City Of Discoveries — Episode 02

The long day, with its clouds of fluff and never-ceasing clatter, eventually ended. Jennet tumbled out of the mill with the other workers and into the dark of a January evening.

She ached, her head thumped and two fingers were red and raw.

“Penny for the marmalade, miss?”

Crouching beside a shop door was a waif so small and malnourished, Jennet could not tell whether it was male or female.

“Please, miss, a penny.”

The child was holding a filthy broken cup, in its middle a spoonful of marmalade or jam.

Raking in her pocket, she found a farthing and a penny. She held them out to the child.

“Thank ye, miss,” the tiny voice squeaked, and in a flash the child was gone.

“Did you give him money?” At her elbow, William’s deep tones were loud in her ears.

“William, you startled me! Did you see the state that child was in?”

“We need all our pennies, Jennet. There’s rent due.”

“It’ll be a sad day when we cannae help a bairn with no shoes an’ only a broken cup of rancid jam! What’s come over you?”

Jennet knew she should have been calmer, but months of creeping around her husband’s broken spirit, the noise of the mill and the horrid presence of Drew Fleming were suddenly too much for her. She was the one getting up at half past four to struggle into work, not William!

“They were my pennies.”

“So you think because ye earn the money, ye hold the purse-strings. Did I ever keep you short?”

Jennet felt hot angry tears behind her eyes.

“No, you never did. An’ I’m no’ keeping you short, but we have no bairn of our own and that one will not be long for this world if naebody helps him.”

William lifted his arm and a woman, too smartly dressed to be a worker, stepped towards them out of the evening crowd.

Jennet saw her fist clench tightly around a walking stick which she waved with authority.

She thinks William is going to hit me, Jennet realised, and she’s going to stop him!

She grabbed his arm.

“Let’s get back.”

Whatever else they’d faced, William had never raised his hand against her.

His warm bulk leaning against her side brought its own comfort and she tried to let the stress slide away.

“I tried the docks again the day, but that’s still as it was where work’s concerned. Thae men all know one another and an outsider disnae get a look in.”

Jennet’s heart ached for her man. He’d never been idle a day until last year when they learned there would be no more collections of finished cloth from their cottages. Most of the village men were made idle and the looms broken up.

William stopped walking and Jennet followed the line of his gaze.

Was that Drew Fleming? Surely the foreman lived in the opposite direction? He and his family were able to afford three rooms.

She knew because he’d made a point of telling her when he asked if her own man was in work.

“That chap with the side-whiskers?” William nodded towards the wynd the figure had gone down.

“Aye, Drew Fleming. He’s the foreman in my section.”

“Does he live out our way?”

“Naw, he lives across the other side.”

“Curious. I’ve seen him lurking around afore.”

He let Fleming go as the excitement of other work news overtook him.

“Listen, I heard from that auld wifie on the ground floor, Mistress Wightman, that Keiller’s have hud a huge delivery of them oranges they use fur the marmalade. There might be a portering job going.”

“That’s mair like, William!” Jennet said, and the excitement drove Fleming from her thoughts, too. “The women were talking about Keiller’s the day. It’s like the jobs are mair at some times of the year than others.”

“Aye, with the seasons,” William said. “Mistress Wightman suggested I go along the morrow and speak to a Mr Cruikshanks. She has a notion he’ll be the one to change my luck.”

“Oh, William,” Jennet said and squeezed his arm.

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”.