City Of Discoveries — Episode 07

Jennet Marshall gripped the rough cotton of her apron as tightly as she could while the row between Frank Souter, the factory overseer, and Miss Smith built up in intensity.

Jennet had just learned Carrie Smith was one of the mill owners when Souter had sent for her to answer Drew Fleming’s complaint about her poor work.

She saw that the foreman was breathing even harder than usual and his complexion had paled.

“I must remind ye, Miss Smith, that the day-to-day running of this great mill is my responsibility. I cannot turn a profit for the owners if every decision I take is questioned,” Souter said.

There was little respect in his tone. Jennet suspected he was enjoying the chance to argue with Miss Smith.

“Is that how you feel about the chance to do your job, Souter?” Miss Smith asked mildly.

The lady only came up to Fleming’s shoulder, but she made up for her lack of inches in her fearless approach to these men.

Jennet saw Souter signal to Fleming, who sprang across the room and fetched a chair. Miss Smith, however, ignored it.

“How else would I feel?” Souter protested. “I know you believe these folk are all honourable workers, here tae give of their best,” he said, making a sweeping gesture.

“But it’s no’ the same for them, is it? They think their wee bit of sacking produced by the yard will be lost among the miles of it produced by the whole workforce.

“Well, let me tell you, Miss Smith, I know how to see where every yard is being produced, and at what speed!” Souter’s voice was rising but Miss Smith appeared unaffected by it.

“That’s a skill,” she agreed. “However, what interests me is the implication you make.”

Jennet noticed Souter was paling, too. It was clear this wasn’t the first such argument they’d had.

She noticed how he fidgeted with the papers in front of him on his desk.

“Implication? I have made no implication about this worker!” He looked to Fleming for support.

Jennet wondered how that devil reacted, but she kept her eyes front.

“Souter, you say you regard my visits as interference with your ability to do your job, yet you assume the right to fret your workforce over the smallest issues. Who can operate a loom without snapping a thread?

“And why should the snapping of a thread constitute dismissal?”

Miss Smith did sit down then and Jennet saw the way Souter stiffened. He had been in sole charge of the office, but now Miss Smith was in command.

“The lass is entitled to do her job without harassment. I find your treatment of a good and conscientious worker lacking in common sense, management ability or decency, Souter.”

Jennet could only imagine the look she was sending to her overseer.

“Mistress Marshall, you may return to your loom. Hold the door for Miss Smith as she leaves,” Souter said at last.

However, Miss Smith was in no hurry to leave. Jennet dropped a curtsey to the assembled group and left.

As she did so, she heard Miss Smith’s voice.

“Now, Souter, the reason I am here this morning concerns a few of the bairns. Why are they missing schooling in the evenings? Are you pressing them too hard?”

Jennet hardly dared lift her head as she made her way across the factory floor back to the loom.

Every eye was on her and, at least close to the office, every ear was straining to hear.

There had probably been a great many snapped threads as concentration was divided by the need to work the looms and the wish to hear the argument through the door.

She knew Fleming had left the office when all heads dropped to their machines, but she didn’t know where he’d gone.

He wasn’t lurking around her loom and for that, at least, she was grateful.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.