Vernon wasn’t coping with the shell that was his cottage.Its unwelcoming walls,it’s dark void of nothingness akin to the mine shaft affected his thoughts,his mood,his spirit.His usual entreaties to The Lord,the one who knew all ,hadn’t affected him with peace.Having been prostrate for what seemed over an hour,he let out a scream,a passionate cry for help.
Those terrace cottages ,with their back entrances housed families,miners all of which he knew,all,to him,his family.Why,as he was on his own,these men were with their wife’s and children tonight:Would they be talking about the mine and the shift that they had had.Would they be whispering about Vernon,would they?
Vernon knew that they looked to him,but as his disposition,once so strong and dependable and true,now seemed to be vanishing ,he felt that he was acting like those creaking mine props that spooked him today,he felt that as the shaft might well have given way today,so to,him,Vernon Penpraise,the giant of a man ,the man mountain of Illogan was now a shadow of his former self.
This state couldn’t continue,and he feared for the repercussions of Bill Penhaligon and he knew that it might well mean the end of him being a foreman.Why,there were men who could take the helm underground,with Tamblin,Henwood,and Rowse,all capable,he wondered just how long it would be until he was called into Penhaligon’s office and ordered to step aside.
His prayers over,he rallied himself to get something to eat,frantic in his search for sustenance.Morwena had left him,all but temporarily,but she had left gimWhen this got out in the village,then he would be finished as a man,he just knew.If only,he had been less demanding he thought,less forcing himself and his needs on her,then maybe she would have stayed and read to him again.Oh,how he missed her voice,those soft tones,those bible stories that she made come alive.No one read like Morwena,she was a proper learner,she was so clever.Oh how he wished that is rough ways hadn’t got in the way ,and he wished that he hadn’t had slapped her when she wouldn’t give him what he wanted after the babe died.He felt remorse,he felt emotionally destitute.Morwena had been the best thing that had ever happened to him,and he wasn’t worthy of her,and now,she had gone.
In his way,he did truly love her,it was just the weight of expectation on him to be what his family expected,what the community expected and what the Lord expected.These weights dragged him down to such an extent that he could lose his temper and when that happened,he didn’t know his own strength.He was afraid now that if his other and Father found out that Morwena had gone that they would disown him ,as they had never approved of her.They had always thought that she “A will of the wisp” ,that she was flighty,that she had been seen comforting with those lazy artists down Newlyn way.His mother had even called his Morwena a hussey,and his mother had a sharp tongue with a temper like Vernon to match.
We,in the 21st century,might find the actions of a man who beats up his wife,insists on sexually relations against her will as utterly deplorable,as beyond the pale.These things today ,with all their incumbent problems for the police and social services,are being brought out into the open,and our society rightly repudiates anyone who might engage in acts of violence in the domestic setting.But back in 1913,in a tin mining village in the depths of West Cornwall,there were no such civilities.Life was truly feral,with violence in the home often than not being the norm.As the lives of Vernon,Morwena and those associated with them become clearer,we see the desperation of life for communities such as these.Its ever so easy to judge folk,and many might judge Vernon ,and,for that matter,Morwena,but the truth of the matter is that these were profoundly difficult times.Yes,the industrial revolution had reaped many benefits,but the recipients of those were almost exclusively ,the upper classes,the Lord Falmouth,the Bolithos of the county and definitely not the Vernon Penpraises and Morwena Penpraises of the community.No,their dreams,such as they ever were,would be discarded as aimless dreams ,cut off from the grim reality of the mine.You see,the mine was the only employer in that part of West Cornwall.Today,we might question their enterprise or their lack of drive to better themselves,but back then in Cornwall,and for much of the early part of the 20th century,there was no alternative.
Vernon struggled with his temper,but that had been fuelled by ignorance and lack of education in oh so many ways.He had ,up until this point in the account ,been totally dependent on Morwena to communicate the meanings of printed words to him.His frustrations with being able to communicate to Bill Penhaligon about mine safety was a reflection of that total lack of education.It reminded me of my career as a teacher ,dealing with youngsters who would act up,and sometimes show violent tendencies because they would do that to hide their inability to read and write and thus communicate their thoughts and feelings to others.So they would tend to lash out because they couldn’t express themselves any other way.
Morwena was exceptional as a human,left alone a woman at that time,because her father had encouraged her-something just not heard of in those villages-to read and write and to draw,She wasn’t a hussey,as Vernon’s mother had labelled her,she was informed,intelligent,and very artistic.She wasn’t a bad person. Let alone a bad woman,but she wasn’t really able to live within her station.As the writer of this account,I know only too well,the stigma even in a working class family of appearing to be clever.In my case,because I had talent for music,my teachers and the like showed so much interest in me ,but that was granted with suspicion by my Mither and step father,and it was a hard path for me.
My life,however,was nothing compared to Morwena’s ,and her decisions and absolute strength as we arrive at the end of this tale is a testament to the human spirit ,but it is also the strength of so many women that I have known from my background and my family as such.
Thankyou for your attention to this story thus far.