City Of Discoveries — Episode 14

Fleming was already strutting around to see who was in position and whether they were set up properly, but Jennet noticed he was starting at the top end of the mill this morning.

“I don’t know her,” she repeated. “She visits Mistress Wightman.”

“Phemie? Oh, aye. Phemie was always a favourite of the Smiths after her man was killed oot in the yard. She lives by you and your man, does she no’?” Meggie said.

She sounded pleased to have found a connection explaining the perceived favouritism.

“Aye. William gives her a hand – brings her water in and gives her wood he’s scavenged walking round the city,” Jennet said.

Fleming was striding down the line of looms. They turned to their work.

Although he was behind her and she now couldn’t see him approach, Jennet knew he would have his thumbs in his belt and his big fingers sitting on the fronts of his trousers, ready to spring into action if he saw anything on a loom that displeased him. He was an unpleasant man, but a good weaver.

What fault would he find with her today, she wondered, and was dismayed to see her hands shake at the thought.

“Tighten that belt there, Mistress Marshall,” he said when he arrived at her station, and waited while Jennet did as he ordered.

He moved on.

Jennet kept her eyes down until the smell of his tobacco faded and he was out of her range.

Maybe the fuss caused by Miss Smith was a good thing, if it meant he’d let go of his interest in her.

“Whit’s the story, then?” Meggie asked when they stopped for their break. She nodded towards the book still perched on top of Jennet’s loom.

“It’s about a family. ‘The Mill On The Floss’. I’m not far into it,” Jennet said.

She didn’t want to admit they had to ration their candles and it was too dark to read much by firelight.

“Wish I’d learned mair,” Torie said. “I never could understan’ how thae squiggles were words.”

She took the book down and studied it as if to confirm her memory of those long-ago classes.

“Ye’ll be guid at writing them doon, the words?”

“Not so good, Torie. I’d like to learn, though,” Jennet said. “William is the same as you where the reading’s concerned.

“He didn’t keep it up and he sniffs if I spend tuppence getting a book out.”

“But he doesn’t stop you, like some men wid,” Meggie said.

“No, and he can read a wee bitty. Slowly. I think what he hates is the speed I can go at,” Jennet said.

It was the first time she’d realised it was her fluency that William resented.

*  *  *  *

Elspeth Sutherland sat on the back verandah at a round cane table. She adjusted her position yet again. The heat was making her skirts stick to her skin and her hands stick to her writing paper.

She hadn’t worked out a method of using her ostrich feather fan while writing, and had to be content with the occasional flap while she gathered her thoughts.

Today, she was writing to her mother-in-law. Wilma Sutherland had welcomed her to the family most warmly and, if she had not had to go to Tasmania to attend her daughter Tammy’s first confinement, would have been here in Sydney, helping Elspeth settle.

Alan Spink

I am a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. I enjoy working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, I also write fiction and enjoy watching football and movies in my spare time. My one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.