City Of Discoveries — Episode 33

Hetty entered the office, her heart thundering. She’d visited the mills on many occasions, but never had she found the workforce so intent and watchful.

The small office was crowded and the smell of bodies close together after a hard day’s work was daunting.

She took some slow breaths and steadied herself for the task ahead.

When she’d agreed to take on Carrie’s special cases, she’d not expected to be called into the mill so soon, but here she was.

And Jennet Marshall, it seemed, had faith in her ability to sort out what she thought a false accusation.

Souter, behind the desk, stared at her and then exchanged an impudent glance with a man sporting huge side-whiskers.

“Who is this, Mr Fleming? I thought to have been left to run my mill on my own, since Miss Smith has taken herself off to the Arctic.”

“Don’t know who this lady might be, sir.”

Hetty ignored Fleming and kept her gaze fixed on Souter. She’d signed an agreement and knew she had every right to ask questions.

There was shuffling behind her and Hetty saw Souter’s complexion change as someone pushed into the room.

The men – for those in the room were all men except the woman accused of stealing – moved in discomfort. Who had that power, she wondered, and then realised it could only be Thomas.

Webster’s was a big whaling business still, and some of the men would have relatives who worked on their ships. Thomas would be known to many.

From Souter’s face, he was definitely known to him. Did Sooth’s get their whale oil from Webster’s? Thomas and Carrie had never discussed it.

“I’m here as Miss Smith’s representative, Mr Souter,” Hetty said without turning round to confirm Thomas was behind her.

Souter nodded.

“Will that be Miss Henrietta Wilson,” he asked with some deliberation, “or Mrs Frederick Logan?”

He signed to Fleming, who waved the other workmen, except one, out of the office and dragged an upright chair across the floor for Hetty to sit on.

“I am Miss Wilson. It has come to my attention that Miss Young is accused of stealing silver coins.”

“Twa, miss,” the other workman said. “Twa. They drapped out of her bag.”

“Indeed? From where were these silver coins missed, Mr Souter?” Hetty asked.

“On the occasions I have visited this mill with Miss Smith, I never observed any of the workforce wandering in the building without purpose.”

Hetty saw the way Souter’s complexion paled further and wondered whether she’d asked the right question.

It was hard to say, but she noticed that the foreman who’d answered her was wearing a thoughtful expression.

“They were missed from the counting-house, Miss Wilson,” Souter said.

“The counting-house,” Hetty mused. “Tell me, would Miss Young be able to leave her loom, access the counting-house and return without one of your vigilant foremen observing her doing so, and asking her where she’d been?”

“Answer that, Fleming!” Meggie burst out. “Answer that. The counting-house is up them open stairs!”

“Haud your wheesht,” Fleming said curtly. He addressed Souter. “I do not think the woman could do that without me noticing.”

Outside on the mill floor there was a roar of voices shouting and a lot of scuffling.

One or two of the women could be heard shouting over the rest.

Inside, Souter sat up straight and looked intently at Fleming and the other foreman. He said nothing to them, however, but turned to Meggie Young.

“You can go.”

“Just like that?” Meggie said. “Nae apology?”

“The coins were in your bag, Young,” he snapped, “But it does look as if someone put them there. You can go and come to work tomorrow.”

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”.