He came from the little town in the valley, owned most of it, not farming stock at all. We never liked the little braggart who swaggered around as if he was royalty. That was before the fire. He didn’t swagger much afterwards, kept a low profile, not that the masters were ever called to account, whatever they’d done. He kept the place locked up, ringed the park with a high stone wall, bristling with broken glass, like a prehistoric serpent. He had a wife, though she never went out, a pale-faced wraith of a woman. No children. Not that he owned to anyway.
We always said he’d come to a bad end, after the fire, the first one. Nearly two hundred died when the mill went up, mainly women and kiddies. Slept under the looms at night, too exhausted to crawl home after sixteen hours of work and get themselves back again for a six o’clock start. Well, they’ll crawl no more, God rest their poor souls.
We knew he should never have built there, on that hill, and if he’d asked, maybe somebody would have told him why. But he never asked owt of the likes of us. More fool him. We knew there was summat up when we saw the big gates open. Not much, not wide enough to let a carriage through, just a little, as if someone had crept in and out and not bothered closing the gates behind him.
It was the end of the afternoon before a group of us got together and decided to have a look. There wasn’t much to see, but when we got close, we heard it right enough. The roof was gone but the fire was still roaring, curling through the empty window frames, lapping around the sills, eating the stone away. Must have been burning all night. Small wonder we never saw the flames. They were black as pitch.