new friends that I’d meet them down the road.”

Just like a boy, thought Lizzie. “You’re twelve now,” she said, “old enough to make yourself more useful. Come on, many ’ands make light work.”

“My dad said once ’e gets settled in at Wheal Hykka, I could go to the mine with ’im, learn the ropes like. Do proper men’s work. Besides, women and girls do ’ousework,” Jemmy added, his hands on his hips.

“Plenty of women work at the mines, kids too, so turnabout is fair play,” said Lizzie. “I did meself when us needed the money, until your dad got more wages in ’is new job. Anyroad, you won’t be workin’ at no mine no more, you’m goin’ to school soon.”

“Aw mum, I don’t want to go to no school,” said Jemmy. “What good’s sums and spellin’ an’ stuff? Dad says I can learn from ’im an’ be a mine captain when I grow up. Pick it up on the job. Them’ll pay me a few coppers too. I’ll ’ave me own pocket money.”

Young Jemmy was a bright enough lad. Addis said he could go far, and if his father had anything to do with it, he would. Perhaps spending some days at the mine from time to time would do him good, but whatever happened Lizzie was going to see to it he could read and do his sums. However, it would be many weeks, if not months, before Mr. Perry could get the school started. He first needed to arrange a lot of support for his plan to educate the people.

Jemmy reluctantly joined his mother doing the house chores. He soon forgot his resistance and chattered away about his new friends, especially a boy his own age who lived four houses down the road. “He’s got a pony,” Jedson told Lizzie.

As they tidied away the decorations, Lizzie recalled the good time her little family had enjoyed at Christmas. This year, it was a bigger celebration than they could ever afford before. Their new-found comforts had their advantages, she thought. Lizzie had roasted a goose with sage and onion stuffing for Christmas dinner. She used some of the goose fat to make rich pastry for mince pies. Without much persuading, Jemmy had helped her make decorations for the house, boughs of greens they hung around the door frames. Jemmy was willing enough when what he was asked to do was fun, and he always wanted to learn.

He was an inquisitive boy, which Addis said was a sign of intelligence. But his questions sometimes hindered Lizzie as much as his hands helped her. There was a holly bush in a copse at the edge of the village, and Jemmy had helped her cut some branches to make a wreath to hang on the front door.

“Why do us put ’olly in the ’ouse at Christmastide, Mum?” Jemmy had asked.

“Us be rememb’rin’ the birth of the baby Jesus,” explained Lizzie, “ an’ people say the spiky leaves be loike the crown of thorns, and the red berries be ’is drops of blood when ’e were crucified.”

“But why do us put up stuff loike the crucifixion on ’is birthday?” Jemmy asked, “don’t make sense. Wouldn’t put a coffin on my birthday table.”

“That’s just what people say,” said Lizzie.

“What people?” pressed Jemmy.

“Well, I ’spect it says so in the Bible,” Lizzie tried.

“Where in the Bible?” Jemmy persisted.

“You’ll ’ave to ask Reverend Perry when you see ’im down chapel; he’ll know for sure,” parried Lizzie.

Then they had found mistletoe in a nearby oak tree and picked a sprig to hang over the parlor door. The vicar had said that the white berries represented the purity of the Virgin Mary, but the old folk said it really celebrated the old goddess of fertility. Anyway that’s what the Druids had used it for. Jemmy was a bit young to know about that. Perhaps he wouldn’t ask her.

“So what do people say mistletoe be loike then, Mum?”

Lizzie sighed. “Jemmy, let me get on. Stop pussivantin’! Don’t ask so many questions. It be just a custom. I ’spect people think ’tis pretty, and that be a fact.”

Addis had cut a big dried log to burn in the fireplace in the parlor on Christmas Day. He had wanted to use a stick of charcoal to draw a picture of a man on the log, like the custom from olden days of remembering human sacrifice, but Lizzie wouldn’t let him. She wanted no more questions from Jemmy. Anyway, what would Reverend Perry say?

She and Addis had filled a stocking for Jemmy with an apple, nuts and candied fruit and hung it over the mantelpiece in the parlor to find when he got up on Christmas morning.

On Christmas Day, though, Jemmy made his own toy. A day or so earlier, Addis had been experimenting with gunpowder, wrapping up small amounts in twists of paper, trying to work out a safe way of detonating it. Jemmy had found the almost empty tin, taken some of the quills plucked from the goose wing, cut off the tips and filled them with the powder. Then he threw them in the stove where they smoldered and sizzled and then burned with a satisfying whoosh, filling the kitchen with a dreadful smell of burning feathers. Addis to Lizzie’s surprise did not scold Jemmy for his mischief. Rather, a look came over his face that signified that he had an idea.

“That lad will be a real somebody some day,” Addis said to Lizzie, when they were out of earshot of Jemmy.

Whatever the men got up to, Lizzie had to get on with her work, she thought, especially now that, adding to her new pleasure of devoting full time to being a wife and mother, the Penwardens were looking forward to sharing their home with friends. Their first visitor would be the Reverend Perry, who was coming over from Perranporth on Sunday to preach in the chapel at Pendeen. They had invited him to join them to share their family midday dinner after the service.

Lizzie eyed the dying embers in the stove. “Jemmy,” she called, “go outside to the wood pile and bring in some logs and get the fire goin’ again.” She herself made a fire of blackthorn in the cloam oven next to the fireplace. There was nothing like the clay brick lining for even baking. Then she sent Jemmy to fill the iron kettle from the pump in the scullery and put it on the trivet in the hearth to heat for washing the pine table-board. Addis had made the table, fashioning a frame from which the board could be detached. Lizzie used up her last but one cake of lye soap scrubbing the table and made a note to boil up a fresh supply.

