As William shifted his weight sideways, Jennet caught sight of Bryce Wilson and the local policeman who’d tried to arrest William all those weeks ago. They were listening intently.
Behind them, it seemed the whole neighbourhood was packed on to the landing and up the next flight of stairs.
Fleming might need the policeman’s escort to get out of here safely. As it was, Miss Wilson’s testimony would surely have the man transported.
“I hear ye,” William said wearily. “The whole neighbourhood hears ye. Did it no occur to you, Mr Fleming, that oor women are decent women?”
“Decent? There’s no such thing in the mills. Thae quines are all out tae get the best advantage.
“Yours just thocht she’d get on better with the toffs through that loon.”
“Shut your mouth, man,” William said and the cold calmness of his voice chilled Jennet.
But Fleming was too drunk to understand the boundary he’d crossed.
“Dinna like tae hear it, dae ye? But I saw him . . .”
Whatever Fleming had to say was lost as William’s fist crashed into his jaw.
Bryce Wilson and the policeman moved quickly to haul the man out of the room.
Bryce came back immediately and, together with Jennet, raised his aunt on to a chair.
“Thank you,” Miss Wilson said. Jennet was pleased to hear her speak normally.
Fleming must have slapped her rather than punched her. She had no broken bones, although she was badly shaken and furious, too.
“I left Phemie Wightman’s,” she said, “where I went after leaving you, Jennet. I was crossing the market to meet Bryce, when he pounced.”
“He’s a villain, Aunt Hetty, and no mistake. Are you unharmed, Mrs Marshall, Mr Marshall?”
William seemed to come to himself and take stock of what was going on around him.
“I may have a bruised hand,” he said shakily. “But it was guid to know you were there.”
“And the policeman, William,” Jennet said with a catch in her voice. “He kens now who the villain is.”
“Aye, he kens now,” William agreed.
* * * *
It was an hour or so before the Wilsons and all of the crowd on the landing dispersed, but eventually Jennet had William to herself.
She leaned over the pot hanging at the fire and stood up a little too quickly.
William was behind her and caught her as the room began to fade.
She felt his arm slide beneath her knees and then the softness of the bedclothes as he laid her on to their bed.
“Have you had a meal the day?” William asked a few minutes later when Jennet came to herself.
“Yes. I don’t know what came over me,” she murmured.
William helped her sit up and then steadied her as she rose from the side of the bed. He turned her gently in his arms and splayed his big hands with their talented fingers across her front.
“I think I do.”
Jennet felt a bubble of laughter rise in her in the way it had used to when they had their own cottage and William had his own work.
Maybe her man couldn’t read very fluently, but he was no fool.
“Oh, William. How long have you known?”
“Not sure, lass, but what with you reacting to smells and being so tired. I knew something was different.”
William sat down on a chair and set her on his lap.
“Now, my dearest, what had Miss Wilson done to upset you, and why do we hae a letter addressed to Mr Souter at Sooth’s?”
“You don’t miss much, do you?” Jennet sighed and leaned back against her man.
“Miss Wilson thinks Sooth’s Mill will need a foreman to replace Fleming. A guid weaver who doesn’t drink.”
“Well, a’body could have worked that out.”
“She brought you a letter of introduction to Mr Souter,” Jennet said quietly.
“Did she now?” William’s muscles tensed and Jennet waited. “I could say something ower smart, like, she’s too late, and then go along and see if Souter wid hire me.
“But now I ken that’s no’ the way this world works.”
“You would like to get back to the weaving wouldn’t you?”
“I would, and it strikes me that if I had a foreman’s job, you could carry on at the suffrage office.
“You’d be happy, and I’d be happy to see you happy,” William said with the air of a man who’d found out a great secret.
Dundee was the poorer without her friends, Mrs Crombie and Miss Wilson, but they were taking its knowledge and character out into the wide world.
Maybe it was Jennet’s work to carry on the crusade.
“The letter fell out of my work-bag,” she said. “I really thocht Fleming would see it there on the table and work things out.”
“He was too drunk.” William lifted the letter and set it up on the mantel.
“For tomorrow,” he pronounced.
“Now – are you going to let me see some of the little white things you’ve been knitting?”