From The Sussex County Magazine October 1930
The Warmin’ Pan
By Florence Aylward
They had long ago celebrated their golden wedding and were the great-grandparents of half the little village in East Sussex where they had spent their lives.
She was a tall handsome old woman, wonderfully straight and active in spite of her eighty-three years, but the old man was a martyr to rheumatism and seldom got beyond the cottage garden where he sat all day when the weather was fine.
Few of the village folk passed the gate without pausing to lean over it and exchange a bit of gossip with great-grandfather, and when I could get away from the rush and turmoil of town to spend a few days in the old home, one of the first visits I always paid was to the old couple. They had known me from my cradle, and it was a never failing interest to listen to their stories of old days and to watch the peaceful content with which they looked back on the life that was now nearing its end.
I had never heard a word of wrangling or disagreement between them; in the long years of their married life, they had grown so united that one never seemed to have a thought or wish apart from the other.
One chilly afternoon in late autumn I went in to have a chat, and found them sitting in unusual silence, one on each side of the big wide chimney. Great-grandmother’s lips were firmly set, and she was knitting furiously, while the old man was staring into the fire, oblivious of the fact that his pipe had gone out. Something was obviously wrong.
"Well, how are you both this cold day?" I said, and Great-granfather shook his head sadly.
"I be turrible troubled with rheumatics," he groaned, "I just did ‘ave a bad night, couldn’t get no sleep, and I be troubledto get about at all today, I be fair frit to think o’ going to bed again tonight, such a night as I’ve ‘ad," and he looked across at his wife and again shook his head. Great-grandmother’s knitting needles clicked faster than ever and she did not raise her eyes.
"I expect it’s this horrid east wind," I began sympathetically, but the old man interrupted me, "It warn’t no east wind as wouldn’t let me sleep; but now I just asks you, miss, when a man’s ‘ad a bad night, and it’s bin wet like ‘twas yersterday, and ‘es got stiff from a-setting’ in this ‘ere chair, why mayn’t ‘e go to bed when ‘e likes? I asks you that," he said with growing indignation, bringing his hand down heavily on the arm of his chair.
Before I could answer Great-grandmother interposed wrathfully, "An I’d got a job o’ sewin’ to finish, an’ t’warnt much after eight an’ I can’t sleep if I goes to to be so early," she said. "Sixty-six years we’ve bin married, an’ go to bed afore nine I never ‘ave, an’ I aint a-goin’ to begin now, not if I’ve got a job o’ sewin’ as I wants to finish," and she closed her lips firmly while knitting needles fairly flew.
The old man groaned, and shifted his position with difficulty. "My legs do turrify," he said plaintively, "I ain’t bin able to get ‘em warm so to speak, not since I went to bed last night; I wouldn’t ha’ thought it of ‘er, not after all these years as I’ve bin a good ‘usban’ to er, an’ us that comferable together. But there, you never knows, and ‘tis the Lord’s will I reckon," he concluded mournfully.
"But what was the matter?" I said, "Why were you so cold last night?" and they both began to explain at once.
"I was that stiff a-settin’ so long. . . ."
"If you’ll believe me miss, ‘e wanted to go to bed afore nine."
"An’ why shouldn’t I when I be that tired?"
"An’ I said I wasn’t a-goin’ till I’d finished my bit o’ sewin’ . . . . ."
"An’ I ‘and’t ‘ardly ‘ad no sleep the night afore . . . "
"Well," I interposed, "but why didn’t you go to bed, and let Great-grandmother finish her sewing and go afterwards?"
Great-grandmother sniffed, and the old man leaned forward eagily. "There now," he said, "I always said as ‘ow you was a peart one – you’ll excuse me, miss, but I’ve know’de ye since ye wasn’t as tall as my stick there, and a mighty sensible one ye was too. Wonnerful peart you was sure-ly, I mind now . . . . "
But I foresaw a flood of reminiscencies, and brought him gently back to the point, "And so you went to bed first?" I suggested.
"That’s just whur ‘tis," said Great-grandfather, "I says to ‘er, "You just take up the warmin’ pan," - "cos ye see, miss, I can’t carry nothin’ up them stairs meself, so I says to ‘er, "You just put the warmin’ pan in the bed, and then I’ll me comferable till you come"! Them was my very words."
At this Great-grandmother laid down her knitting and remarked with dignity, "I be surprised at ye, William, a-talkin’ to a young lady like that when she don’t know nothin’ about such things. Downright onseemly I calls it," and she looked severely across at her spouse, whose face fell. I hastened to reassure him.
"But I think it was a very good idea," I said. "And so Great-grandmother gave you the warming pan to keep you warm?"
"No, miss, I did not," said the old woman. "Sixty-six years I’ve bin ‘is lawful wife, to ‘ave and to ‘old as the Scripture saith, and ‘e ‘ve never wanted to go to bed without waitin for me as is fittin’ e’ should, an’ ‘e ‘ve never wanted no warmin’ pan to keep ‘im warm, an’ ‘e ain’t a-goin’ to ‘ave it now, not as long as the Lord spares me; and so there ‘tis," she concluded with decision.
"Yes, that’s what she said, an’ I ‘ad to go to bed in all that ‘ere cold, unaccountable cold ‘twas too, an’ I never got warm all night. I just wish she’d got my legs, I do," said the old man resentfully.
Great-grandmother did not condescend to answer, but got up and went to the outhouse to fetch some more wood for the fire. As soon as her back was turned, the old man leaned forward confidentially and touched my arm.
"You’re that ‘omely with us," he whispered chuckling, "an’ so I’ll just tell ye. There’s our Mary’s Polly what lives next door, she come in this afternoon when there warn’t no one by, an, she filled the warmin’ pan ‘erself an’ put it up in the bed. ‘Tis there now, an’ I’m a-goin’ to bed directly I’ve ‘ad my tea."
I laughed. "What will Great-grandmother say?" I said.
"Lor’ bless ye, miss, she won’t know nothin’ till she comes, an’ I reckon I’ll be asleep then. An’ when I do get to sleep, I’ll take a deal o’ wakin’ tonight – a deal o’ wakin’." He chuckled again, "I ain’t bin married sixty-six year without larnin’ summat o’ the ways o’ women. Ay, I’ll take a deal o’ wakin’, surely."