Other Reflections of a Madman

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The Millcrusher


Sally was an only child to the Bedford’s in the rolling hill countryside of that little Irish cove named Shaphard’s corner. Her father John was stout, hardworking and honest like the best of them, his sleeves rolled up tight over his burly arms as he slaved away diligently over his corn fields and won every wrestle over table and sweet black pint of Guinness from here to Shanigan’s hill. Sally was so proud of her father and would love to gaze out at him while he toiled away, until the sun would set on his silhouette; that is, whenever she could and didn’t have her own chores to occupy her. Oh how she longed to be blessed with strength required to work with him, side by side, bringing him whatever he needed at beckons call, burying in the mud with him to free the ox from its murky trap < .

John also had wished she was so blessed, many a times bitter that his sweet Betsy had that misfortune and could no longer produce the much needed help on the farm, and that boy that he always yearned for. But he still loved his Sally dearly, and fought bravely against the frequent jeers in those long Saturday nights at Hullighan’s, where the frothy smack of a Guinness was sometimes the only comfort a man of such nature could find satisfaction in after another dreary week behind the millcrusher.

But his crusher was a special one, brought in far from that great city of London. It was more modern than any other in the area and helped John overcome his disadvantage of having to tend the fields alone. But it came at a dear price, him slaving from sun up to sundown, retiring to the tranquil settings of his home < , with only one pint, his sweet wife and daughter, and the fireplace as consolation.

That crusher became a part of his very fabric, as he would stare at it so many hours a day while guiding it behind the tireless trudge of the ox, the sweat from his brow and palms sinking deep into the wood of its handle, this while his mind often stormed of great plans to come: to expand his little enterprise on that back of his hard work and miserly consumption < , until one day he will have others do the unpleasant for him.

But occasionally he did let his monotonous day break to hear the pitter patter of Sally’s little feet come running out to him for his daily dose of big hug. It was unfortunate that John was on his own like this and often held in his regret behind curled < tight lips, refraining from hurling any blame at Betsy lest those longer nights at Hullighan’s got the better of him. But be as it may, he truly loved his Sally and she’d often sit on his lap those precious moments before the fire and after another long day grinding away.

Although perhaps not so much now as before, seeing Sally was almost fourteen and growing in like her beautiful mother. John would reserve such moments now for his favourite book, with Sally by his side staring into the fire and glad that at least she has this precious time she can spend with him.

Now if there is one thing John would constantly repeat to Sally, be it at times when she ran out to him in the field and offered to help him, or back in the homestead when he retired his big machine for the evening in the shed, was to never touch his prized mill crusher. Not only could she hurt herself, considering its massive weight, but it came at such a dear price and he valued it so greatly, being such a key part of his grand plans for better times.

One weekend John made his seasonal trek to Port Gulliver, that dreary pit of a town attracting every vermin and where he had to go to the markets to trade his hard won goods. It was that shoddy business he never looked forward to but had to get out of the way four times a year. It required a firm wit and sharp mind, to deal with the likes of those deceiving merchants, lest his hard toil would quickly go to vain.

Coming back on a Sunday afternoon he was dismayed not to have his beloved Sally run out to meet him and shower him with her accustomed affection. Instead, his wife Betsy stood at the doorway with a long look on her face. A jolt of fear struck through him as he worried if something had happened to Sally, perhaps when out on the pond with the other boys who were sometimes a little rough for his liking. But he found her weeping by her bed, so he approached her with concern, laid a gentle and loving hand on her shoulder and asked her caringly what had happened.

She couldn’t hold her pain in any longer and burst in a confession of tears how she only wanted to help him. To win his greater favour and make him proud of her. But the crusher and ox were too much for her frail little body and the heavy machinery was sent loose by the power of the ox, to be dragged to its misfortune over the rocky soil higher up on the hill.

