City Of Discoveries — Episode 13

As Jennet Marshall took up her position at her loom she felt folk were avoiding her eye. Even Meggie Young, whom she’d begun to think of as a friend, kept her back to her as she changed her boots at the next loom along.

Jennet was aching from spending nearly half an hour slumped on the stone landing outside her house the previous night.

She shivered even now at the memory. William had believed she and Miss Smith were plotting his future and had shut her out while he fumed over it.

Jennet didn’t know what to say to William. She was sure Miss Smith, one of the owners of the mill and a regular visitor to their neighbour, Mistress Wightman, was doing just what he suspected.

Miss Smith enjoyed helping the workers and it seemed Jennet and William had caught her fancy.

“I’ll not stand for it, Jennet. Is it no’ bad enough that I cannae get work?

“How can I face folk if it gets aboot that one of the mill owners is pushing me in where I’m no’ wanted?” William asked when he calmed down enough to let her back into the house.

Jennet was at a loss. They both wanted William to have a job. She could attend the writing class that Mr Lochead ran in the schoolroom if she wasn’t in the mill.

Why did it matter if a job came to William through a wee bit of influence?

But she could see it did matter, and she was heartsore for them both.

Today, that devil Fleming was watching everyone closely as they came in.

The foreman had his favourites. Jennet had made it plain she didn’t intend to be one of them.

There were two loud lasses – quines, Fleming would call them – on the shift. They came from up near Aberdeen where he belonged and hung around him when they could.

As she watched sideways, one walked close to the big man and tripped over his foot, accidently on purpose.

He grabbed the lass around the waist.

“There now, ma quine, I couldn’t let you tumble on to the flags, could I?” Fleming said, and held her a minute or two too long.

Jennet saw him whisper in her ear and the girl roared.

“Disgusting,” Meggie Young said, letting outrage overcome her silence. “That minx will get into trouble, you mark my words.”

“And the other one,” her sister Torie said. “They’re up to all sorts, thae twa.”

Jennet felt she was going to say something else, but she stopped speaking, as if she’d remembered she wasn’t talking to Jennet.

“Ye might have said Miss Smith was a freend,” Meggie said at last.

Jennet stared at her. Was that what was causing the silence today? Folk thought she was in with the bosses? But how did they explain Fleming’s behaviour?

Jennet took from her cloth bag the library book she’d borrowed and set it up to one side of her loom.

She could maybe read the story if she could build up a rhythm that included the work on the loom and the turning of pages.

After months working in the clamour, she found it hard to hear folk if they talked quietly, but her eyesight was good. She could easily read the words.

“I don’t know Miss Smith,” she said at last, goaded by the unfairness.

The machines would be starting up soon, so if she didn’t speak now she wouldn’t be able to say anything till the break.

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”.