City Of Discoveries — Episode 20

Jennet shoved through the press of folk in the market to get to her husband. William was held tightly by the arm while a constable blew his whistle to call up some fellow officers.

Jennet could see why the man thought William had stolen the purse clutched in his hand, and knew it would be hard work persuading him of the facts.

The owner of the purse was an old woman who’d been knocked over by two lasses, and they’d disappeared quick enough when William confronted them.

“Officer!” Jennet cried. “It was two lassies that knocked this woman over. They’ve run through that gap in the fence into the scrubby woodland.”

“Aye, aye,” the constable said. “And you saw the whole thing and you’d swear your man – he is your man? – had nothing to do with it.”

“I dinna think it wis this man, either, son,” the old woman said, and Jennet could have cried with relief. “It wis a wee hand that poked me frae behind. This one has big hands.”

She gestured to William as she spoke.

“You’ll be confused, mistress, no doubt. And see, this man has your purse,” the constable said implacably.

Jennet felt cold. How easily everything could go awry in minutes!

William said nothing, and that seemed to encourage the constable in his efforts to have an easy arrest.

“Good afternoon, officer.” A gentleman who’d arrived unnoticed in the throng of folk spoke to the constable.

“The women here are in the right of it. This lady was knocked over by two girls who took her purse and this man intervened to make them drop it,” the gentleman said clearly and calmly.

If it hadn’t been so important, Jennet would have laughed over the constable’s confusion.

“I am Thomas Webster, constable. I am the owner of Webster’s Whaling Company, and if you require anything further from me, I can be contacted through the general office in the docks.”

The gentleman raised his hat to Jennet and the older woman and strode off through a gap that appeared in the crowd.

“You’ll be returning that purse, then,” the constable said ungraciously as he, too, strode off – amidst a number of catcalls and some jeering.

Jennet saw him a few minutes later across the square, studying the gap in the fence.

Back in their room, William was shaken and it took a wee while before he could talk sensibly. But when he did Jennet was pleased.

“I shouldn’t have gone off the way I did. Just goes to show how easy it is for everything to fall apart.”

He looked so shocked and tired. Jennet couldn’t stay angry with him for storming off after they’d read Miss Smith’s note about a second interview in Keiller’s factory.

“I’m sorry you don’t like Miss Smith interfering. She does mean well.”

“I ken,” William said, and sank on to the edge of the bed. “I’ll go and see this Cruikshanks. You might get out of the mill yet . . .”

*  *  *  *

“That’s exactly right, Agnes,” Hetty was able to say as the new maid, Ina’s replacement, cleared plates from the table.

The girl had been with her nearly a month, and she showed promise. She was tall and strong enough to cope with carrying coal scuttles upstairs, but she was also proving to be adept at setting the table and serving at it.

“I think we’ve covered everything, and you are doing very well,” Hetty continued.

“It is a joy to be greeted by your cheerful smile in the mornings.”

“Thank you, Miss Wilson. You explain all the table serving in a way that makes it easy to understand,” Agnes replied. Dropping a neat curtsey, she left the breakfast room.

She paused at the door, but was ushered through by Thomas Webster, one of the lodgers.

“Good afternoon, Hetty. I must say you’re doing a grand job training that young lady up,” Thomas said when he came into the room.

Hetty knew he and her other male lodger, John Crombie, had been at the docks making enquiries about Mr Crombie’s forthcoming passage to Newfoundland.

He walked over to the fire and leaned over the guard to catch some extra warmth.

“It is nice not to have to retrieve the toast from wherever Ina had dropped it,” Hetty replied.

She could laugh now, but the first week or so following Ina’s retirement had been fraught.

Much as everyone had feared, Ina arrived in the kitchen every morning and commented on how Cook and Agnes were going on.

It was a great relief when she found a young family living near her cottage who needed an extra pair of hands.

Hetty suspected Ina’s minister had sensed the woman’s unhappiness and found this solution, and she intended to thank him when the opportunity arose.


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”.