The Girl From Saddler’s Row – Episode 34

EMMA rose and went to splash her face at the wash-bowl under the window. Ice filmed the surface of the water. Stoically, she broke it up, trying not to think of the jug of hot water that had been taken for granted at Chester.

She tidied her hair in the cracked looking-glass on the chest of drawers, pulled on her cap and left the room. The mistress would be looking for her downstairs.

“Ah, Emmie,” Aggie Cotterill said as Emma entered the kitchen. “I’ve made a bite to eat for those two travellers we’ve had to put up over the stables. Take it across to them, will you? You’ll need your shawl. Tes bitter out there.”

Emma had delivered the food and was heading back to the kitchen when she was grasped and swung round. There was a blast of ale-laden breath. Emma looked up into Roland’s triumphant face.

“Let go of me!” Emma cried out, struggling.

His grip was vice-like and, pulling her to him, he pressed his lips brutally to hers. She kicked, bit and tried to scratch him, all to no avail. The more she fought the more he persisted.

It was a shout from the outer doorway to the wine cellar that brought him to his senses.

“Emmie! What’s got into you, girl?”

It was the landlord. He came storming up, outrage in his flushed face and smouldering gaze. Roland released her and Emma, staggering, wiped her hand across her mouth in an effort to rid her senses of what had taken place.

“Sir, I’m not to blame. I – I was molested. Please believe me.”

“Dunna you listen to her, Pa. She’s like all of them. A willing target.” Roland gave Emma a sneer and went sauntering off, whistling the opening bars of a festive song as he went.

Emma faced her boss defiantly.

“It’s not true what he says. I didn’t encourage him. I wouldn’t. He’s filth!”

“Dunna you speak of my lad like that!” Bertram was incensed. “I’d thought better of you, Emmie. Could be our Roland’s right – you’re no different from the others. I’ll have none of this behaviour in my hostelry. You can pack your things and leave!”

“No!” Emma wrung her hands beseechingly. “Please, sir. Where will I go?”

“You should ha’ thought on that before you led my lad on. Tes to be hoped Prudence has more sense. Now, get out of my sight.”

Soon afterwards, Emma was passing through the rear entrance of the Swan for the last time. The landlord’s angry words hammered on her mind.

Aggie Cotterill, having a soft spot for Emma, had tried to intervene, but her man was resolute. She was to go immediately.

There had been nothing for it but to pack her carpetbag and bundle herself up in her cape and shawl, aware all the while of Prudence’s malicious gaze as she made preparations to leave.

Snow flurried as she went through the double gateway of the coaching yard. The sky was dark and lowering. All around, the landscape brooded under the prospect of bad weather.

Outside the gates Emma stopped, wondering what to do for the best.

She was back where she started, with no references and no prospects. It was midwinter. Not an ideal time for seeking work, though she had to try.

Where should she look? Tarporley itself she ruled out. News of her dismissal was sure to travel before her. Where else was there? At this point her wits deserted her. Her mind fretted to find a solution to what felt an insurmountable dilemma.

It was no good. The sheer injustice of it all was too much to cope with. She wasn’t able to think any more.

In the end she gave up trying and just stood there outside the inn gates, a hunched figure, the snow settling upon her, and her carpetbag clutched in her hand.

In a sudden surge of panic she plunged mindlessly into the now-whirling flakes, her steps taking her away from the town and the familiarity of buildings from which little beacons of light glimmered in the early afternoon dusk.

She made, instead, for the open countryside which was fast becoming alien and featureless under the wintry sky.

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”.