City Of Discoveries — Episode 40

Jennet had met several of her new and better-off friends in public places, in Miss Wilson’s Aberdeen Road house and even in Phemie Wightman’s, but none had come calling at her door.

Mr Lochead raised his hat.

“Mistress Marshall, forgive me for intruding.”

Jennet could think of nothing to say. She’d left the room as tidy as you could leave one room that served for all their needs, but it was not what Mr Lochead would be used to.

The slops pail, for a start. Had she returned it to its cubby and pulled the curtain across?

“Mr Lochead,” she managed. “I didna expect – I mean, ma man is out.”

It was the best excuse she could think of for not inviting Mr Lochead into the house, but it was true, too. The teacher was a young and attractive man.

She fingered her wedding band nervously.

“Oh, of course he is. I beg your pardon. It was thoughtless of me.”

Lochead pinked a little, and Jennet knew he was realising the discomfort his visit was causing her.

“I do not wish to come in, ma’am, but I have brought this book for you.”

Jennet stared at the little volume in his hand. He thrust it towards her and she backed away.

She didn’t think William would mind. He had said what a good man he thought Lochead was, before now.

“I hope you will accept it. It was my sister’s. She wished me to pass it on to a pupil who was making good enough progress to appreciate the poems.

“I think you’re making such good progress, Mistress Marshall, that you are the best recipient.”

He stepped back and sent Jennet an uncertain smile. She noticed his hand shook a little.

“Belonged?” she asked. “Is your sister no longer living, sir?”

“No, Mistress Marshall, she contracted a wasting illness. She was married, but died during February.

“Her husband is distraught and he asked me to help by distributing as many of her belongings as I can.”

“I am so very sorry,” Jennet said and stretched a hand out tentatively.

She gripped the smooth leather binding and it was warm in her fingers.

“Thank you, sir. I shall treasure it.”

Mr Lochead nodded and, turning, escaped quickly down the stairs.

Jennet listened until the echo of his boots died away and a moment of silence wrapped her round.

She gazed down at the little book and wondered about its previous owner.

Although death was never far away among the poor, she’d not thought about it stalking better-off families, too.

“Aye, that wid be the consumption, then,” Mistress Cox said as she hung over the banister.

Jennet looked up and surprised an expression of pity on the woman’s careworn face.

“Just like us in some ways, the toffs. Jimmy! Pit that doon!”

Jennet let herself into her house with a wry smile. Jimmy was clearly a handful.

She set the book on the table where she could catch a glimpse as she went about her jobs.

First, she had to set the broth on or her man would be coming home to a cold dinner.

The pot was half-full because she was reheating yesterday’s soup. She’d bought some fresh bread on the way back.

Then, with a deep sigh, she set about taking the linen from their bed.

Somehow the stuff felt more awkward and heavier than it had seemed, even a month ago.

Jennet rubbed a hand into the small of her back and was easing her spine out when William came in.

“Tired, lass?” he asked, and she felt his love wash, warm and joyous, over her.

“A bit, but it’s you as has been on your feet all day.”

“Aye, weel,” William replied, but he turned to the fire. “Is that yesterday’s broth? Grand smell.”

He stirred the pot and then, unbidden, lifted the clean sheets from the top of the dresser.

“Here, we’ll dae it thegither.”

It didn’t take them very long to make up the bed.

William picked up the book of poems as Jennet was serving out the soup.

“This is braw.”

“Mr Lochead brought it for me. It used to belong to his sister and when she was dying she asked him to pass it on to a pupil who would be able to read it.”

She set the bowls on the table.

“I think her name is written inside.”

Jennet had caught sight of the writing earlier, but was too busy to read it.

William opened the little book and ran a finger slowly under the name, written in neat lettering, but still in italics and hard for him to decipher.

Jennet leaned over his shoulder.

“Oh, she was called Elizabeth! That’s your mum’s name.”

“Lovely binding.” William smoothed the cover. “Something for you to cherish.”

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”.