When the table dried she went to the shelf on the side wall and got down the tin canister filled with oat meal that she had brought with her from the old cottage in Gwennap. When Addis got more of his new wages she could afford wheat flour already ground from the miller in the village, rather than having to pound oats or barley herself. Now that she could afford to keep more supplies on hand, she would ask Addis if he would make her a kitchen dresser like the better houses had, or perhaps hire the carpenter to make one.

Lizzie sieved the meal to get out the husks and emptied enough into her wooden mixing trough for two loaves of bread and a dozen buns. She had already stood a pint or so of her home brewed ale in a tin pitcher on the stove to warm it. She poured it in with the flour and added barm from her last brewing to make sure that the dough rose.

She wondered how much longer she would be brewing beer or making cider. Reverend Perry had been talking to them about setting a good example to the miners to persuade them to give up alcohol altogether. He said it was the only way to be sure to rescue them from drunkenness. Many of them seemed incapable of drinking in moderation, especially on Saturday nights. But how else were they going to relieve the monotony and misery of their lives?

“Jemmy, go get the sharp kitchen knife from the box,” said Lizzie. “Here be the block of salt. Scrape some off, I need a good pinch for the dough.”

Jemmy did as he was told, but spilled salt on the clean floor. Instinctively, Lizzie picked it up and threw it over her left shoulder for luck. That brought back unhappy memories. Her brother-in-law had been killed down the mine despite her doing just that on the day he died.

Lizzie separated out about a third of the dough mixture in her trough, chopped up some mixed fruit she had dried during the autumn and added saffron she had soaked in warm water, to give the dough its distinctive flavor and yellow color. Like her mum and grandmother and great-grandmother before her, Lizzie loved to bake with saffron. It came from Spain and was made from the dried stamens of a special crocus. It was said the Cornish had traded tin for saffron with the Phoenicians in the Mediterranean Sea donkeys years ago, centuries. Lizzie believed this, as you did not find saffron being used in the rest of England. She rolled up her sleeves and began to knead the mixture. When it was springy and shiny, she covered the dough with a cloth and laid it aside to rise.

Her saffron buns would taste delicious with the fruit and all. Now with the fruit trees and bushes in their garden, she could preserve enough fruit and make enough jam next year to keep their family fed as well as give some away to people less fortunate.

Finally, she went outside to fetch the milk can from the cool windowsill and poured some into a shallow pan. In a few hours when the cream had risen to the top, she would gently warm the pan, skim off the crust and they would have clotted cream.

Lizzie was interrupted by a demanding cry from the crib Addis had brought down from their bedroom upstairs to the kitchen so she could keep an eye on the baby. “Jemmy, go see what your little brother wants,” she said.

Young Jedson was hungry and gave out a lusty howl. Jemmy lifted the toddler from his warm nest and carried him to their mother, holding him under his arms and dangling the rest. “Not like that, Jemmy. Here let me show you.” Lizzie scooped up the baby, cradling him in her arms and sat down on her kitchen rocking chair to nurse him. She sent Jemmy to play outside and leave her in peace. Perhaps he would find his new friend.

Before long the baby was satisfied and dropped away from her breast, so she sang a lullaby to him and laid him back in his crib, where he fell asleep. He looked so contented. She was contented too; she took pride in being a mum who could feed her baby son; nowadays, even the upper classes were turning away from wet nurses who might carry diseases and were nursing their own babies. There would be a time when she had to think of weaning him, but before that, she would start giving him a little table food mashed up.

Time to get on with her baking. She saw that the cloam oven had got white hot. First she raked out the ashes and shoveled them into the old barrel she kept in the outhouse beside the back door. Addis had got the barrel from a fisherman down at the cove. She had scrubbed it out well to get rid of the fishy smell. The fresh batch of ashes filled the barrel so her next task would be to make lye to use for her new batch of soap. But first she would finish making the bread. Lizzie checked that the dough she had already kneaded had risen. It was time to form it into loaves and buns. She laid the loaves inside the oven and shut the clay door. Later when the bread was done, she would cook the buns as the oven cooled. They would be ready to eat, piping hot, with the clotted cream and her homemade blackberry and apple jam when Addis came home from the mine hungry.

Now she was ready to start making the soap. She would make more than she needed right away so that she could store the surplus and let it age for a few months. The baby was still asleep so he would be out of the way when she started; it could be dangerous. She got a bucket of water from the pump and set it on the fire to boil. Then she carefully poured the hot water into the barrel over the potash, standing back to avoid being splashed by the boiling hot mixture created by the chemical reaction. As the water soaked through the ashes the lye leached out through a spout that Adds had fixed at the bottom of the barrel and into a wooden tub. Lizzie knew that to make good soap the lye had to be just right. She fetched an egg and laid it with a long-handled spoon on top of the liquid. If it floated the lye would be ready to use. But the egg sank. She would have to wait to refill the barrel with fresh ashes and pour the lye from the tub through the ashes again.

It would be a day or two before she could make the soap. The clothes wash would just have to wait because she wanted to save the last of the remaining soap for their hands and their dishes. Anyroad, it would give her a chance to save up more fat and add to what she had left over from the goose after her baking, then she could make a bigger batch that would last longer.

Oh well, a woman’s work is never done she thought to herself, as she fetched her brush and knelt on the kitchen floor to sweep up the remains of the salt that Jemmy had spilt. What will that boy be up to next, she wondered? He was so active, so inquisitive; she loved him with all her heart, Addis too. Standing up and looking around her, Lizzie felt a moment of peace and gratitude as the warm yeasty aroma of baking saffron cake filled the kitchen. Addis would be home before long. She would take great satisfaction in his enjoyment of his supper. Yes, she was proud of being a mine captain’s wife and the Penwardens would lead a good life in Pendeen.


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