His fear had now turned to horror as he ran out the door and up the hill to find his prized accomplishment scattered beyond repair in the trail of an idle ox chewing cud. He fell to his knees and cursed the day he was born, his head buried deep into the palms of his large and roughened hands.

But Sally did not run out to him, to comfort him as she usually would. Both she and her mother knew that this would be a hard blow to John and they really didn’t know how things would turn.

Now the bitterness of Betsy’s condition brewed a sick stir in the confines of his belly. He could hold back his disappointment no longer and spent the next week abandoning his lofty aspirations to the easy comfort of another pint and the crude company of his locals. Sally cried and pleaded that she will do whatever it takes to get him a new one, but he could only scoff at her little frame and move on, leaving her there with the cold rejection of his once abundant love he had for her. John couldn’t even look at his wife the same way, but presumed that this would be just a passing phase nevertheless. He just needed time to get away and forget about his great misfortune, but knew full well that he would come back, after his time of mourning had matured, to love his dear Sally and Betsy in the fullness those lovely creatures deserved.

The next weekend came and he had to go to London again to shop around and see what he could afford. It was a desperate exercise but John the stout has climbed out of worse circumstances, so out of this one he will too.

He made his long way back home, over the winding country roads he had frolicked along during the carefree days of his youth, and made it up the bank towards his happy homestead, his new light sickle in his hand. He’d have to start all over again, building back up to where he was before, but this did not concern him so much anymore and he looked forward to embracing the two people he loved the most, and reading in front of the fire with his loving Sally by his side.

He approached the entrance to his home, the sun coming down in the background, when he noticed a curious shape up on the hill. And then saw his Betsy in the doorway, but this time with even a longer face than before. He walked up to the shape in his field, silhouetted in the setting sun, and was aghast to find a brand new millcrusher. How could this be? His heart leapt to joy, although reservedly as his wife’s grave look was still fresh in his mind, and he could not think how such a good fortune had come. He strode back to his home, but his wife, whose cheeks were still damp from hours of sobbing, could not give him a response, nor look him in the eyes. He ventured through the house and eventually found himself in Sally’s room, where she lay still in her bed, on her back. He was flooded with concern and knelt down by her side to find out what had happened. There she lay, almost a ghost looking up at the ceiling, her once rosy cheeks which had been filled with the life of her youth now pale and empty, filled < only with torment. She slowly turned her head, her eyes welling with tears, and said meekly, "I did it for you daddy. I love you so so much."

He couldn’t make sense out of it and eventually wrestled from Betsy that Sally had gone down Saturday night to Port Gulliver, that stench maggot of a festering community of swindlers, and sold the blossom of her budding womanhood to every leach with a soiled quid in his pocket. This was even a greater blow than before, and John, once again, fell to his knees, his head buried in his palms and cursing that very mill crusher. Cursing his very pride for being so cold, selfish and uncaring to the ones he loved the most, but now it was done and the warm glow of his loving homestead could never return to the comfort it had once been. Never again could John look at his daughter with the fondness he once had. Never again were the precious hours before the fireplace, Sally now in her room with her books, often finding her sweet face buried in tears in them.

The years went by and the pain of that evening became glossed over with the niceties of bane existence, the previous crackle of the fireplace replaced by idle chat and too a cold company to mention. Sally, over time, learned to deal with her great loss, but John, try as he might, could never again look at his sweet Sally the same, his mind sweltering with thoughts of the filth he knows so well down in Port Gulliver, and that might jeer at him behind a circle of backs while he swallowed his pain and pride in another pint of Guinness.

The years passed and, in Sally’s mind, it became apparent that she did not have a role or future there in the Bedford’s homestead, so the time came when she packed her belongings and set out on a long journey, wherever that might take her. It was too painful for her to go through the formalities of a long goodbye, so she just slipped out one Sunday and made her way towards London. Not having any wealth of her own, Sally soon found herself seeking what little comfort she could find these last, long few years, and hence started her long career of collecting soiled quid from the wretched a grimy faces planted so closely over hers.

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