City Of Discoveries — Episode 36


Hetty Wilson allowed Agnes to help her into her outdoor coat and tucked the leather folder of papers she now seemed to carry around at all times under one arm.

How had she lived with Carrie for so many years and failed to notice the reams and reams of paper, she wondered for the umpteenth time.

Stepping into Carrie’s place as women and children’s mentor at Sooth’s mill was demanding and time consuming, but it was only for a short time and she was enjoying it.

“Mrs Crombie asked to be remembered to you and Cook in the letter I received from her today, Agnes.

“She wrote it when the ship was waiting in Liverpool for its final cargo.”

“That’s very considerate of Mrs Crombie, miss. I’ll tell Cook. I expect the lady will be out on the high seas now,” Agnes said with the air of one who was glad she wasn’t.

Hetty walked briskly down the hill to Sooth’s.

She had been invited to visit the overseer, Mr Souter, in his office and was intrigued, because earlier visits to the mill had always seemed to cause that man great irritation and inconvenience.

She soon left the gardens of her own district and found herself among the high stone walls of the mills and the crowded tenements and lands where the workers lived.

“Good morning, Miss Wilson,” Mr Souter said as Hetty entered his office.

“Good morning Mr Souter. And Mr Bramble, isn’t it?” Hetty replied as she took a proffered seat and pulled off her gloves.

The clerk nodded and left the tiny room. He returned within minutes bearing a tray with a pot of tea.

Hetty’s puzzlement increased. She accepted some tea.

“Now, ma’am, I think you’ll be wondering as to why, having maybe resented the attention my mill has attracted from Miss Smith over the years, I’ve invited you here today.

“But I hope I’ll make all clear,” Souter said before slurping some tea. “Are we sure that door is closed, Bramble?”

“Sir.”

The young man checked that the door was closed and took up his position beside the teapot again.

“You are indeed mysterious, Mr Souter,” Hetty said. “I find you have invited my curiosity.”

“Aye, weel,” Souter began. He stopped to take more tea, and studied the corner of the ceiling behind Hetty’s head.

“When you and Mr Webster left here after investigating the matter of the silver coins in Meggie Young’s bag, I kept my foremen back.”

“I remember,” Hetty said, wondering what was upsetting the man.

“The question you asked troubled me and I wanted to ask the men about it. I notice things aboot folk, Miss Wilson.

“That day, I noticed one foreman, Matheson, looked surprised at the idea one of the women had left her loom, gone upstairs, robbed the counting-house and got back tae the floor with no-one seeing her. The other foreman, Fleming, did not.”

Hetty’s hand, holding her teacup, stopped in mid-air.

She remembered the question she’d asked Meggie afterwards, about whether she had an idea of who might have put the coins in her bag for them to be found.

The woman had refused to say.

“Miss Wilson, Fleming has been one of my best workers over several years,” Souter added and slurped more of his tea.

Bramble darted forward to refill their cups, but Hetty shook her head. Souter held his cup steady while the amber liquid flowed into it.

“Aye, one of my very best men.”

“Do you think this foreman had something to do with the coins being in Meggie Young’s bag?” she asked.

“I have grave suspicions, Miss Wilson. Grave, but I canna prove anything!”

Souter thumped his cup on to the table and Hetty watched the tea spill out to form a puddle.

“What I can say is this. Since that wifie, Mistress Marshall, left the mill after her man was taken back on in Keiller’s for the summer jams, Fleming’s behaviour has been erratic.”

“Erratic?” Hetty questioned.

“Aye. He’s missed a shift twice,” Souter said and Hetty thought the overseer regarded this as a personal affront.

Trembling, she set her cup down. Did Mr Souter think Fleming was plotting something against Jennet?

“It’s very good of you to tell me about this suspicion, Mr Souter, but I have no place in your day-to-day responsibilities,” she said with a touch of diffidence.

“Indeed not, Miss Wilson, but I thocht you would like to know that one of the shifts Fleming missed was the day of Miss Smith’s wedding, and that he hasnae come in the day.”

Mr Souter saw the puddle he’d made on the table for the first time and frowned.

“I hear things, too. There are a lot of the men muttering about Fleming and the trouble he lets twa of the lasses cause without interfering.”

“I see,” Hetty said, and wondered why Jennet hadn’t confided any of this trouble.

Was there still such a huge divide between them – worker and management – despite the time they spent together in the suffrage office?

When she thought it over, she realised her knowledge of Fleming’s behaviour came from Phemie Wightman, Carrie’s pensioner friend and Jennet’s neighbour.

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 aspiring tip to new writers is to “write from your imagination”.