City Of Discoveries — Episode 12

“That was braw, love,” Jennet said, as she set her spoon down. “The bone stock makes a’ the difference to the stew’s flavour.”

“Aye, right enough. He’s a good man, that Ogilvie. I saw him slide a wee packet o’ minced meat tae an auld wifie last week. But I paid him for our bone.”

William had recovered a bit and was letting her into some of his day. Jennet knew he didn’t rate it as anything like as important as the things he used to do and she ached for him.

How perverse their lives were just now, when William couldn’t get any work and she couldn’t stay at home to look after him.

“What happened at Keiller’s, then?” She risked the question. “Wis the foreman not as helpful as Mistress Wightman thought he might be?”

“He wisna there, that’s what,” William said bitterly. “I was to see a Cruikshanks, but he’d been sent on to the dock the day and the other one . . .” William stood up and turned away. “The other one wisna interested in any mair encroaching relatives.”

“Oh!” Jennet exclaimed.

The words were cruel and bound to cut through anybody’s pride.

“As if he’s never been in the same position.”

“That’s right, lass, we’ve all been in this position these past few years. Folk forget too quick, that’s a’.”

Downstairs later, Jennet was coming back into the corridor from the backlands when she spotted Miss Smith coming out of Mistress Wightman’s room.

She knew the old lady was a pensioner of sorts, having worked for many years in Sooth’s mill.

Was it her Miss Smith had been coming to see last night, Jennet wondered. There were so few elderly folk in the city and hardly any who didn’t live with their family.

“Mistress Marshall,” Miss Smith said as she raised her lantern to see who was there.

Jennet dropped a curtsey, but the other woman shook her head.

“You don’t need to do that where I’m concerned. I hope you’ve recovered from that incident this morning?”

“Thank you, miss. It was shocking to me to be accused because I do try very hard to keep the loom going,” Jennet said.

She shifted the pail she was carrying and set it down on the stairs.

Above her head, footsteps moved along the landing. It was the time of night when everyone brought their slops down.

“I was really grateful that you set all to rights, miss. Thank you.”

“Yes, well, I’ve got my eye on that oaf Fleming. I did hear a tale about him harassing one of the other women, but I couldn’t get to the truth of it.”

Miss Smith paused and Jennet remembered the passionate outburst Torie Young had made. Would she be the one?

“Mistress Wightman tells me your man was at Keiller’s today. Was he lucky?”

“Nah,” Jennet said quietly.

She could hear a couple of folk on the upper stairs now, but in the gloom, she couldn’t make anyone out.

“Nah, the man he was supposed to see was in another part of the complex, the dock maybe, and the one he did see was no’ taking anyone on.”

Jennet thought Miss Smith tensed and realised it had been she who’d arranged it all.

“That happens sometimes, I suppose. I’m sure Keiller’s have need –”

“Whit’s a’ this?”

William’s voice, laced with fury and pain, cut across Miss Smith’s. He was standing on the stairs above them.

“Is it no’ bad enough that a man canna get a job in this city because of the women being employed, without thae same women plotting to organise his life?”

“William,” Jennet pleaded, but her husband turned back to pound up the stairs. Their bucket clattered down to the flags and the door of their room slammed shut.

Jennet raced up the stairs as best she could and when she reached the landing she saw William had shut her out.

Usually they left the string attached to the latch hanging outside the door when they were both going in and out, but recently William had been keeping it inside and now there was no sign of it.

She sank on to the floor in despair. A night on the cold landing beckoned.

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”.