Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Early Years, Part Two

Mr Maitland's drapers shop where I worked
A New Beginning
My the time mother and I arrived back in Milton, she had filled me in on the situation.
My grandfather had made his money investing in new businesses and his son had continued in his fathers footsteps however, where my grandfather had done his homework before making an investment, it appeared that my father had not always been so diligent. He became involved with a man named Harrow and they started a business together, buying land and prospecting for oil in America. Harrow was a charismatic man who easily convinced people to trust but he also had another side that we had not been aware of.

It seemed that from day one the business had been little more than a scam, simply an excuse to get more and more money out of my father with the promise of big returns when they finally struck black gold. When my fathers money finally began to dry up, Harrow convinced him to take out a bank loan, assuring him that they were just weeks away from hitting the big time; then he fled, leaving my father to clean up the mess.
Mother swears that my father didn't know what was actually going on, that he idolised Harrow and had simply fallen victim to a conman. I cannot say for certain if it was negligence or wilful ignorance but either way, we were now destitute and he had taken the easy way out.
Unfortunately we didn't have many assets since our house had been rented and many of my fathers other investments hadn't been fruitful. Everything we did own was sold to payoff his loan and other debts but even then it didn't quite cover everything. I could hardly believe that we were homeless. Why hadn't my father bought our house? He could certainly have afforded to.
Our carriages disappeared, my mothers jewellery was sold as were most of her dresses. Somehow she managed to keep my fathers pocket watch, which she gave to me, but that was almost the only thing we took into our new life. By the time she came to collect me, this was a fait accompli and she had already found our new home in a small country town where living was cheaper than in Milton.
In those days it was common for widows to rent out rooms in their house to travelling businessmen. It was cheaper than a hotel and included two meals a day and it was an easy and acceptable way for a woman on her own to make a little money. This is how Mrs Dunmore kept herself following her husbands death. Most of Mr Dunmore's assets had gone to their sons but his will stated that his wife be allowed to stay in the house until her death. I believe her sons would have taken care of her but she was a proud woman who did not want to be a burden to them. Mother approached her and on the understanding that we would take two rooms for five years, she gave us a very reasonable rate.
Mother shared with Fanny while I had the smaller bedroom to myself. I had no time to adjust to my new situation and after one night in my new home, I began pounding the pavements looking for work.
Mr Maitland was a draper from Milton, though he had expanded his business and now had shops in three other towns, including the one we had moved to. I approached the manager of the shop about a job but as with every other shop I had tried, he told me that he would get in touch if anything came up. I left our address, continued looking and thought little more of it.
Two days later I was surprised when my mother came into my room to say that there was a gentleman here to see me and I went downstairs to see Mr Maitland, waiting in Mrs Dunmore's sitting room. Knowing his connection with Milton, I was sure that he had come for money that my father owed him. Instead he tested my education and intelligence, then made certain that I could perform sums in my head before he offered me a job at fifteen shillings a week. I accepted.
Mr Maitland only came into the shop one day a week but every week me made certain that I was handling the job and when he felt I was ready, he increased my responsibilities there. I learned a lot about business and goods while working there and I believe that it is safe to say that I owe much of my business prowess to Mr Maitland and his drapers shop.
During this time my mother and I managed to put three shillings aside each week so that we might eventually pay back the rest of my fathers creditors and when we had saved enough, we returned to Milton. I was twenty one.
Mother and I visited each businessman who was still owed money personally and settled my fathers debts. Most were surprised to see us, some initially angry, remembering the money still owed to them.
Mr Maitland offered me employment in his Milton shop but I felt that I had learned all that I could from the business and I was ready for more and so Maitland recommended me to Mr Peters, the manager of Marlborough Mill. I became his cashier which involved me in all aspects of the business, from the machinery and its cost of repair to the raw cotton and it's price fluctuations.
Marlborough Mill
Mr Peters had no sons and so he began to groom me to take over from him when he died. I worked with him for five years until he passed away, at which point I had saved enough to be able to buy the machinery from his heirs and took over the lease of Marlborough Mill.
Fanny was twelve when we moved into the house at Marlborough Mill and she thankfully has few memories of the poverty we lived in when she was young. 
To this day I have mixed feelings about my father. I remember the man that I loved as a child but it is hard to reconcile that image with the man who left us alone in this harsh world. Sometimes I look at Bessy and Alexander and wonder how he could have done it, for there is no force on earth that could take me from my children.
I often I wonder how my mother coped with so little money, how she managed to keep us clothed, fed and Fanny educated on my tiny wage but somehow she did and for that I will always be grateful to her.
At times I had wondered at the wisdom of my mother wishing me to repay debts that were not my own but I see now that she was right. In paying back a debt that was (only in the loosest sense) morally mine, I showed myself to be an honourable man and more importantly, a man completely unlike my father. That gesture generated a lot of good will for me and my family and without it, I do not believe that the bank would have agreed to lend me the money necessary to buy new machinery for the mill in later years.
Life has been tough for me at times but it built my character and my only regret is that my mother lost her smile. 
I am happy to report though, that in recent years though, she has begun to rediscover the happiness she knew when I was a boy, helped in no small part by my wife and child and of course, her new husband. Sometimes I see her trying to chide Bessy for wrongdoing but much like when I was a boy, I can see that it is taking all her will to suppress her smile.
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