A draft towards the Proposed Biography

of Eric Knight, by Greg Christie

Young Eric, wearing a huge leather apron which stretched to the mired floor, and a neckerchief tied tight around his face against the stench of the knacker’s yard, stirred the giant, boiling glue vat with a long bamboo pole, stopping occasionally to stoke the fire beneath.

"The knacker’s", for that was its only name, stood at the end of Beza Street, two lines of back-to-backs resting against its high walls. Eric was only ten years old, his school days already behind him. His home in the Spread Eagle Yard was only half a mile away and he started work at six o’clock each morning, finishing his labours eight hours later; he was only a lad and was 'part-timing'. The law prevented him working a full twelve-hour day.

At the end of a shift he would race up to Hunslet Moor to lie in the bluebells and dream his dreams. On the wall of the school in Bewerley Street there had been a map; it had captured his imagination the first time he saw it, with its colours and its illustrations. It was a map of America. "Here is where tobacco comes from," the headmaster had said, pointing with his cane, "and here, cotton … and these are the Godless savages tamed by the settlers and shown their heathen ways."

From that moment on, Eric’s only ambition was to go