The Dividing Tide – Episode 45

Doryty was so absorbed that she didn’t notice Garren approaching behind her, and she jumped when he touched her on the shoulder.

“Lawks, boy, what a start you gave me!” she remonstrated, clapping her hand to her chest. “Your mother never said anything about you coming home when I saw her yesterday morn. I thought you was still in St Austell.”

He shook his head.

“Mother didn’t know. I just woke up one morning and decided.”

She peered at him.

“Did you see our Jenna?”

“No. Well, I did,” he corrected himself, “but I didn’t get to speak to her.”

He looked away to avoid the old lady’s sharp gaze but Doryty wasn’t easily put off.

“You’d better come in and tell me about it.”

“Have you had company?” he asked as he followed her indoors.

On the table stood two of Doryty’s best cups and saucers, a teapot and her precious caddy.

“Indeed I have.” She collected the cups together and put them in a pail on the floor. “One of Jenna’s uncles came to visit.”

He stared at her.

“Why would one of her uncles come here?” His heart raced. “Is Jenna ill?”

“Don’t fuss, boy. It’s nothing like that.”

She raked the fire with the poker and the scent of wood smoke filled the air. Then she swung the kettle across the flames.

“Soon as it’s boiled again I’ll make some fresh tea. I’ll fetch out some of my hevva cakes, too. I know how much you likes ’em. Baked this morning, they were, so they’re nice and fresh.”

But Garren’s thoughts were not upon hevva cakes, nor upon celebrating his homecoming. He was burning to know what had brought one of his bosses here to Doryty’s cottage.

“Which uncle was it?”

“Arthek, he said his name was. He brought a message from our girl. Very civil of him, and so I told him. ’Twere a pity he didn’t bring her in person, mind. I told him that an’ all.

“Now, sit yourself down,” she continued as he stood by the table. “You don’t have to stand on ceremony here, you know that.”

Obediently, he drew a stool beside the fireside and sat down. His mind spun. What was the message? Was it about him? Before he could ask, Doryty spoke again.

“How was it you didn’t get to speak to her when you was up in St Austell, then? Thought that was why you’d taken yourself there.”

She drew two flat raisin cakes from the bread crock and put them on a plate. The confections were baked to perfection, golden-brown with a criss-cross pattern to resemble the nets of the fishermen as was the local custom. But for once Garren wasn’t hungry.

“I did see her, but only from a distance. She came to the clay mine where I was working, to have a look around.” He bent his head to his hands. “She looked so grand, Doryty, you should have seen her.”

“But why didn’t you go and speak to her?”

He traced the red-and-black pattern on the rug with the toe of his boot.

“I was working.”

“You wasn’t even able to give her the time of day?”

“Mine employees are forbidden to talk to visiting gentry,” he told her defensively. “Besides, she didn’t seem our Jenna any more. She’s a lady now.”

Doryty rattled the cups into their saucers.

“Putting on airs, was she? No good ever comes of folk getting above theirselves.

“We each has our place, and must stick to it if we’re to get on.” She paused, frowning. “It don’t sound like our Jenna, though. I’m surprised at her.”

“She wasn’t putting on airs, exactly,” he explained hurriedly. “It was more that, well, that she belonged with them and not with us any more.

“Which I s’pose she does, when I think on it. I mean, the Nankerris family are as much her kin as you are. That’s the truth of the matter.”

Doryty’s lips thinned.

“I’m not denying the fact o’ that. But the gentleman who came here said she was returning to us at Michaelmas as planned.

“He wouldn’t have said that if it weren’t the truth! I think you must have it wrong, my boy.” She shook her head. “I couldn’t bear it if she left us for ever.”

As Garren looked at her, he couldn’t help noticing how rounded her thin shoulders had become, and he was sure the wrinkles on her weathered face had grown deeper since he’d been away.

Was it fair to tell her these things? But what was the point of avoiding the issue? Surely it was better to face up to the truth?

He took a deep breath.

“The last thing I want to do is upset you, Doryty,” he said gently, “but I think you should prepare yourself.”

“Prepare myself? What for, boy?”

“Our Jenna. I reckon she’s gone for good.”

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.