City Of Discoveries — Episode 31

Miss Wilson hadn’t dallied, but had thrust the parcel into Jennet’s arms and, after a brief knock, disappeared into Mistress Wightman’s room.

“Miss Wilson?” William asked. “Who is that?”

“She runs the house where Miss Smith lives in Aberdeen Road. Did you not meet her the afternoon I fell in the street?”

Jennet fumbled with the knot, but only managed to tighten it till it wouldn’t shift.

Silently, William took it from her and worked away at the string. The knot gave and he unravelled the ties, letting the paper fall open on their little table.

“I remember her now,” William said.

He was folding the paper carefully as it would certainly come in useful.

“She’s another woman with an air of command.”

“Oh, William. I always think she smiles a lot,” Jennet protested as she picked up the first of two dresses and shook it out.

She couldn’t remember ever seeing Miss Smith wear this jewel red one, but then she had not known her long.

The other was darker. It was brown with a band of black around its hem.

“I suppose the ladies have done this so you can go tae the wedding?”

“No, William, they’re to wear in the suffrage office so folk won’t look down on me.

“We canna go to the wedding, I know that. You don’t have Sunday clothes any more.”

William went across to the box they kept on the mantelshelf and took out a pawn ticket.

“Aye, but I could get them back for the day.”

“William!” Jennet faltered.

“I ken how much this woman means tae you, Jennet, and she is going off to the guid Lord kens where. I think we should go to her wedding.”

*  *  *  *

The day of the wedding was bright for March.

Jennet and William joined the party in the Wishart Church and then, after a short reception with pastries and cake, followed the bride and groom down to the docks where they waved goodbye as the boat eased from the harbour.

“Did ye get a word with the bride?” William asked as they climbed back upstairs later.

Jennet paused to catch her breath.

“I did,” she said, the thrill of that exchange still with her. “She’s arranged with Mrs Logan and Mrs Tweedie that I’ll be responsible for taking the suffrage message into one or two of the smaller mills.”

William didn’t reply, but made a fuss over setting their kettle to boil.

*  *  *  *

On Monday morning, there was an unpleasant surprise. Watching the women arrive in Sooth’s was Drew Fleming.

His side-whiskers stood out even more in the quick breeze wafting through the doors and his eyes missed nothing.

Jennet knew her fingers were particularly clumsy under his sly gaze and longed for the night to come.

At breaktime Meggie, Torie and Jennet were joined by a louder group including the two lasses Fleming hung around with.

The talk was rumbustious and soon came round to how much gin any individual had drunk over the weekend.

Jennet shivered as she remembered her own fall from grace over the champagne.

At least that had been only one occasion, and for a good reason.

“We heard ye’re no’ so very buttoned up when the gentry is offering free drink,” one of Fleming’s favourites said.

Jennet stiffened. How did they know that?

“Shush, Lena.”

The other lass Fleming hung about with sent a warning glance to her friend.

“Will ye no’ join us on Friday, Mistress Marshall? A wee tipple is good for the soul, especially when you hae to go hame to a man like yours.”

The group all laughed.

Meggie and Torie shifted uneasily.

“A man like mine?” Jennet said. “You mean an honest man?”

“If you say so, mistress. He seems like a kettle-biler the same as all the other men left at home.

“You earn the money. Why don’t you hae a wee treat?”

The girl called Lena kept on about it, but Jennet met her stare.

“Back to work, you lot,” Fleming said as he swung up the line of looms. “We don’t pay you to stand aroon all day.”

He lifted some of their bags and tossed them to the women.

Home time came at last and Jennet saw there was a straggly queue ahead between the door to Souter’s office and the huge outside doors of the mill.

The managers were conducting a search of the women’s bags.

Jennet’s stomach churned. This happened from time to time and occasionally some poor soul was found with some ends of yarn.

“Just like Souter to do this the first day after Miss Smith is away,” Meggie muttered.

She stepped forward and handed her bag over. Fleming turned it upside down and out fell her thin work boots and a silver coin.

Fleming shook the cloth bag and another coin dropped out and rolled across the floor.

A deep hush fell over the workforce and folk stopped inching towards the doors.

Torie turned anxious eyes to Jennet, but seemed rooted to the spot.

“Well, well,” Fleming said.

The other foreman grabbed Meggie and hustled her towards the overseer’s office.

Fleming whispered in Jennet’s ear as he passed her.

“Could be your bag next time, couldn’t it? Think on that.”

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”.